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Waste Not
Interior Design Firm’s Product Exchange Minimizes Construction & Demolition Waste

Schott Design’s product exchange program, SchottXchange, goes beyond its carpet reclamation and recycling efforts on its projects to facilitate the reuse of items within or between buildings, diverting materials from the landfill.

Indianapolis-based commercial interior design firm Schott Design is responsible for remodeling nearly 1 million square feet of office, hospitality and medical office spaces every year. Typically, one of the first things that happens during a remodeling project is that everything that is not going to be reused gets thrown away — including walls, doors, carpet, ceiling tile and flooring. The process of recycling and reuse has a reputation for being expensive and difficult, so the vast majority of things end up in the trash.

With a commitment to advancing a circular economy, Schott has launched a product exchange program, schottXchange, going beyond its already expansive carpet reclamation and recycling efforts on all of its projects. schottXChange facilitates the reuse of items within or between buildings, diverting materials from the landfill.

With the program marking its one-year anniversary in July, I posed some questions to Schott managing director Pam Francis, to learn more about the company’s journey.

What drove Schott Design to focus on construction and demolition waste?

Pam Francis: In the last couple of years, we have taken steps to pinpoint the impact of the interior design industry on landfills on our home state of Indiana. We worked with local trash haulers to understand how much Construction & Demolition (C&D) waste they collect on a regular basis from remodeling projects in the Indianapolis area. It was shocking. One trash hauler alone (out of three major companies in Indianapolis) picks up roughly 600 bins of C&D waste from projects in the Indianapolis metro area every day — going straight to landfills. That equates to 2,400-4,800 tons per day from just one waste management provider.

Nationwide, the C&D industry sends more than 548 million tons of waste to landfills annually, more than twice the amount of waste generated through municipal solid waste. Indiana has already closed more than 1,000 landfills that are full — and finding new locations is difficult due to encroaching neighborhood development.

At the end of the day, Schott Design believes that if we start working differently, others would follow suit and it could make an impact on our landfills and environment. That commitment — along with our purchasing power and our reputation in the real estate market — is helping us convince manufacturers to come along for the journey.

What were your challenges along the way?

PF: The big roadblock to sustainable solutions in commercial construction has always been the additional cost it adds to projects. We knew if we were going to be successfully changing behavior, it was important to find a way to develop a program for recycling, reuse and redesign that would not add cost to the projects or building owners.

We also knew that any change is difficult — especially when it affects processes that need to run efficiently to meet tight timeframes. Initially, it was difficult to shift the mindset to ‘deconstruction, not demolition,’ allowing items to be carefully sorted and reused or recycled. But our approach has been to educate our partners as to why these changes are needed, and to inspire them to be part of something more meaningful. Since we developed and rolled out our solutions, and collectively shared the ‘why,’ the real estate community has been very receptive. I think everyone wants to do the right thing; and when it’s made simple, efficient and affordable, they are happy to join the cause!

Last July, you created schottXchange as a way to facilitate the reuse of construction items. How does that work?

PF: schottXchange picks up items at no cost, through a partnership with a local moving and storage company. We store the items at no cost and then sell them at a deeply discounted price to a new owner. For example, if building A is getting rid of 10 doors, but building B needs 10 doors — these doors will be rescued from Building A before going to the landfill, touched up, and installed at Building B to avoid production of 10 new doors.

This reduces overall project costs for the buyer, decreases lead times; and, of course, reduces the landfill footprint and energy needed to produce additional new items.

We wanted to find a way to address items that could not be recycled — such as doors, cabinets and furniture. We see hundreds of these types of items needlessly discarded to landfill every year, and most of these items are in great shape. To see them thrown away, only to be replaced with new, is something we felt strongly we’d like to change. Thus far, we have had great success with this program. Not only have we saved hundreds of items from going to landfill, but clients have been very impressed with the quality and look of the items they receive.

And what are you doing with items that can’t be reused?

PF: Schott has developed recycling standards with contractors, building owners, product manufacturers and trash haulers on all projects to ensure that recyclable items are being recycled and not thrown in the landfill.

Our most successful recycling program thus far has been for carpet. When we think about recycling on a job site, carpeting stands out as the item which could make the biggest impact. Schott remodels approximately one million square feet of space each year and a majority of that space contains carpet. Very early on, we engaged a local carpet recycling company and carpet manufacturers like Shaw to develop a program that would ensure our carpet was recycled at no cost to the client. We are now recycling 100 percent of the carpet taken out of our projects at no cost to the project, and the project team enjoys savings from reduced tipping fees because of the weight reduction in trash.

In addition to carpet recycling, we are recycling all metals through our local recycling centers. As long as metals are kept separately, they can be sold on the commodities market; and the income from the metals is given back as a credit to the customer. This makes it a financially attractive commodity to recycle.

We are also in the process of finalizing details on programs to recycle ceiling tiles and vinyl flooring at no additional cost to the project. Keeping the process simple, as well as inexpensive, is a very challenging task! On our longer-term radar, we are trying to create programs for the most complicated products, including drywall. One thing at a time.

You have made great strides in recycling and reuse. What about reduction through redesign? What is being done to ensure building materials are sustainable, and we are not continuing to specify items that can only be landfilled?

PF: Schott is collaborating to redesign building materials with manufacturers and vendors to ensure that there are responsible end-of-life solutions for all design needs going forward. Redesign is critical, as it will ultimately have the biggest impact on landfill diversion in our industry, but it also takes the longest to yield results.

Schott has been focused on two things with respect to reduction through redesign:

  1. We have committed to executing designs with the most sustainable products available to us today. We label everything in our finish library to indicate where it falls on a scale of recyclability. In this process, we interviewed each manufacturer to find out if they have a recycling program now and if they would be willing to build one. We also outsourced research help to ensure we knew the chemical makeup of the products and understand if they can in fact be recycled. We have placed the highest value on products with an established closed-loop recycling program.

  2. We are using our buying power to influence manufacturers to design more sustainable products for the future. Manufacturers that have non-recyclable products want to make changes to ensure they keep our business. We have been encouraging them all to go back and work with their sustainability and R&D teams to redesign their products so that they can be recycled, and also to provide a take-back program.

What is your ultimate goal with all of this?

PF: As a market leader, we recognize that we must start designing and building differently, to reduce what we send to landfills. The current methods just aren’t sustainable, and we know that relatively small changes make big impacts. We are educating our peers in our industry, designing programs that can be sustained, and scaling them out to as large a market as we can. If we make it easy enough, others will follow and we can lead real change, not only for Indiana but for our nation. Collectively, as an industry, we can bring significant change — through relatively small changes — and really move the needle on C&D recycling & reuse in our nation.

This article is one in a series of articles recognizing 10 diverse organizations intently focused on products and initiatives that support the wellbeing of people and the planet, as part of Shaw’s sustain[HUMAN]ability™ recognition program. To read more about the other organizations recognized by Shaw for their efforts, visit the landing page for this blog series.