Families in need benefit from zero waste furniture initiative

JLL partnered with Sonesta to come up with a plan to re-use all of the furniture from the Clift Royal Sonesta hotel remodel in San Francisco

Recycling isn’t always easy for most of us, even though often it’s just a case of remembering to put that cup or bottle in the blue bin, not the trash can. I’ve often thought that if we could just see the payoff from recycling, it would make the process so much easier. But as we go about our busy daily lives, the payoff isn’t always evident. I still often see garbage cans overflowing with trash as I walk through the city at lunchtime.

Fortunately, many of us live or work in a city which forces the recycling mindset. San Francisco has some of the strongest regulations in the U.S. with a goal of reaching zero waste by next year. That’s a very aggressive goal, but San Francisco is already the best city in the country, and one of the best in the world, at diverting trash from landfill, with an 80% diversion rate. This means a lot of the garbage we see on our streets isn’t going to the landfill but is being recycled, reused or even composted.

Furnishing landfills

But what about “big ticket” trash items, like furniture? According to data from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. generates six times the amount of trash from furniture and household furnishings today than we did in 1960. While some of this trash is diverted from landfills and made useful by burning it and using the energy generated to power homes or businesses, we still sent an estimated 9,700,000 tons of furniture to landfills in 2017. That’s surprising because one of the most common materials in furniture is wood. Still, just 40,000 tons of furniture and furnishings were recycled in 2017.

Even more alarming, an estimated 8.5 million tons of office furniture heads to landfills annually, also according to EPA. Right now, a very small proportion of that figure is recycled, largely because there isn’t much incentive. With used office and household furniture flooding the market, no one wants to buy that furniture and even many charities can’t accept large amounts of furniture because they either don’t have the facilities for, or can’t afford the cost of, storing it. 

We can, and should, do better. 

A new approach

Here's one idea that JLL is working on to make a dent in these numbers and help the larger community.

Earlier this year, JLL partnered with Sonesta, a global hospitality chain, to come up with a sustainable plan for re-use of all of the furniture in the 150-room Clift Royal Sonesta hotel on Geary Street in San Francisco. Sonesta is renovating and rebranding the hotel and that means all new furniture and furnishings, so all of the existing furniture — an estimated 12 tons — had to go. According to Julie Hyson who oversees JLL Project Management in Northern California, “In the past, most of this furniture would be trashed, creating more than 400 cubic yards of additional waste in local landfills.”

We reached out to several local charities, eventually partnering with Compass Family Services (CFS), a local charity helping homeless and at-risk families find housing solutions in the Bay Area. But when families are re-housed, they often don’t have furniture and CFS can’t afford to store large amounts of furniture. So, Sonesta is covering storage and delivery expenses and every month a portion of the Clift furniture will be delivered to families served by CFS. Some of the furniture will go to the Compass Clara House, a service-enriched transitional housing program for homeless families.

This is just one small solution to a much larger problem, but we are looking at ways to scale this solution over the next year so that we can divert even more assets (not just furniture from hotels but appliances and surplus materials from offices, retail shops and other businesses) away from landfills.

The beauty of this ‘recycling’ effort is that we see the payoff every time we make a delivery to a family in need. It’s not just good for our environment, it helps create the right environment for homeless and at-risk families in our community and that’s an effort we can all get behind.

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