Can a new organization make a dent in the design industry’s waste problem?

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There are certain times in life when for some reason your perspective changes slightly and you may suddenly notice things that you normally take for granted. For designer Katie Floor, founder and director of San Francisco-based Storey Design, this happened a few years ago during an installation. “I looked around and saw piles of styrofoam and plastic from all these parts that we were unpacking,” she recalls. “I thought, ‘Whoa, this is super unbearable.’ It was then that I realized how much my business is contributing to climate change and how much we consume and throw away. “

The epiphany kept Storey awake at night. She began to research the impact of the domestic sector on the environment and was taken aback by the statistics. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US construction industry generates 500 million tonnes of waste every year in the form of construction and demolition debris. Each year, an additional 12.2 million tonnes of furniture and fixtures end up in landfills. She looked for solutions but found nothing specifically related to waste reduction in interior design and construction. “I knew then that I had to either change careers and do something that could [closely] align with my values ​​around these issues, or I had to find a way to change things within the industry, ”she says.

In 2019, Storey began laying the groundwork for the Good Future Design Alliance, an organization challenging design and building professionals to reduce their businesses’ waste by 50% by 2025. GFDA was launched in January 2020, with a quieter start than expected, due to the pandemic, but still has 16 founding members, including Fireclay Tile, furniture brand Fyrn, California waste management company Recology and the Sustainable Furnishings Council, in addition of a handful of sustainable-minded A&D companies.

“I was convinced that the whole industry had to come together for this,” Storey says. “It’s one thing for me and other interior designers to reduce our waste, but if you go to a job site and your contractor doesn’t care and throws reusable materials in the dumpster, your efforts are in vain. The alliance aspect of this effort is very important.

For Jennifer jones, a fellow San Francisco-based designer and director of sustainability-focused Niche Interiors, it was this unity-driven mission that led her to become a founding member of the organization. “I think that’s the only way to solve this problem,” Jones says. “If everyone involved in building a home, from the architect to the general contractor to the landscaper, is talking about this issue, this is when you can really make a difference.

Over the past few years, a few manufacturers in the design space have committed to moving towards a zero waste goal, which means the company reuses or recycles at least 90% of its factory waste. Fireclay Tile and Heath Ceramics each made zero waste commitments and joined GFDA. “Once you realize that, on an individual level, you have a share in the amount of waste that goes to landfill, then you see that your actions are important,” explains Eric Edelson, CEO of Fireclay Tile.

On her journey to take the business to zero waste, which she hopes to accomplish this year, Edelson discovered how few people have ever visited a landfill. “I would say less than 50% of the people I’ve talked to have actually seen where their waste is going,” he says. “This includes people whose job it is to specify materials – they have no idea what happens to those materials when they are disposed of. I really think if you go to your local landfill and actually start seeing how trash gets moved and how much there is, you will start to be inspired to know what you can do to make an impact on things.

Membership in GFDA starts at $ 25 per month, with membership fees on a sliding scale based on the size of the business. Upon joining, members have access to a toolkit that guides them through the waste reduction process. Many of the ideas in the toolkit can be linked to the three Rs concept of the 1970s: “reduce, reuse, recycle”. Reducing consumption is the easiest way to reduce your impact on the environment, a principle which is admittedly difficult to follow in the context of an industry like interior design, which is inherently based on the specification of new products. and materials.

Buying antiques and vintage furniture (locally when possible) is one way the GFDA recommends designers to cut down on their waste, as new furniture often comes from abroad and is packed with all kinds of non-material. recyclable. Buying locally can also reduce packaging waste, which is why Jones has so many parts she can manufacture nearby. “I can choose whatever goes into these products, so that I can source myself from FSC certified wood and make sure that non-toxic materials are used everywhere,” she says. “And, once it’s done, it’s just wrapped in a blanket and brought straight to my client, unpacked.”

The GFDA has also partnered with a number of organizations across the country to help designers reuse and recycle, including Renovation Angel, a nonprofit based in Fairfield, New Jersey that recycles and resells luxury kitchens. Before a kitchen is remodeled, the company assesses the quality of cabinets, counters and appliances, then carefully dismantles the entire room before reselling it either as a complete set or as individual pieces. Another partner, California-based Revitaliste, offers several options, from powder coating to decorative faux finishes and wallpaper cutting, to breathe new life into existing furniture.

Chloe warner, GFDA member and director of San Francisco-based Redmond Aldrich Design, says she now sees the three Rs as an additional design challenge, along with a budget or timeline. “Once you’ve started, it’s really not particularly painful,” she says. “It forces you to be more creative. When you stop to think about throwing everything away, you see how your surroundings could be given a second life.

Katie FloorHelynn Ospina

GFDA now has nearly 200 A&D companies and manufacturers on its roster, and for its next phase, it is looking to develop local chapters with resources tailored to specific regions. The organization currently has chapters in San Francisco and Denver, and will expand to Minneapolis, Seattle and Nashville, Tennessee this year. “Of course, anyone can register from anywhere, but dedicated chapters will mean that we will take the time to look at the waste management in a given area, what the local community looks like and what redistribution centers are available, whether Habitat for Humanity or Goodwill. , Storey said. “We want to add value through a sense of community. “

At first Storey assumed the organization would tackle larger markets like Los Angeles and New York early on, but quickly found demand and interest in secondary markets. “We’ll still be in New York and Los Angeles eventually, but there is major interest in this movement coming from these other regions, which also have some really interesting design-build communities and can often be overlooked,” she says. . “We have members who have already focused on reducing their impact, and we have other members who come in and say, ‘I’m doing terribly, but I want to do better!’ We welcome people wherever they are with this problem.

GFDA members see two main factors that set the organization apart from other sustainability-focused efforts in the industry: purpose and leadership. “It’s such a narrow goal at this point,” Jones says. “It’s just that thing we’re trying to do: reduce our waste. As a pragmatic person, I appreciate being able to tackle a specific problem at the root. Edelson highlights Storey’s experience as an interior designer as a unique part of the organization. “I think the fact that it’s not coming from the manufacturing side but from the designer side is very powerful,” he says. “If it’s the designers and architects who are pushing for these changes, that has a lot of power. “

Although the pandemic has slowed the growth of GFDA’s first year, Storey believes the past 18 months have taught people a lot about the rapid change in our behaviors. “We’ve all proven how well we can adapt,” she says. “Think how quickly we got used to wearing masks or working from home. But it’s a positive change, and we’re not saying you have to do it all this year. Try to reduce your waste by 10% per year. It is easily doable. There are so many climate catastrophes happening – we have to meet the present moment. We must change.

Home page photo: © Vchalup / Adobe Stock


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