One of the biggest scandals in the property industry is the rampant waste of defits when tenants move offices. Furniture and fittings are typically sent to landfill, despite often having years of life left.

Now the Sydney Industrial Ecology Network  – a collaboration between Edge Environment, the NSW Environment Protection Authority and the Better Buildings Partnership – will work to change that. In this blog we’ll bring you regular updates of how this work is going.

Blog by Blake Lindley, Edge Environment

Blog Post 19 – The building defit wrap up

Last Thursday, Dexus hosted the BBP/SIEN event Governor Macquarie Tower – Moving toward 80% resource recovery from office defit. Attended by over 80 industry players representing building contractors, demolition contractors, building owners, re-processors and charities, the event outlines the pathway toward 80 per cent resource recovery from building strip out.

The event held presentations from Jon Collinge (chair of the BBP’s Waste Working Group), Tom Davies (lead facilitator of the SIEN), Paul Wall (Dexus), Paul McDonald (Armstrong) and Aiden Mullan (Interface).

Jon presented the BBP’s Waste Management Report, which will be adopted for recording waste streams from strip out, and the BBP’s Re-processors List, which will be used to assist industry to identify recycling alternatives for various materials. Paul Wall covered the successful recovery of 61 per cent of material at GMT and Tom spoke about the future of the industry and it’s potential for material recovery moving forward.

The talks of the two fitout suppliers, Armstrong and Interface, focused on the emerging take-back schemes for used carpet and ceiling tiles, and outlined Australia’s future capacity to reprocess these materials into new product. These exciting developments for industry leaders signals a major shift in the outlook of companies providing fitout materials as well as the potential for recycling this product.

Keep your eyes on the BBP website for the release of the full GMT case study, event summary, BBP Waste Management Plan, and re-processors guide.

This will be the last entry in the defit blog series so keep up to date with things via the BBP and Edge Environment.

Blog Post 18 – Infrastructure to achieve greater material recovery outcomes

The members of the BBP are committed to driving higher resource recovery in office strip out. This Thursday (30 April 2015) marks the first public case study and industry event publicising the group’s work and releasing comprehensive information to market around recycling facilities and also the expectations of some the CBD’s largest property owners.

The event will cover in detail the achievement of 61 per cent waste diversion at Governor Macquarie Tower, the opportunity for charitable recovery of furniture and will include presentations from Jon Collinge (chair of the BBP waste from fitout sub-committee), Paul Wall (Dexus) and Tom Davies (Lead Facilitator – SIEN).

The event will also include presentations from Armstrong ceiling systems and Interface carpets, both of which will be recounting experience with product stewardship overseas and their respective intentions in Australia.

The event is free to attend and offers demolition contractors the opportunity to meet and develop relationships with a range of material re-processors, large property owners, and to understand the recycling avenues available for material streams.

For registrations please contact

Blog Post 17 – Infrastructure to achieve greater material recovery outcomes

Available space onsite in the CBD poses a major challenge to material separation in office refurbishment. With the ongoing operations of a building’s remaining tenants utilising scarce space in loading docks and generally very little unutilised basement space, a structured defit based on the individual removal of material by type remains the most effective means of achieving separation.

However, due to added labour and time costs of double handling material within the defit space, the need for an industry available sorting facility, or transfer station, has been identified. The involvement of social enterprise in this sorting and reuse activity is an essential part of the operation, allowing social outcomes to be delivered in conjunction with reducing waste to landfill.

With new reprocessing facilities for ceiling tiles, carpet tiles and composite timber waste prospectively becoming available to industry in the coming year, the onus on material separation will be increased.

A separate group branching from the BBP’s Office Refurbishment Waste sub-committee is now exploring this opportunity further in order to assess the viability, usefulness and opportunity that such a facility could achieve. Keep posted for updates on this!

Blog Post 16 – Recovering lighting in defits

Lighting and electrical componentry are high value items in building defit. Due to the expense required to create virgin material and the high recyclability of metals, the removal, separation and recycling of most metallic and electrical items is done very well.

However, within the compressed timelines of commercial office defit, the separation of lamps (from their fittings) is often left to reprocessing facilities or services. As a result it is common for metal recyclers to be the ones separating and disposing of broken (or intact) fluorescent, CFL, halogen or LED lamps.

