Case Study: Duke University

In Blog, case study, Climate Friendly Furniture, Green Manufacturing, GreenCertification, solid wood, Wood is Good by Morgan Dix

Summary: Meeting a detailed design specification, providing local manufacturing, service, and warehousing, and demonstrating a commitment to sustainability leadership were all important factors that went into selecting a company to furnish Duke University dorms.

Project Name: Trinity House

Location: Durham, North Carolina

Size: 270 sets

Building Type: Duke University Dorms, Multi-use Residence Hall

Team: Duke & DCI

Product List: Full Size Bed, Study Desk, Wardrobe, 520 Two-drawer Underbed Storage Units

Duke University

Duke was founded in 1838 and is consistently ranked among the top Universities in the United States. Spread across three contiguous campuses and a marine lab in Beaufort, NC, the school occupies 8,600 acres.

It’s also the seventh wealthiest private university in America with an annual budget of $2.3b and an endowment totalling $11.3b. Consequently, Duke has a huge impact on the North Carolina economy providing jobs for 37,000 people and making it the second largest employer in the state.

Indeed, Duke’s commitment to supporting local economies is one reason why DCI and Duke are such good partners.

In addition to the fact that DCI has a local manufacturing plant in Lumberton, NC, the company has supported robust local economies in the north country of New Hampshire for more than 40 years.

Of course Duke is famous for its dominance in Division 1 College athletics, most notably winning five Division 1 men’s basketball championships.

Academic & Research Powerhouse

But it’s influence as an academic and research powerhouse is even more impressive.

Ten Nobel laureates and three Turing Award winners are affiliated with the university and since its founding it has produced 45 Rhodes scholars. In fact, Duke ranks fifth among American Universities for Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, Goldwater, and Udall Scholars.

When it comes to research, Duke pours more than $1b/year into a huge spectrum of projects. It’s Levine Science Research Center is the largest single-site interdisciplinary research facility of any American university.

And Duke’s Medical Center fuses their top-ranked hospital with one of the nation’s pre-eminent medical schools. All told, the Medical Center occupies a colossal 8 million square feet in 99 buildings on 210 acres.

Sustainability Commitment

The University also demonstrates leadership in the fields of sustainability and environmental issues.

Although Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment was officially founded in 1991, that event represented the fusion of established Duke institutions that are nearly as old as the school.

According to the Nicholas School website:

The School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the Duke University Marine Lab (both formed in 1938) came together in 1991 to become the School of Environment. In 1997, the Department of Geology (formed in 1936) joined the school as the Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences and focuses on a number of areas at the intersection of earth and environmental sciences.

Recently the Nicholas School moved into a new state of the art green building.

In early 2014, the Nicholas School of the Environment opened a new home, Environmental Hall, a five-story, glass-and-concrete building that incorporates the highest sustainable features and technologies, and meets or exceeds the criteria for LEED platinum certification.

In terms of its core focus areas related to research in the physical, biological, and social sciences, the Nicholas School focuses on three interrelated fields: 1) climate and energy; 2) terrestrial and marine ecosystems; 3) human health and the environment.

Focus On Climate Change

At DCI, we are concerned about all these areas, but climate and energy are two areas that we focus on intensively by using renewable resources like wood biomass to heat and power our manufacturing plant while minimizing our carbon footprint.

According to the Nicholas School:

Global warming is arguably the most serious environmental issue of our time, and because the root cause is intimately tied to our energy infrastructure, it is also one of the most difficult. The challenges are to: (i) enhance our understanding of the global climate system and its dependence on the global cycling of greenhouse gases through marine and terrestrial ecosystems; (ii) develop adaptation strategies for the inevitable climate disruptions we will face in the coming decades; and (iii) map out a pathway for transitioning from our fossil-fuel dependent infrastructure to one that relies on renewables and low-carbon energy sources in a manner that avoids the most dangerous consequences of global warming.

Process & Approach

Duke put out their RFPs in March 2017. They were looking for a residence hall furniture partner for the next several years and potentially beyond to furnish multiple residence halls including Trinity, Crowell, Craven, and Hollows.

We won the contract in June, and it extends through July 2019.

Duke had several key criteria for awarding their contract. Those decision making criteria included:

  • Detailed design specs
  • Price
  • Local manufacturing, service, and warehousing
  • Commitment to environmental management and sustainability leadership

We fulfilled all the criteria, but two of those specifications played to DCI’s strengths: 1) we have an assembly and storage plant in NC with local service; and 2) we have a decades-long commitment to environmental management and sustainability leadership.

Indeed, we’re honored that the University recognizes that DCI shares many of it’s same goals and values.

But there was perhaps one more key element of this story that’s worth noting. Because it speaks to the value of solid hardwood furniture.

Prior to the award, a team from Duke University visited UNC Chapel Hill to take a look at the residence hall furniture we had installed there 10 years ago. Duke was so impressed with the fresh look and feel of the furniture after a decade that they were sold.

There’s no question that solid hardwood furniture is by far the longest-lasting and most durable furniture material on the market. And that’s one reason why we offer a 25-year warranty on all our furniture.

Duke University Dorms & Sustainability

Because environmental sustainability is such a priority for the University and the Housing team at Duke, they visited our operation to see where all the resources come from to build the furniture.

In the process, the Duke team observed how sustainability weaves through all aspects of our work.

The primary resource we use to construct our hardwood furniture is local timber—oak, maple, ash.

Therefore, our first stop was the DCI sawmill in South Royalton, VT. Because we own our sawmill, we can offer chain of custody assurances that are unique in the residence hall furniture market. As a result, all our furniture is FSC CoC certified.

We also minimize our carbon footprint by keeping our supply chain incredibly short. All the timber we use to construct our hardwood furniture is harvested within 120 miles of our sawmill, which is located just 60 miles from our main manufacture plant.

The Duke team saw firsthand the timber that we select with guidance from New Hampshire and Vermont state foresters.

Working with those foresters, we ensure that our tree harvesting practices nurture forest health and create much-needed habitat for endangered and threatened wildlife.

Then, the Housing team flew north to New Hampshire a second time to see their furniture in production at our state of the art zero-wastemanufacturing plant in Lisbon, NH.

There, they witnessed DCI’s full furniture manufacturing process from kiln, to rough mill, to finish mill, UV finish, and then shipment to NC for assembly.

Local Service

Another key criteria for Duke was local service and storage capacity.

Since Trinity House is a new building, they needed assurance that we could store furniture if there were construction delays. Our Lumberton, NC assembly plant has ample storage room for occasions just like this.

The housing team also drove up to Lumberton from Durham to see their Trinity House furniture going through the final assembly process.


Here are some samples of the mission style study desk and the full size height adjustable bed with two-drawer underbed storage units. Duke already had a clear design vision for the furniture, so we were able to build it according to their design spec.

duke university dorms solid wood desk
duke university dorms solid wood bed and underbed storage

duke university dorms solid wood desk, bed, underbed storage

(Cover photo via Flickr CC: Carinr06)