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Envirotech repurposes office furniture ditched by shift to hybrid work

Company says it has diverted over 13 million kilos of waste from landfills

A selection of office furniture offered by Envirotech. (Courtesy Envirotech)
A selection of office furniture offered by Envirotech. (Courtesy Envirotech)

With the dust yet to settle, the pandemic’s lasting legacy on North America’s office sector remains opaque.

But it may have inadvertently created conditions conducive to a more sustainable corporate environment, according to the vice-president of Envirotech, a Mississauga-based office furniture remanufacturer that has stemmed the tide of landfill-bound furniture across the continent.

“For the past 20 years, 99 per cent of the clients that came to us would do so for cost savings; they didn’t care about the environmental story at all — they came to us because it was a great product for a fraction of the cost and that they could get it a lot faster,” Andy Delisi told Sustainable Biz Canada.

“The fact leases are getting shorter and shorter is creating an acceleration of products being put into a space, then two, three years — or less — later, they’re either out of style or being disposed of because they’re too expensive to move.”

That ostensibly useless furniture has proven a boon for Envirotech — whose offerings blend new and certified pre-owned furniture, as well as pieces it remanufactures — as it helps companies reimagine post-pandemic office spaces.

In doing so, Envirotech has diverted around 13.5 million kilograms of waste from landfills since it was founded 28 years ago.

It can also operate at scale for large companies seeking significant amounts of office furniture: the company says it has shipped as many as 1,100 made-to-order remanufactured desks to individual clients.

Envirotech was founded 28 years ago as an offshoot of a traditional new furniture company called CTI. Although Envirotech refurbishes furniture, most of its projects are hybrids of new and repurposed equipment.

Emerging trends for office furniture

Although each city tells a different story, major office markets like Toronto have become groundswells of idiosyncratic post-COVID office design.

Envirotech is seeing higher demand “for meeting pods and phone booths,” which are part of a showroom the company recently launched in Toronto’s King West neighbourhood.

Envirotech even partnered with Juunoo, which specializes in walls and partitions, to create demountable wall systems that double as standalone meeting pods.

“Soft seating elements within open spaces is definitely another trend that we’re seeing,” Delisi said. “It might be splitting up banks of workstations with a small coffee table and three, four lounge chairs to bring that sense of home within the workplace that people got used to so much during COVID.”

Envirotech also has an e-commerce site set up specifically for work-from-home orders.

The company says it does less business in this area due to the large investment involved in B2C (business to consumer) marketing and logistics, adding all of its task seating comes fully assembled. It says it is working on a process to ship chairs differently to lower shipping costs.

Finding solutions for a surplus

According to Ron Jasinski, senior vice-president of Colliers’ Greater Toronto Area office division, second-hand furniture dealers are very active these days. Because there’s been a lot of movement in the office sector the last few years, there’s a glut of discarded furniture.

As an example, Jasinski cited the sale of a Microsoft head office in June that left 165,000 square feet of furniture with no home because the new owners of the space opted for a different design configuration.

“That furniture was based on a less dense application of the floor plate, and the (new) user group were looking to achieve higher density,” Jasinski said.

The trend isn’t abating anytime soon. Jasinski said more companies believe on-site work translates to productivity gains, as reflected in frenetic leasing activity and more collaborative office layouts.

“If they’re going to downsize their premises or relocate, or even if they’re going to stay, but with the lease term expiring, they’ll take that opportunity to put in a new carpet, repaint and potentially refurbish the premises,” he said.

“Everyone is trying to come up with a reason for getting their employees back into the office and a workstation that’s deemed to be more attractive and efficient is more likely to induce an employee not only to come in, but to come into the office more regularly, so it makes good economic sense to make that investment.

“When you look at people working outside the office, the things that suffer are collaboration and the opportunity to build corporate culture.”

Companies need to offer employees privacy at work

To be sure, other factors like the rise of ESG also play roles.

But Delisi said employee footprints have been shrinking for around a decade, and the only post-pandemic change is budding demand for private areas — especially as workers trade the quiet comfort of their own homes for bustling environments.

“It was shifting smaller and smaller pre-COVID, going from six-by-eight-foot cubicle desks to six-by-six-foot to five-foot benching, but it got as low as four-foot bench workstations,” Delisi said.

“(We’re) adding more of that warm, residential-type feel within lounges and ancillary pieces."

Tech companies have either right-sized or gone remote in droves, and hubs like San Francisco provide Envirotech with a lot of high-quality buy-back investors.

Although Delisi said no industries in particular are overrepresented among Envirotech’s clientele, municipalities in Ontario and the federal government have taken an interest in the so-called circular economy as they explore net-zero strategies.

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