Based on the composite nature of light fittings which could also contain plastics, rubber or timber, it is extremely difficult to recover recyclable lamps in a crushing or mechanised sorting process, leaving much of this being disposed of to landfill. Of further concern is the release of mercury from broken fluorescent fittings both onsite and also during reprocessing, a highly toxic element for humans.

With existing reprocessing and recycling streams for this many lamps (in additional to lighting units being modular and inherently reusable) there could be a case for a more careful removal and reuse of these items. Of course, the increased time required to do so, fragility and necessary safety concerns around the reuse or reinstallation of electronics are clear barriers to this, However, it is another opportunity to reduce waste and also one with significant environmental and human health ramifications.

Blog Post 15 – Facilitating clearer decision making for building owners

Developing a practical and readily adopted industry standard for recording the material outcomes from defit is essential to recording against waste diversion targets. With an overarching target of developing industry minimum recycling rates in defit, standardising the recording of material flows is of critical importance.

In a way, homogenising the reporting framework for material recycling provides a transparency for building owners in a similar way to ecolabels used in other consumer products. By levelling the playing field across all demolition contractors, those opting to deliver bottom price defits (with low recycling) will have to provide the details of this environmental trade-off to the building owners.

However, doing so with the support of industry is essential to maintain engagement. Along with the development of the BBP’s Refurbishment Guidelines, a material recovery framework for project reporting is in development. Similarly, a non-onerous but suitably reliable means of creating an audit trail from disposal is being explored with the assistance and experience of other industry bodies such as the Green Building Council of Australia.

With the adoption of this tool, driven from the top down by building owners and building contractors, any trade-offs in projected or aspirational waste diversion in defits will become far more visible in the procurement process.

Blog Post 14 – Pressing forward with the BBP Refurbishment Guidelines

The third sitting of the BBP’s Refurbishment Technical Working Group occurred last week, and with it, a further crystallisation of the industry approach to be taken to the defit waste problem.

Ongoing work on the BBP’s Refurbishment Guidelines continued, and further input to the register of upcoming defits was stressed amongst members. Developing sufficient lead-time for the appropriate implementation of furniture and material recovery is essential in the pursuit of increased environmental outcomes and headlines the requirements from members.

Discussion around the establishment of a waste transfer station was also progressed as a solution to ongoing issues of onsite site storage and handling, two constraints that are frequently citied as barriers to improved recycling.

To be explored further as a centralised recycling alternative to landfill, the non-exclusive sorting station for demolition waste provides the opportunity to recover recyclables from mixed loads without the constraint of building operation and loading dock time/space. Working on the continued exploration of this idea is Hall Dobbins (CoS), Tom Davies (SIEN) and Sue Wiblin (GPT).

Further exciting news from Good360 shows that their website is now approaching market readiness and offers a streamlined and accessible route for building owners looking to engage with the charitable sector for the donation of used furniture.

Blog Post 13 – Overcoming the misconceptions around pyrolysis

Biochar created from pyrolysis.
Biochar created from pyrolysis.

Despite increasing global popularity, energy recovery from waste is a practice that remains subject to a range of misconceptions. Primarily, pyrolysis faces stereotyping from its name, which conjures up for many people images of incineration or burning. However, in reality these systems have come about from decades of testing – designing and exploring the best means to maximise energy extraction through clean combustion and low VOC exhausts. Today, these technologies represent an extremely clean means of disposing of material.

While the reuse or recycling of material is preferable to pyrolysis, there are instances where these options are currently unavailable. In the context of building fitout waste, the material of primary concern is composite timber. Due to the binding agents used in composite timbers (such as medium-density fibreboard, particle board, melamine and laminates), the recycling of these common materials is not currently possible, leaving their default disposal route as landfill. Further, experience shows that these materials can account for up to 20-30 per cent of waste from defit.

With Crucible Carbon (Summerhill Waste Recovery Centre), the SIEN is exploring a trial with furniture defit waste, processing composite timber through pyrolysis, generating biochar and gas for electricity generation as its primary outputs.

In the spirit of industrial ecology, the SIEN views this solution as an interim opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from landfill and energy production, before the manufacture and recycling of furniture fully matures.

Blog Post 12 – Exploring the real costs of defit

Landfill "mates' rates" could be impeding recycling efforts.
Landfill “mates’ rates” could be impeding recycling efforts.

