5 Stories from Our Sustainable Furniture Solutions Hall of Fame

In Bedroom, Blog, Green Manufacturing by Amos Kober

When it comes to sustainable furniture solutions, we’ve had the good fortune to work with some amazing schools who are steadfastly committed to sustainability.

In fact, two of our clients recently won the top two spots in Sierra’s Coolest Schools Ranking, which highlights the work of the greenest schools in the US and Canada.

As a company dedicated to building the most sustainable furniture in the residence hall furniture market, we appreciate it when institutions of higher education go the extra distance to weave sustainable furniture solutions into their residence halls.

That’s especially important when you consider the role that sustainable furniture plays in contributing to the wellbeing of students and also the integrity of informal learning spaces.

Five Model Sustainability Furniture Solutions

So I thought it would be fun to highlight some of our favorite green projects from the last decade. These vignettes single out sustainable furniture solutions that we developed in collaboration with the schools spotlighted below.

In general, most of our sustainable furniture solutions include one or a combination of the following attributes.

  • Repurposing/reuse
  • Recycling/upcycling
  • Hardwood furniture
  • Holistic/innovative design
  • Hyperlocal sourcing

And although the solutions are different for each school, what ties these stories together is an uncommon commitment to green innovation.

So without further ado, I present you with a selection of five solutions from our sustainability (residence) hall of fame.

1. University of New Hampshire – Reuse, Recycle, Upcycle

We’ve furnished the residence halls at UNH for several decades. But a few years ago, the school approached us with an interesting new idea.

UNH wanted to replace furniture that we had installed in their residence halls over 25 years ago and asked if we wanted to not only take back the original furniture, but also upcycle it to create their new furniture.

Because DCI primarily uses solid hardwood construction—in contrast to chip-core, MDF, plywood, wood laminate, and other laminate materials comprised of veneer and substrate—nearly all of it is reusable.

So we agreed to take back their furniture at no cost (in fact we paid them a small sum) to ensure that nothing ended up in the landfill.

Then we brought it back up to the DCI factory for the next stage in its life cycle.

Upcycling At UNH

How did we upcycle the furniture from UNH?

  1. First, we recycled all the metal components in the furniture—runners and screws.
  2. Then we broke down all the solid wood components including drawer fronts, case sides, wardrobe shelves and bottoms, and any larger hardwood components.
  3. Finally, we upcycled all this by re-manufacturing the wood components, stripping them down into fixed width strips, and then used those strips for internal hardwood components like corner blocks, cleats, and drawer rails.

Through this unique sustainability partnership, DCI furnishes UNH residence halls with brand new solid wood furniture that is fortified with upcycled internal components from furniture that we installed on their campus over 25 years ago.

In fact, over the last 3 years we have taken back over 500 desks, chests, and assorted tables. You can download this PDF to see how we break down the furniture into reusable and recyclable component parts.

DCI and UNH have maintained this virtuous (up)cycle of sustainability for the last 5 years and we are contracted to continue it for the next decade.

2. Dartmouth College – Hyperlocal Hardwood Harvesting

In 2005, Dartmouth College approached DCI with a unique and exciting proposition. Could we partner with them to build their hardwood  residence hall furniture with trees harvested from their own land?

Dartmouth wanted us to furnish their new residence halls with over 500 custom sets of maple bookshelves, desks, dressers and beds crafted and sourced from their own standing timber.

We love innovative partnerships and custom sustainable furniture solutions, especially when they advance the values of sustainability. And this kind of hyperlocal hardwood tree sourcing is a rare opportunity. So we naturally jumped at the opportunity.

The Sawmill Advantage

First, we worked with the college forester to select and harvest timber from Dartmouth’s sustainably managed forests in partnership with the school’s Grant Management Committee and in alignment with their Forest Management Plan.

At DCI, we have the unique ability to process lumber at our own saw mill. That allowed us to keep the sourcing, milling, and manufacturing of Dartmouth’s residence hall furniture completely local.

Then we had the pleasure of installing over 500 sets of locally sourced and manufactured solid maple bookshelves, desks, dressers and beds.

As an added bonus, because our mill and our factory are so close to Dartmouth, and because they supplied the timber, we were able to provide them with a significant discount.

3. Whittier College – A Multi-Pronged Approach To Repurposing Old Furniture

AT DCI, we’re passionate about protecting the planet and using business to bolster the values of sustainability. One way that we back this up is by offering to recycle, reuse, or repurpose all the furniture that we’re replacing in a given residence hall.

This extends the life of the furniture and keeps waste out of the landfill. It also saves everyone money, helps the community at large, and supports local charities.

To that end, we repurpose many tons of furniture each year.

During our second installation at Whittier College, we repurposed, recycled, and upcycled a huge amount of furniture.

All told, we removed 205 beds with metal springs, 205 pedestal desks, and 205 large five-drawer wood dressers. Here’s how we gave them a new lease on life.

1. Donating & Recycling Metal Beds 

In response to a last minute request, we packaged and sent 30 beds to a school in Northern California. We also connected with a gentleman who specialized in scrap metal who showed up every day in a small truck to pack it up and haul the beds away for scrap metal.

