While the Industry Sets Its Sights on New-material Health and Transparency, the Most Significant Impact for Sustainable Design May Be Right under Its Nose. Here’s Why Material Reuse Deserves Another Look.

Gaffney, on the other hand, says cost reductions aren’t always a given, nor do they always need to be. Sometimes, the story behind the materials and the legitimacy that comes along with “walking the talk” in terms of sustainability is as valuable to the client as the numbers.

To incorporate and celebrate many of the building’s original structural elements, CallisonRTKL carefully revealed the original building structure by exposing the beautiful heavy timber, cast-iron columns and masonry materials in an authentic way.

To incorporate and celebrate many of the building’s original structural elements, CallisonRTKL carefully revealed the original building structure by exposing the beautiful heavy timber, cast-iron columns and masonry materials in an authentic way.

“I think when we talk about repurposing or retrofitting, people always assume that’s a big money saver and it’s not always the case,” Gaffney explains. “Breathing authenticity into a project by using actual materials from the world doesn’t always come as a cost savings from a capital expense standpoint. There’s not always a savings, but I would say, when there is, it’s not limited to the actual fixture.”

Material reuse is ultimately about the changing nature of the design and construction industry and the way people think about it. Just as there was initial pushback to waste-management diversion, Henderson says there’s a paradigm shift underway in terms of changing people’s thinking about salvaging materials.

Gaffney agrees:“The built environment and the way we treat our buildings and our interior spaces and the planet are all transforming. Our customers value brands that are conscious of that and are concerned about reusing things that are perfectly good, that may just need a little bit of a facelift to bring them up to like-new condition every consumer recognizes the value in. It’s a sensitivity to the customer and a sensitivity to the changing world.”

Donations: A Sustainable Approach to Surplus

For organizations that decide not to reuse existing materials or furniture for their building projects but don’t want to send them to landfill, donating them is perhaps the best and most sustainable alternative.

“Today, tons of reusable surplus furniture and equipment enter our landfills. unfortunately, it’s an easy option at a very high environmental price,” explains Rose Tourje, founder and president of the 501(c) (3) non-profit ANEW, Los Angeles, which offers sustainable surplus stewardship solutions that include resale; recycling; and repurposing furniture, fixtures, and equipment and stewarding them to charities, non-profits, public agencies and underserved communities.

“Each time ANEW successfully matches a client’s surplus furnishings to a charity, the life cycle of those items is extended and given an encore to avoid landfill,” Tourje explains.

“We intercede and steward surplus to other non-profits, charity schools, police and fire stations, public agencies—people who can use it—that’s all within 25 miles of the donor company, so it stays in the community and represents a minimum carbon footprint,” explains Glenn Sparks, ANEW’s vice president. “During that [process], we divert over 2 million pounds per year from landfill. We strengthen communities, we help corporations significantly raise their CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility] and help them with community outreach.”

ANEW’s motto, “Doing What’s Right With What’s Left,” sums up the organization’s mission perfectly. In addition to the social component, donors receive critical documentation—such as tax receipts, diversion metrics and records toward meeting LEED certification—to comply with federal mandates for transparency and compliance, along with the power to revolutionize the disposal of office surplus.

Material Reuse in Action

PHOTOS: courtesy Gensler
The Natural Resources Defense Council’s San Francisco office renovation in the Financial District’s Hunter-Dulin building consisted of 15,000 square feet across the 20th and 21st floors. Because NRDC is an environmental organization, material reuse was naturally part of Gensler’s decision-making from the beginning.

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About the Author

Robert Nieminen

Robert Nieminen is a freelance writer; the former editor of Interiors & Sources magazine; and retrofit’s editor at large, specializing in interiors. Under his direction, Interiors & Sources was the recipient of several publishing awards, as well as a pioneer of sustainability reporting.

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