The SIEN’s explorations into improving material recovery from defit has achieved some great results but also allowed a far deeper understanding of the economic motivations behind decisions.

At the final point of the process we have landfill, which, being businesses, rely on cash flow directly connected with disposal targets. In the simplest sense, the disposal of waste into their site represents cash flow and discounting to large suppliers of waste represents a great way for them to maintain the business of their key clients.

In the context of defits, where a cost of $300 a tonne for disposal to landfill is generally assumed, it should be noted that the waste levy in NSW is only $120.90, leaving about $180 a tonne for the landfill site’s fixed and variable costs and revenue. So while the accepted figure for landfill disposal is around $300/t in the Sydney basin, it is very likely that many demolition contracts may be receiving “mates’ rates” below $200/t. For landfill operators it’s just good business.

As recycling material generally requires greater attention to processes and contamination management it often has an additional labour cost. Therefore, while gate fees for recycling plants are generally below the $120/t waste levy, any additional labour costs may soon negate their attractiveness if compared with discounted disposal rates below $200/t

While work at GMT has demonstrated that recycling can still be achieved economically in current cost scenario, demolition contractors are also aware of the possibility that by decreasing landfill volumes their bulk discount for landfilled materials may also reduce.

Consequently, as long as significant proportions of material (like carpet tiles, broadloom carpet, laminated and composite timbers) are sent to landfill due to a lack of scalable recycling solutions, the threat of increased costs (due to reduced landfill waste) may hinder attempts to increase recycling.

Blog Post 11 – A new approach to furniture wastage


It is estimated that up to 70 per cent of the non-recycled mixed waste sent to landfill from the recent GMT defit comprised furniture and fittings waste. To give that some scale, we are talking in excess of 200 tonnes from just eight floors of office space.

The reason for this is the lack of development in the second hand market place for these items that are generally fusions of plastics, treated or composite timbers, fabrics and foams. Due to the mixed nature of these items, recycling is extremely difficult and the cost of material separation high.

Prior to recycling, the first preference for these items is re-use and it is hoped the stimulation of the reused furniture market will catalyse a shift in this area. Good360, who provided access to the charitable sector during the GMT and more recent defits, is about to launch their online marketplace, which facilitates the donation of unwanted inventory to charities, avoiding landfill and cost of charities buying these products.

In the words of Franscois McHardy, Good360 Australia’s chief operating officer: “We provide non-profit organisations with free, high-quality stock to furnish or refurbish existing offices and improve working conditions.”

As the market develops it is also intended that furniture restoration will be explored as a job-creation opportunity for social enterprises. Good360 plays a crucial role in the SIEN’s goals of reducing waste from defit and overcoming the issue of “cherry-picking” (taking only the highest value items and leaving the rest) as is often seen in commercial second-hand furniture recovery.

Good360’s soon to be launched online marketplace is the first of its kind in Australia, and it is hoped that its adoption by corporate entities will become a part of industry standard sustainable practice over time.

With significant environmental and social benefits possible, Franscois is very excited about “any part Good360 can play in achieving it”.

Blog Post 10 – Challenges to the industry: what we can’t recycle and why?


The ongoing work of the SIEN in the building fitout space has resulted in some great successes and has allowed a thorough exploration and identification of the challenges we still face to divert materials from landfill.

When considering options for material diversion the SIEN uses the following hierarchy; reuse, reconditioning, recycling (by output value) and energy recovery.

The following materials are present in almost all office fitouts and in most cases are also quite heavy, contributing significantly to the disposal costs of a defit, which can be up to $250 a tonne. Their potential reprocessing streams are discussed in turn:

  • Broadloom carpet – While reuse and recycling are possible there is no scalable existing solution. Use as soil stabilisation and dust management in construction sites is being explored.
  • Carpet tiles – Many leading brands offer a “take-back” or product stewardship scheme for their products. It is urged that new fitouts adopt the product of these market leaders.
  • Ceiling tiles – Traditionally made from generally low value mineral fibres, these products have operating recycling schemes overseas. The SIEN is working with ceiling tile providers, including Armstrong and CSR to find recycling stream domestically; both have schemes overseas and Armstrong is the most advanced in dealing with this issue in Australia.
  • Laminated and composite timber products (such as melamine and MDF) – Other than reuse there is little scope for recycling most composite timber products. Energy recovery from waste currently provides the best opportunity for these materials. We hope to be sending the first batches of laminated wood products for energy recovery in early 2015.
  • Furniture – The SIEN’s efforts here centre on reuse, due to the value of the product. The heavy use of laminated or composite timbers in many office furniture items makes them generally difficult to recycle.

