Southwestern University hired a Sustainability Coordinator and embraced a commitment to zero waste on campus. They reached out to DCI to provide them with sustainable zero waste furniture to furnish two of their residence halls.
The Oldest University in Texas
Southwestern University (SU) is a private liberal arts school in Georgetown, Texas, just north of Austin. Situated on a 780-acre suburban campus with 1,430 undergrads, the school was founded 180 years ago in 1840.
We connected with SU in 2019, but it was really in 2014 when their own story put them on a trajectory to intersect with our company.
SWU’s Sustainability Plan
That year (2014), SU’s Environmental Studies Capstone created the school’s first Sustainability Plan which outlined the need for an Office of Sustainability. In the Spring of 2019, SU hired their first Sustainability Coordinator to lead the Office of Sustainability.
Embracing Zero Waste
Soon afterwards, in the summer of 2019, the Facilities Management department, overseeing the Office of Sustainability, launched several zero waste initiatives to get the campus on track to achieve 90% diversion from landfills by 2025.
This had a profound impact on purchasing.
As part of their zero-waste commitment, SU pledged that all purchasing would be circular.
What does that mean exactly?
Wikipedia describes a circular economy as “an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources.”
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation further fleshes out the definition:
A circular economy is a systemic approach to economic development designed to benefit businesses, society, and the environment. In contrast to the ‘take-make-waste’ linear model, a circular economy is regenerative by design and aims to gradually decouple growth from the consumption of finite resources.
Prioritizing Sustainable Residence Hall Furniture
In 2019, Southwestern started vetting contract furniture companies that could help them align their furniture purchasing process with their commitment to zero waste.
The SU team reached out to us after visiting the DCI website and learning about our own zero waste policies and practices.
By this time, the University had a clear list of priorities for their residential hall furniture.
And residence hall furniture took precedence over office furniture because of the retention goals of the University. For SU, new sustainable furniture was an important part of their strategy to both keep existing students at the school and attract new students.
SU’s furniture priorities:
- Affordability — complete set under $1,000 per student
- Space Optimization — loftable or bunkable capability
- Accessibility — meets ADA requirements
- Aesthetics — “classic” look that will be appealing regardless of decade
- Durability — useful life of the product (15-20 years)
- Eco-Preferred Materials — sustainably sourced, low VOCs
- End-of-Life Management — repurposes or donates old furniture
- Domestically-Made — made in North America
We were able to address every item on SU’s list.
Price is an obvious concern for all but the richest schools. And we wanted to help SU achieve their sustainability goals with the most budget conscious solution possible.
Based on that, we put together a bed, desk, under bed storage, and task chair solution package that featured solid wood construction, our most sustainable option. All while meeting their target price.
We work extensively with schools who have limited floor space and need a bedroom solution that optimizes their square footage. We design our furniture and mock up floor plans to make sure that our partners can comfortably house the greatest number of students. In this case, the bedroom set included SU’s desire for loftable beds.
All of our furniture is designed to meet ADA requirements.
Making institutional furniture that is both stylish and built to last is essential. These days, students and parents increasingly demand an attractive bedroom solution that transcends the mere functionality that used to characterize university furniture. We fashioned a very attractive and set of solid wood furniture for SU.
As much as we are shooting for compelling style, the furniture must still stand up to high traffic and rough use. The solid wood furniture we fashioned for SU is incredibly durable and will last for many decades.
SU chose solid wood, the most sustainable option for residence hall furniture. We source our logs from sustainably managed forests in the North Country of Vermont and New Hampshire. Our water based stains and roll applied UV-cured finish emit no VOCs.
We offer a buyback program for all solid hardwood furniture. This was important for SU so they could get money back at the end of the useful life of their furniture. When their furniture reaches the end of its useful life, we’ll buy it back and give it another life. SU’s furniture is designed so that we can break it down into components when we take it back, recycle the steel, and reuse the solid wood panels for internal components in new furniture.
All of our furniture is made right here in the United states. We select our timber from within 150 miles of our sawmill, which is located in Southeast Vermont. Our factory is based in Northern New Hampshire and we have additional operations in North Carolina and Southern California to facilitate regional service.
In the end, we met all their criteria and delivered beds, desks, and under bed storage units that featured our most sustainable solid wood tops, side panels, drawer fronts, and support rails.
Here’s a closer look at the solution.
Southwestern Case Study – APPA/ACUHO-i
(Lead Image – Dustin Coates (dustinc), CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)