This is a big deal because bedsprings are particularly bad for landfills. According to the University of Minnesota’s Natural Resources Research Institute:

Mostly, it’s the steel springs that landfill managers curse. The springy metal won’t crush. It bounces back, gets stuck in the bulldozers, and takes up a lot of precious space. “In landfills, it’s all about compaction,” says NRRI researcher Tim Hagen. “And bed springs just won’t compact. It’s a huge problem.”

2. Upcycling & Repurposing Solid Wood Bed Ends

We donated some to a local goodwill, but because they were made from solid wood we re-manufactured and repurposed most of them as parts for use in new furniture. In addition, one fellow came and picked up about 100 bed ends and used them to build a fence around his house.

3. Donating 5-Drawer Dressers

We donated all 205 dressers to Habitat Restore in Asuza, CA. Amazingly, they sold through all of them in about 10 days. That’s a testament to the quality and durability of solid wood furniture.

4. Donating Desks

We donated as many desks as possible—in total about 75 desks. Because these desks weren’t made from solid wood, we had to break down and throw out the rest.

4. Plymouth State University – A Model of Sustainability

We love it when students get engaged at some level in the process of delivering our product to the school. At PSU, that’s just what happened.

PSU has a strong commitment to sustainability. Over a decade ago, we helped them furnish a state-of-the-art residence hall called Langdon Woods. It was the first collegiate residence hall in New Hampshire to achieve LEED Gold certification.

During a more recent project, and inspired by DCI’s green values, the sustainability team over at PSU developed a flyer that chronicles the manufacturing journey of their furniture from forest to floor.

This manufacturing triptik depicts DCI’s unique vertical integration process. Currently it hangs in PSU residence halls to build student awareness around sustainability. (Check out the flyer here.)

Vertical integration (or chain of custody) means that we own every stage of the supply chain and production process.

From raw trees and rough lumber to milling, manufacturing, and manually installing the furniture, DCI safeguards the sustainable pedigree of our solid hardwood furniture.

The simple graphics and illustrations in PSU’s flyer depict the transformative journey from forest trees to finished furniture. The accompanying narrative highlights some of the sustainable practices that define our manufacturing process.

Locally Made

One set of fun facts they note reflects DCI’s commitment to domestic and local manufacturing. The bedroom furniture we made for PSU’s Merrill Place was custom built using 750 local logs or roughly 275 trees.

Once the lumber was harvested from FSC-controlled trees, it spent over a month traveling through different stages of the factory, taking more than 5,000 man hours to complete. All of that work was performed by local men and women in the north country of New Hampshire.

This is so important because local manufacturing drives and sustains many of the small town economies in the Northeastern United States.

5. NYU – Locally Manufactured, FSC-Certified, and Solid Hardwood

Hayden Hall/Lipton Hall Renovation.

NYU has a huge environmental footprint, so their commitment to sustainability is laudable.

In the first phase of our work to upgrade their furniture design standard, NYU’s decision making reflected their green values. They chose the greenest raw material for their residence hall furniture—solid hardwood.

Solid wood is perhaps the most sustainable furniture solution choice.

All of NYU’s furniture is built from our FSC-certified Northern Red Oak. And FSC is the sustainability gold standard when it comes to wood furniture.

Also, NYU is committed to supporting local businesses and works with regional organizations who operate within 500 miles of the school. This is another reason why DCI—a family run New Hampshire-based business—is such a good match for NYU.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Extending Furniture Life

On another project, the housing team at NYU developed an innovative vision for giving new life to some of their beds that were bound for the landfill.

In essence, NYU had bed springs that they wanted to reuse, but they didn’t have the headboards to fit them. So we crafted new headboards and bed ends for the existing inventory—approximately 400 beds—to give them new life and longevity.

NYU’s green values allowed us to keep their bed decks out of the landfill. Remember, landfill managers hate space-hogging bed springs. Thankfully, these beds got a second life.

There is one last aspect of NYUs sustainability commitment that’s worth noting.

NYU’s Commitment To Long-Lasting Furniture

 are key aspects of sustainability. The longer you keep your furniture in use, the longer is stays out of the landfill. That’s why NYU always plans for their residence hall furniture to last a minimum of 25 years.

To ensure the longevity of the furniture and at no cost to the school, we offer a complete service inspection to confirm everything is functioning properly, and then we make any needed corrections.

This “Tune-Up” is one way we stand behind our furniture and follow through on our Guarantee.

Because NYU is so committed to long-lasting furniture, this inspection service and our 25-Year Guarantee were pivotal to the housing team at NYU. After one year, we went through and inspected every drawer and piece of furniture.

Conclusion

Residence halls have come a long way in the last few decades with respect to sustainability. The truth is, sustainability used to be an afterthought when it came to residence hall furniture.

Today, green practices are fast becoming the norm across campus.

Growing up in the age of climate change, students expect their home away from home to be furnished with nontoxic sustainably manufactured furnishings. Even more, they want to know that their tuition dollars are supporting companies with a robust commitment to sustainability.

In the end, these stories offer a mere glimpse of the many sustainability success stories that we feel privileged to play a part in. It’s our hope that your school will tell the next inspired story on the list!