Any further information on emerging technologies or operating processing facilities interested in being involved with the SIEN should contact Edge Environment.

Blog Post 9 – Manufacturing change: leading an industry through the co-operation


Aligning incentives toward the common goal of resource recovery in commercial defits is never a clear-cut proposition. Being the confluence of a range of stakeholders (think building owners, building managers, outgoing tenants, incoming tenants, construction managers, defit contractors), any commitment, contract clause or request has a number of wider impacts.

Like many forms of high-level industry change, identifying the point of intervention is rather difficult given the circular nature of market relationships. However, following the first sitting of the BBP Refurbishment and Fitout Sub Group last week, an intervention point has become clearer with a strong focus on increasing industry awareness and knowledge as we move toward industry level commitments and guidelines to waste diversion.

Through a structured and measured approach to the upcoming stream of defit projects occurring across the CBD, it is hoped that a greater cross-section of buildings and defits will be achieved. These projects can benefit from the emerging set of material, contractual and record keeping tools being developed by the sub group.

Of great importance is tracking the economic incentives of the various parties to understand and counteract the time pressure of foregone rent, which prioritises the simplest and most time effective means of material disposal. The economic cost of having office space vacant promotes rapid turnover times and low rates of recycling and salvage in spite of the increasing costs of landfill. However, the emergence and maturation of reprocessing technologies and industry interest in changing the status quo is slowly improving this.

It is hoped that the upcoming defits of BBP members will provide exemplar case studies recognising the real environmental, social and economic reasons to target recycling rates in building defits.

Blog Post 8 – Plasterboard recycling: returning used gypsum board to the productive economy

Plasterboard being removed systematically from GMT last November by Demolition Plus.
Plasterboard being removed systematically from GMT last November by Demolition Plus.

One major stream of defit waste is plasterboard (gypsum board), which due to its density represents a significant portion of waste by weight. Being a popular means of surfacing internal walls it is extremely common in almost all office defits (and refits) occurring in the Sydney CBD.

In the recent defit at Governor Macquarie Tower, all plasterboard removed was disposed of at Regyp in Kurnell, a plasterboard recycling facility in Sydney. This facility effectively closes the loop in the plasterboard lifecycle, preventing the sourcing of virgin material to make new plasterboard and also preventing its disposal to landfill.

Plasterboard is made from a number of highly recyclable constituents, primarily gypsum. Gypsum is a widely used agricultural chemical used to breakdown clays, increase water retention and improve structure while also providing a range of trace elements. Recycling plasterboard recovers these resources and allows their reuse in both agricultural and new product manufacturing.

It is relatively easy and space efficient to remove plasterboard in recoverable sheets, and just requires some demolition industry behavioural change.

Crucial to any material reprocessing is the issue of contamination, and as with most recycling facilities a human inspection of each load is required prior to its acceptance. However, with gate fees far lower than landfill costs, it is good business and common sense to ensure that all plasterboard is recycled.

Through the work of the SIEN and BBP it is hoped that the disposal of plasterboard to landfill will become a thing of the past.

Blog Post 7 – Adding it up: the final numbers from the GMT defit


The final figures from the defit of eight floors at Governor Macquarie Tower have now been confirmed, setting a new benchmark for commercial property owners and tenants to target. I’d like to make special mention here of Demolitions Plus, who despite already having an industry leading commitment to recycling, willingly cooperated with the SIEN’s requests for reporting and any alternative means of disposal we were able to identify.

As it stands a total of 891 tonnes of material left GMT – closer to 100t per 1000 square metres than the expected average of 63t per 1000 sq m used as an industry average (likely due to the high material requirements for the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s ministerial rooms). Of this, 546t of material was recycled including gyprock, glass, hard fill (concrete), metals, furniture and insulation. Collectively, a diversion rate of 63 per cent was achieved – almost three times that of the industry average.

The SIEN will be developing a case study around the economics of this defit and looks forward to demonstrating how adopting these best practice recycling practices can represent a cost saving for defit managers and building owners alike. A key learning and one that needs application to all future projects is the importance of early intervention and planning. The earlier the better!

