UBC Undergraduate Research

Office Furniture Reuse at UBC Kirk, Carissa


The University of British Columbia (UBC) has been known as a leader in sustainability for many years, and this effort was recently recognized on a global scale by the Times Higher Education. UBC was ranked number one in the world for taking urgent action to combat climate change and ranked first in the country for making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable (Ramsey, M. 2019). While this is an impressive feat, UBC still has substantial ground to cover given the institution-wide sustainability plans, targets and goals, including the Zero Waste Action Plan. One of the overarching goals embedded within this document is an 80% diversion rate by 2020, meaning that UBC aims to keep 80% of waste out of the landfill (UBC, 2014). With 2019 coming to a close, it is safe to say that this goal has not been achieved, and a number of changes will have to be made on campus in order to become an institution that is truly striving for zero waste. It has been estimated by Building Operations that roughly 400 tonnes of furniture were sent to the landfill in 2018 (see Appendix III), making furniture a clear and valuable category to target when it comes to UBC’s zero waste aims. Furniture is also something that can be reused and repaired more easily than many other materials UBC sends to landfill. While numerous projects from the past have been centered on the topic of furniture reuse on campus, as of now nothing official has come to fruition, which was one of the core reasons for executing this project. It is important to note that the scope of this research involves only office furniture on campus that has been purchased using UBC funds. Therefore, classroom furniture, housing furniture, office supplies, lab equipment and other similar categories are not included within the research or overall conclusions. This project involved a number of interviews with various departments and faculties in order to learn more about the processes for purchase and disposal of office furniture. Additionally, relevant reports were reviewed (see Appendix I), the available data was analyzed and site visits were executed to provide greater insight into UBC’s current systems. Overall, this project allowed for improved understanding of the quantities of office furniture disposed of annually at UBC, and the processes taking place on campus for both purchasing and disposal. As well, I uncovered many of the obstacles that UBC is facing with regards to keeping furniture out of the landfill and came to realize how immense the value of the implementation of this project would be. As mentioned above, it was estimated that hundreds of tonnes of furniture were sent to the landfill in 2018. Although it is unclear exactly what percentage is office furniture, throughout the unofficial Facilities Planning Pilot it was estimated that the furniture saved prevented UBC from needing to purchase over $300,000 worth of new furniture. As it was estimated that roughly 10% of office furniture was involved in this pilot, it can be concluded that if office furniture reuse is implemented, there could be a savings of up to $3 million annually, through the prevention of unnecessary purchases. Both the quantity of furniture that could be saved and the monetary value it provides seem so considerable for UBC, however, a number of challenges were identified throughout the interviews that took place, which act as barriers to these benefits. Some of the challenges include lack of storage on campus, minimal time to find a new home for an item before it must be disposed of, and minimal roles having time allocated to facilitating reuse. To combat the identified challenges, a proposal for an approach that UBC can take was established. Key recommendations that can be drawn from this study are as follows: 1. Utilize Warp It as UBC’s new online reuse platform. 2. Update Policy UP3 & FM2 and ensure substantial awareness of both on campus. 3. Incorporate a Furniture Coordination role into Facilities Planning (FP) team as soon as possible. 4. Identify more storage for surplus items to prevent disposal. 5. Improve the tracking of surplus items through an improved Surplus Asset Form. 6. Implement a phased approach that allows for greater capacity and resources to be allocated to furniture reuse on campus. The recommendations summarized above will provide UBC the path necessary to become an institution that no longer sends office furniture to the landfill. While the benefits of waste reduction, and substantial savings have been highlighted, the conclusive benefits are actually five-fold. Preventing furniture from going to the landfill will also reduce our climate impact, align UBC’s practices with its reputation of sustainability leadership and will encourage UBC to innovate in the realm of circular economy, in a way that is scalable in the future. This is to say that initiating this project will kickstart the development of knowledge necessary for UBC to expand this program in the future and begin saving other key items such as housing and classroom furniture and lab equipment. Based on the business case developed, reusing office furniture will provide savings upwards of $1,000,000 annually, and this number would only grow if UBC decided to extend the program beyond the outlined scope. This report includes summaries for all information collected, depictions of the overall processes that contribute to furniture reuse on campus, and a proposal for an approach to expanding furniture reuse on campus. For elaboration on the above recommendations, see sections four and five. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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