When we talk about sustainability, it’s often about waste or energy but not about procurement (how UC buys its goods from external parties). That’s a shame because UC’s procurement of “new” furniture has great sustainability features! We had a chat to Shelley Ranson from UC Procurement.
What does your team do? We provide purchasing and procurement services to UC. In terms of Sustainability, we want to maximise social and economic benefits, and minimise damage to health and the environment. Often this means taking time to explore possibilities. For instance, by talking openly with supply partners we encourage them to review their existing sustainability initiatives and explore new opportunities. The Furniture Project is a recent example of this.
The Furniture Project? With several major new buildings, it wasn’t possible to furnish from existing stock, and a lot of new furniture was required. We selected four preferred supplies and a core catalogue range.
What sustainable features does the new furniture have? The core range furniture has the following features:
- Environmentally responsible manufacturing: Materials are low emission, sustainably sourced and designed for disassembly at end-of-life
- Socially responsible manufacturing: Chain of custody for manufacture particularly with regard to working conditions of off-shore labour
- Durability: E.g. AFRDI* and BIFMA** accreditation. This means the furniture is tough enough to withstand the high wear and tear environment of a university and won’t break or wear out as quickly as standard furniture
- Ergonomic features: So workplace health and safety is supported
- Future reuse or recycling potential: The ability to relocate furniture for continued use around campus by establishing a standard range of furniture
- Excellent warranty periods: Reducing whole-of-life costs and extending the functional life of the furniture.
Developing a transparent supply chain has enabled us to understand the source materials and the location of manufacturing of our core range. Some of the selected products are locally manufactured in New Zealand. One example is the brand of soft seat covering of which the wool is produced from Banks Peninsula sheep!
And the old furniture, what happens to it? A robust disposal guideline is being followed, which means, for instance, that any furniture that can be reused will be stored. We are also reviewing options for re-covering existing chairs to extend their life cycle. Obsolete items are at times given away or sold to local schools, education charities or UC staff/students. Our furniture storage partner (Allied Pickfords) has several partnerships, including charities, to facilitate this. Obsolete items are broken into component parts for scrap and recycling. Landfill is a last resort for damaged items that cannot be re-used, gifted or recycled in any way.
Finally, what are some of the other sustainable procurement initiatives? One is our collaboration with Futureworks, our Audio-Visual (AV) supplier. At the design stage, they advise on environmentally friendly options for installations (e.g. RMS is a solution that reduces energy consumption by remotely turning off equipment in empty rooms). Another exciting collaboration is with our preferred catering suppliers. They engage in a variety of activities, like supporting local producers where possible, using fair trade products, offering BYO mug options or arranging for food waste to go to farms.
The University is in a great position to instigate change within supply chains and to support sustainability at a local business level.
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*Australasian Furnishing Research and Development Institute **Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association