A big thank you goes out to all those at Dexus, BBP, Buildcorp, Good360, Buildings Alive, Edge Environment and Demolitions Plus who were willing to deviate from the business as normal practice and achieve this great result. A new industry benchmark – 61 per cent material recovery – beat that!

Blog Post 6 – The change is coming: Preparing for the first sitting of the BBP Defit Waste Technical Working Group


Following in the footsteps of the BBP’s industry approach to Operational Waste Guidelines that have been developed over the past year through extensive consultation with industry and property owners, late January will mark the first sitting of the BBP’s Defit Waste Technical Working Group.

I’ve used that label descriptively here to give you a sense of what we are on about – in reality, Esther Bailey of the BBP left me with creative licence to pen the operational name for the group. Which, in any case, is a pretty dangerous move. Had I been left uncensored we could well have ended up as the “Waste to Resource Rebranding Task Force for Building Fitouts” or the “Property Holders Consortium for the Re-imagination and Minimisation of Building Material Wastes”.

I toyed with a few other names, and was also quite fond of the “Unified Task Force Against the Current Environmental Disaster of Building Fitout”, but in the end it was all a little grandiose for the task at hand.

Those in the industry know its rarely pretty, mainly dirty, highly stressful and time constrained. But to put it simply the group is here to clean up and co-ordinate the industry’s ongoing streams of defit waste, improving the industry use of downstream recycling solutions while investing intensively in reducing the source of this waste through improved design, accountability and stewardship guidelines for future fitouts (didn’t that change the tone of this piece abruptly!).

The group is the industry’s voice and needs to be the grimy scene of all the (technical) discussions around defit waste that need to be aired. Hosts, the Sydney Industrial Ecology Network and BBP, are excited and looking forward to it – whatever “it” is called.

Welcome back all – looking forward to a fruitful 2015.

Blog Post 5 – Start as you mean to finish – green

If you’re considering moving office space and trying to work out where to start in determining an environmentally friendly fitout for your new space, the range of information out there can be daunting. While fit-out mangers can manage these projects, it is essential that you as the client (or the manager) have a good idea of what you can, and want to achieve from the process.

While the commonly used NABERS system focuses on the operational efficiency of a tenancy, it’s counterpart, Green Star – Interiors, places greater focus on the “as built” items including furniture and fittings. Under development through the PILOT stakeholder engagement scheme over the past two years, version 1.1 of the Green Star – Interior rating tool was released on 2 December 2014.

As always, there are a few easy ways to really bolster the rating achieved in your fit-out, and in this case, furniture is a stand out one. Recycling can have the equivalent effect on your assessment outcome as the purchase of a full suite of top-of-the-range white goods or green label certified furniture, and for a fraction of the price. With a developing picture of the (astounding) amount of furniture waste being generated by building fitout churn in the Sydney CBD alone – the need to involve recycled goods at the design stage has never been more apparent.

With credit-based schemes increasingly adopting lifecycle assessment as the preferred tool of environmental measurement, it only seems logical that designing for defit (at the end of tenancy) will become a focal point of the industry moving forward.

Environmental rating tools provide measured increases to the productivity of workers, lower operating and installation costs as well as a clear demonstration of environmental intent. Green Star – Interior ratings help you design for the future, and be recognised for it.

Environmental objectives, at least in their conception, need a simple means of recognition and communication in order to provide value to consumers opting into environmental initiatives. Once provided a means of identification and separation from the business-as-usual case, it is the work of industry leaders to drive industry wide change. Exponential growth in the demand for green buildings and green tenancies are setting the trend for the future and combined with demonstrated cost savings the path is clear; don’t be the one to get left behind.

Blog Post 4 – Liberate the backpackers, send them back to the beach and don’t build in expensive defit costs in the future

While the SIEN continues to work with the big end of town to improve recycling rates from office defits, it’s important we don’t forget the most important pieces in the puzzle, the consumers.

In the end it is our, or in this case, the tenant’s, decisions during the initial fit out that prescribes the achievable rates of waste diversion during defit, and as an economist, I understand the consumption decisions of businesses as much as the environmental reasons for doing things differently.

From a business’ perspective there is a perception and rudimentary economic argument for mandating cost efficiencies in fitouts.

