The AIA 2030 Commitment: Living in a Material World

Sometimes you just have to get your hands dirty.

The Bergmeyer leadership team was prepared to do what it took. We knew that in order to solve some of our AIA 2030 Commitment operational challenges we’d have to go beyond the call of duty. Sitting at our desks writing e-mails and blog posts wasn’t enough. We were ready to make the leap – into the trash barrels.

This was the problem: the AIA 2030 Commitment asks architectural firms to report on their waste reduction strategies. Unless you know how much waste you produce, you can’t set reduction targets. And the only sure-fire way to measure your waste is to audit it. Sure, you can pay to have someone come in and do a waste-stream audit for you, but what fun would that be? We decided to take matters into our own hands.

We went Dumpster Diving!

How to pull off a good dumpster dive? We were well-prepared. The key was surprise. Surprise and fear. And ruthless efficiency. Seriously, what you want is a representative sample of how much waste your firm produces versus how much material gets recycled. If you tell everyone in the office that you’re inspecting the day’s trash their behavior changes. So don’t put “dumpster dive” on the Outlook calendar.

Special equipment was obtained: heavy-duty gloves (yellow is nice), work clothes, 5 gallon tubs, big plastic bags and tarps, protective eyewear and cold beer. And hand scales, sort of like the ones in the grocery store produce departments only with hooks on the ends. We rented those.  Finally, we gave our property management company a heads-up.

Five-thirty arrived. The gloves went on. (Cue the theme song) Once we intercepted all our trash and recycled materials in the 5 gallon tubs we hauled it to the loading dock and dumped it into separate piles on the tarps. We sorted it into categories of our own choosing (food waste, paper towels, stuff that should’ve been recycled, etc.) then loaded it into plastic bags. We weighed each bag of stuff separately, recorded the data, and drank the beers.

Our data was pretty conclusive. 73.2 pounds of stuff was collected. For a fifty-something person operation, that’s light. Almost 54% of the 73.2 pounds was in recycling bins, and 50% of the recycled stuff was paper. Not bad. And only 3% of our trash by weight came from those annoying little single-serving coffee containers. That was all good news. But 11% of our “trash” could have been recycled and 16% of our trash was paper towel waste from bathrooms. Maybe it’s time to re-visit that paper towel versus high energy-using hand dryer debate again?

But the surprise discovery was this:  Architects have our own insidious way of contributing to landfill waste. A whopping 58% by weight of the stuff that we threw “away” that day was . . . discarded material samples! Stack of stone tiles, pieces of wood with different finishes, binders of flooring materials, half of a store fixture mock-up, and more. Egad!

Our response? Donate samples to the nearby Childrens Museum? Call a “we’ll take anything” recycler?  Better yet: just send the stuff back! Our sample library now has a special rule: if someone brings us a catalog or new sample, they must take the old ones back. Product reps and suppliers are now part of our 2030 plan, too.

So there you have it. Now we have waste reduction strategies. If we go to zero waste from material samples, we will reduce our trash output per person by almost 60%, and if we get to zero recycled materials in the trash, we’ll push it down another 10%. Practical, meaningful goals. Good work, team. We were ready for our next challenge.

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One Comment on “The AIA 2030 Commitment: Living in a Material World”

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