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Sunday, 11 December 2016 16:23

GM partners with Herman Miller to divert furniture from landfill

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Via the Herman Miller rePurpose program, General Motors was able to avoid sending its old furniture to the landfill after a recent renovation project at its Warren Technical Center, bottom left. The automaker diverted the used items to nonprofits including the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative, show at top and at bottom right. Via the Herman Miller rePurpose program, General Motors was able to avoid sending its old furniture to the landfill after a recent renovation project at its Warren Technical Center, bottom left. The automaker diverted the used items to nonprofits including the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative, show at top and at bottom right.

ZEELAND — Companies undertaking large office remodeling projects can struggle to find sustainable ways to handle old furniture and supplies rather than discarding them in a landfill. 

That was the case for General Motors, which wrestled with the prospect of landfilling more than 2,000 tons of unwanted furniture, appliances and other office items as a result of a $1 billion remodeling project at its Technical Center campus in Warren.

Instead, the automaker found a way to avoid the landfill by tapping into the Herman Miller Inc. rePurpose program, which diverts the products to nonprofit and community organizations across the state.

“It made complete business sense and was very seamless,” said David Tulauskas, director of sustainability for General Motors. “It’s still very good office equipment and furniture that’s going to organizations that can benefit and create new work environments.”

General Motors committed a portion of its furniture to outfit a new community resource center that’s part of an expansion project by the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative in Detroit. 

General Motors is one of the largest participants and the first Detroit-based automaker to use the rePurpose program, which began in 2009, said Michael Ramirez, senior vice president of people, places and administration at Herman Miller. 

Ontario-based Green Standards manages the rePurpose program for Herman Miller, which also allows companies to recycle and resell their unwanted office furniture in addition to donating it. 

For Herman Miller, having a large organization such as General Motors participate in the rePurpose program helps legitimize the initiative and solidify the importance of reducing waste overall. 

“Anytime you see such a large company like GM using a program like this, it helps,” Ramirez said. “People worry about the scale of the program and if you can really do it.”

So far, the rePurpose program has avoided sending 27,000 tons of material to landfills and helped facilitate donations equal to $18 million, according to data from the office furniture maker. 

Ramirez expects interest in the program to continue as sustainability practices become more essential for companies to compete for market share and to attract talent.

“Let’s be clear, we’re in a massive talent war for engineers and I.T. people,” Ramirez said. “Most people want to work with companies that help create a better world.” 

For General Motors, partnering with Herman Miller’s rePurpose program fulfilled both the environmental and social stewardship side of the company’s sustainability strategy. 

“We’re to send a clear signal to the communities in which we operate,” Tulauskas said. “We truly believe that we can’t achieve our max value if the communities that we’re operating in aren’t at their full potential.” 

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