However, I urge you to challenge this idea. Before you sign off on inferior carpet, cabinets or workstations, pause to consider your options.

You might think your investment in generally higher cost products is unjustifiable, but take the time to consider the externalities of your consumption and also the cost scenario over a greater time span.

Product manufacturers have already twigged onto this and all the work has been done, you just need to exercise your most powerful right as a consumer – choice.

carpet tiles
It’s hard work removing dodgy carpet. And costly. Why not save your company the expense and bother?

In the recent GMT defit, it took the strength of two men to pull up strips of existing broadloom carpet. Along with a colleague I tried myself, and I can assure you it wasn’t easy.

Consider doing this across 9000 square metres of office space, with the cost of each worker– often backpackers – at about $45 an hour, a disposal cost of around $250 a tonne at landfill and you’ll start to see the numbers add up.

Further, consider the expectation of a 50 per cent cost increase in the cost of landfill over the next five to seven years as Sydney’s mixed waste disposal sites reach critical capacity.

As a tenant, who will eventually, in one way or another, foot the bill for a defit, designing your office to utilise returnable carpet tiles or solid timber products – particularly those with a product stewardship scheme – represents a cost saving at the office’s end of life.

Peel up the tiles, stack them on a pallet and have them collected by the manufacturer. Recycle or reuse solid wood furniture or return them for reconditioning. All these services are available from a growing group of manufacturers, but it’s up to us to take this chance to reduce the cost of your defit, keep valuable resources within the system and reduce landfill.

As consumers it’s up to start making change, and if for no other reason, consider the poor overworked backpacker who’ll be labouring on your office defit; at the very least they’d certainly appreciate the thought. I know I would.

Waste glass can now  be transformed into new product such as glass wool insulation
Waste glass can now be transformed into new product such as glass wool insulation

Blog Post 3 – I love the sound of breaking glass

On the surface, recycling waste from building fit-outs appears a pretty simple process.

From the outside, you’d think the glass can go here, the aluminium there, and the copper back here. But in the world of building products, recycling isn’t always as clear-cut as it may be at home. Even overlooking the complexity of performing these programs in commercial buildings, the design and nature of the demolition process remains an impediment to recycling.

The role of the Sydney Industrial Ecology Network is not only to educate and incite behavioural change, but more importantly, to create the markets needed to service identified waste streams. Creating alternative disposal channels for materials is crucial to their reconceptualisation as resources rather than wastes and is essential in leaving a positive legacy from the SIEN’s work.

Glass partitions are popular
Glass partitions are popular

In the recent Governor Macquarie Tower de-fit, glass was estimated to account for almost 11 per cent of total waste, by mass, by the demolition contractor. Through relationships forged by the SIEN, glass removed from GMT will now be reprocessed into glass wool insulation based on a strict set of conditions around contamination.

Due to the complexity of screening, processing and manufacturing equipment, tolerances for contamination are extremely low with any contamination of pyroceramic glass, metal, adhesives or other material creating a serious operational risk. And as anyone in the industry will tell you – building sites aren’t particularly clean.

Following the trial delivery of a few tonnes of waste glass (and some realignment on the definition of “un-contaminated” between the glass processor and demolition teams), benefits have been able to be recognised by both parties.

While the ideal outcome would be the reuse of glass panels in their existing form, a cheaper and environmentally friendly means of disposing of a heavy material has been successfully demonstrated here.

It’s one small step toward closing loops in the economy and redefining industry best practice in building defits!

Blog Post 2 – Evolving the role of social enterprise in defits

Altruistic, generous and resourceful are all tags that building and construction companies would love to have, and involving social enterprise in building defits has become a valid step toward achieving this.

Not only can defit projects provide honest work for people who need it, but they also facilitate the re-homing of furniture items into needy charities and not-for-profits while kicking a double environmental goal of reducing the extraction of new resources and reducing our society’s waste to landfill. In the words of SIEN co-ordinator Tom Davies, it is “simply good business’”.

However, no matter how well-intentioned, it seems that often the practicalities of commerce can conflict these goals.

During 2014, the GPT Group in conjunction with the Better Buildings Partnership developed a case study around the use of social enterprise labour in the defit of several floors of the MLC centre. Engaging RichmondPRA, JobQuest and Fair Repairs to supply labour for the project, the experience was extremely positive for both building owners and tenants and social enterprise. The project demonstrated the feasibility of engaging social enterprise (read the full case study here) in building defits however, also raised a myriad of issues around health, safety and security.

