Karl Wagner and his colleagues at Omega Trading Company (OTC) figure they have rescued tens of thousands of office workstations, also known as cubicles, from one-way trips to the dump.
"A lot of what we reuse would otherwise go in landfills, and almost all of it isn't biodegradable. Even with the efforts of companies like ours, more stuff goes in landfills than doesn't," said Wagner, an account manager for OTC.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that nearly three million tons of office furniture and furnishings are thrown away each year in the U.S. at a waste disposal cost of more than $100 million.
While the basic structure of most office furniture has a long life span, paint, fabric, and laminates can wear out or become outdated. That’s were OTC steps in.
Over the past two decades, OTC has established itself as a major player in the office furniture refurbishing industry. The company operates out of a 160,000-square-foot warehouse in Hanover where used furniture obtained from bankrupt businesses and other sources is refinished with water-based paints and sold to corporations and government agencies.
"We reuse everything we can, and if there is no market for something, we recycle it," said Wagner.
"With new, you’re starting with mining and smelting," said Wagner. "Remanufacturing just 40 workstations diverts one tractor-trailer load of furniture from a landfill."
The potential to lessen impacts is significant. The commercial building industry, from architectural products to furniture, accounts for 25-33 percent of all landfill waste–57 percent of that is from construction, renovation and demolition of commercial buildings, according to Wagner.
"Our industry has the opportunity and the obligation to make a difference," said Wagner.
Most modern workstations are 36 square feet in size and cost $2,000 to $4,000 new. Refurbished workstations range from $1,200 to $1,500. Unimproved, used furniture, termed as-is in the industry, costs $750-900 per workstation. Delivery and installation typically adds 15-20 percent to the cost.
Wagner doesn’t understand why anyone would buy new furniture when refurbished goods are just as good and half the price.
“We’re not really in the scratch and dent business, even our as-is is typically good, clean stuff,” said Wagner.
During his tenure, Wagner has seen wider acceptance of buying used furniture.
“Federal, state and local governments all buy used and refurbished stuff,” said Wagner. “There was a recent [request for proposal] from Howard County for remanufactured and used furniture. I’m sure the new manufacturers are not happy with that, but we’re happy to see it.”
One thing buyers don’t often consider, according to Wagner, is that buying used and refurbished furniture cuts down on the incidence and severity of sick building syndrome.
In addition to operating a business based on reuse, OTC’s warehouse has been optimized for energy use, and the company strives to limit shipping, according to Wagner.
“All lighting is motion-sensor based, even in the bathrooms,” said Wagner. “And we try to pull used materials from as close as possible. A lot of it comes from the federal government in and around D.C., but in any case we strive to source it within 500 miles whenever possible and not more than 1,000 miles.”
In the future, Wagner foresees more of a focus on optimizing the use of the vertical space above cubicles. He said, "Using vertical space allows you to get more use out of a six by six cubicle."
This post originally appeared on www.GreenBusinessMatters.com.