There is no escaping the fact that carefully dismantling and transporting furniture and fittings for re-use is more time intensive than their demolition and removal. A legacy of the commercially driven nature of this industry is that any non-occupied tenancy represents a cost to property owners and despite the relative success of employing social enterprise to provide a relatively cheaper source of labour (in order to recover materials), organising the necessary access to office space prior to defit has proven a challenge.

Establishing the difference between deconstruction and demolition while economically justifying any additional time/costs of involving social enterprise to remove furniture and fittings prior to defit (through avoided labour and landfill costs during defit) are key goals of the SIEN.

SIEN has uncovered an appetite and intent to achieve the environmental and social goals of best practice defits among property owners and leaving a behavioural legacy among these parties will ensure ongoing and structural change to the way defits are conducted.

High quality desks and chairs, all destined for landfill, now furnishing Buildings Alive’s new offices

Blog Post 1 – Saving the furniture (and the fittings, landfill, money etc)

With the Governor Macquarie Tower (GMT) Defit now in full swing, resource recovery efforts have shifted from furniture recovery to the reprocessing of construction and building materials being removed. While the results of waste diversion from landfill are still some weeks away from being available, the initial phase of the project – recovering loose furniture items and fittings – has concluded.

On Wednesday evening, Buildings Alive hosted a birthday and office warming at their Clarence Street office, in a building listed on the National Trust site for its historical significance as an “early and innovative example of steel-framed building construction”. The event celebrated, among other things, a continuation of innovation in construction at the site following the successful (and economical!) office refit using material reclaimed during furniture removal activities at GMT.

In the words of Buildings Alive chief executive Craig Roussac, I hate waste. And when you look closely at any waste stream you always find money! We saved a lot of money, but we also managed to move up the quality ladder as well. Our new work stations are amazing quality!”

Fittings salvaged from the GMT defit included high quality cabinets
Fittings salvaged from the GMT defit included high quality cabinets

Following the approval of the departing tenants’ “make good” clause by the building manger Dexus, and prior to the official commencement of the defit project, Roussac and designer Tomek Archer (Tomahawk Studios) were able to identify and reclaim the following items otherwise destined to landfill or scrap metal reclamation:

  • 18 office chairs
  • 14 reconstructed workstations
  • eight office doors transformed to shelving
  • One whiteboard
  • 30 metres of 20A power cabling for workstations with 18 double General Power Outlets
  • 8 lockable steel cabinets
  • An additional three office chairs, two steel cabinets and some other miscellaneous pieces (such as coffee tables), which were given to other small businesses.

Take a look at the photos of reused and reconstructed office furniture at the Buildings Alive office! And of course – it’s even better live. It seems that with some clever design work and some willing sets of hands, a lot of perfectly functional used furniture can be given a new life.

Keep posted for weekly updates as we explore the challenges of balancing the environmental and commercial aspects of the built environment through our ongoing “best practice” defit trials and industry involvement.

Blog by Craig Roussac, Buildings Alive

Here is some additional information on the new Buildings Alive premises:

  • Address: Level 1, 283-285 Clarence Street, Sydney
  • Net lettable area: 153.9 square metres
  • Workstations: initially 14 to a maximum of 20
  • Flex/hotdesks (initially – bench at bay window): three
  • Flex/hotdesks (maximum): five
  • Staff in office: initially 12
  • Fitout budget: $303 a sq m

Fitout architect: Tomek Archer, Tomahawk Studios
Project manager: Anna Lancaster, Buildings Alive
Fitout builder: Matthew Kerr Builder

Materials reused from Department of Premier and Cabinet offices in Governor Macquarie Tower:

  • 18 office chairs
  • 14 workstations reconstructed from just six connected pods on L38
  • 8 office doors from L38 used for shelving
  • 1 whiteboard
  • 30 metres of 20A power cabling for workstations with 18 double GPOs
  • 8 lockable steel cabinets

We collected an additional three office chairs, two steel cabinets and some other miscellaneous pieces (e.g. coffee tables) which we gave to other small businesses

Other reused/reclaimed materials:

  • 160 lineal metres of steel scaffold tube (which had been lying unused in a yard for 15 years)
  • Hot water heater (new time switch installed)
  • 4 lineal metres of metal stud Gyprock partition wall

Material stripped out from our existing tenancy:

  • 150 sq m of 30 year old broadloom carpet
  • 50 ceiling tiles
  • eight lineal metres of metal stud Gyprock partition wall
  • An old sink and 0.5 sq m benchtop

New materials we purchased:

  • Kitchen carcasses from Ikea
  • Ply table tops and LVL legs (we constructed on site)
  • HDF laminated kitchen benchtop
  • Ply kitchen cabinet fronts
  • Some ply shelving (unfortunately we did not salvage enough doors)
  • eight Ikea meeting room chairs
  • 12 Ke-Zu stools
  • 15 sq m of Linoleum
  • Paint
  • A few GPOs and cables
  • All fluorescent lamps replaced
  • Shower, tiles, etc.
  • Other standard construction materials, fixtures, fittings, kitchen appliances and incidentals

New materials purchased by our landlord:

  • 150 sq m of Interface GlasBac carpet
  •  50 ceiling tiles to replace damaged ones

ESD features:

  • Mixed mode airconditioning (we just now turned on the AC for the first time. It’s 37.5C outside. Mostly we don’t need it due to thermal mass and six sq m of openable windows east and west for cross flow). Packaged AC unit is managed by us and on our tenancy board.
  • Personal Comfort System (so far I’m the only one with a PCS, i.e. a 2W fan powered from a USB port which I picked up in Berkeley, US, at the Centre for the Built Environment. Once everyone has one I don’t think we’ll need AC at all, even on the hottest days in Sydney and I don’t think we’ll need “space heating” either)
  • Deep natural light penetration (only the western half of the office uses artificial light during the day due to 5m high windows)
  • Low-VOC paint (believe it or not… we actually only stopped the painting one hour before the party – that’s why it smelled)
  • Interface GlasBac carpet tiles (not especially novel, but the rest of the building is broadloom)
  • Linoleum in kitchen rather than vinyl
  • End of trip facilities (we installed a shower, bike racks and lockers for 5 bikes (initially)
  • 15 indoor plants, including Ivy which we hope will climb the scaffold
  • Fully wireless – no data cabling whatsoever
  • Waste separation and recycling for paper and containers (all else to general waste)
  • Office is completely paperless (printing only for external correspondence and presentations)
  • Preferred access to and from the office is via stairs (helps to be on level 1 and have ‘C-Grade’ lifts)

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  1. Great work, this is an important issue and story that needs to be told.

    Hopefully this can help to change mindsets, and lead to better life cycle thinking on a broader scale.

  2. How very true, if we start thinking green, even with the end in mind.
    What a fantastic and long overdue concept of recycling and reuse on a larger more commercial aspect.
    What confuses me is why go to the trouble of using eco friendly sustainable products e.g. FSC certified wood; and then use a synthetic plastic coating on it?
    Worst case scenario, if it does go to landfill, then would it still be fully biodegradable and non toxic to the environment?
    If one uses a natural material such as FSC certified wood, then surely it makes sense that the coating should also be natural. This has many benefits not only to the health of the environment when it is used but also allows for ease of reconditioning with minimal effort. Also if it is unfortunate enough to eventually go to land fill, then there are not issues with breaking down and toxicity to the environment. The Life cycle of the completed product should be considered right from the beginning.

  3. It is really great that you guys are finally bringing attention to the significance of reused and repurposed furniture to major stakeholders.
    For 16 years, Office Spectrum has been re-using and eco-refurbishing commercial office furniture for office fitouts. Thousands of workstations, chairs, storage units have been saved from landfill and tonnes and tonnes of carbon emissions have been avoided. Working with the BBP, City of Sydney, GPT and major stakeholders such as IBM, Fairfax Media and ASX, we have finally been recognised as one of the pioneers of industrial ecology.
    This year, our projects with Fairfax Media has won an international innovation award and WWF has been highly commended in the 2014 IDEAS Awards for sustainability.
    Thank you BBP, City of Sydney and Fifth Estate for your support!

  4. And may I say the Buildings Alive office looked stunning. The photos don’t really do it justice (Blake where’s the instagram filters!!). There is certainly no design compromise in reuse. Great job guys. Now lets see this happen ALL OVER THE CITY