Waste Not, Want Not
Kelly Beamon -- Interior Design, 6/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
Justin Green, cofounder of Build It Green (BIG), a cause-driven salvage reseller in Queens, New York, is a missionary whose calling has always been to reduce our building waste. "I'm a diehard dumpster diver. I've worked in construction. I've seen the incredible squandering that goes on—people throwing away perfectly good cabinets," he says.
Not only did his surname prophesy a good solution, it also foretold a journey that led him to the nonprofit concept. Working in the family construction business led him to start a recycling program as a Dallas teenager. And after he earned a BA in economics and community planning from Oberlin, he rejected a career in investment banking to work as a loan-fund developer for New York watchdog agency the Community Environmental Center (CEC). Around the same time, he also spearheaded renovations of 11 raw industrial lofts in Williamsburg, including his own, with its "cabinets, bookcases, and dining table all made from salvaged parts."
Launching the 17,500-square-foot store selling rescued doors, ovens, and column capitals was Green's destiny. On a visit to the foundry, now repurposed to serve as the outlet, he paused from building a new retail area and shooing pigeons from the rafters to explain why designers should also think BIG.
How did this store evolve?
A large developer, called the Durst Organization, requested the CEC's assistance on ways to handle a massive deconstruction project. The CEC's president, Richard Cherry, consulted me. But after we brainstormed about a program for removing and collecting the construction waste, I realized we still needed someplace to distribute the salvaged materials. That's when I proposed the store.
What's the inventory?
Doors, windows, sinks, floors, mantles, columns, kitchen cabinets, tubs, floors, shower fixtures, energy-efficient lightbulbs. You name it. When we dispatch our four-man crew—which includes me—it's to dismantle nothing smaller than an entire kitchen for resale. We also carry a few new products—bambooplywood, particleboard made from sun- flower seeds, and insulation made of recycled newspaper.
And what's in it for design and architecture firms?
There's so much value in the things that get thrown away. Finally, firms doing renovations have someplace to take all that perfectly good unwanted stuff. They don't have to worry about pickups: If it's worth $1,000 minimum, we'll pick it up.
Waste from construction and demolitions in New York City alone totals about 13,500 tons of wood and metal daily. Giving the materials to us, instead of tossing it, generates a state-tax deduction for the donor, and it's easy, since we're not cherry-picking the best-selling architectural salvage. If it's in good condition we'll take it—old or new.
But you must reject items. What's that list like?
We don't take old fluorescents or refrigerators—they're not energy-efficient. Also no electric water heaters, oil-based paints, or 20-year-old Formica cabinets. We turn down a lot of beaten-up hollow-core doors, too.
Have you picked up anything with an interesting provenance?
We got in a great batch of doors from an old Franciscan monastery. And a film-industry company donated a stage used for a Tommy Hilfiger reality show. It arrived in 4-by-8-foot sections, so we sold half to a church and donated the rest to the CEC's new education center.
The shopping experience sounds like it's full of great surprises. Can firms based outside New York find similar concepts?
Habitat for Humanity has a string of nonprofit stores like ours, called Habitat ReStores. One is in Suffolk County. And I based Build It Green'swarehouse on a store called Urban Ore in Berkeley, California, where I used to live. Chicago, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles all have some version. There's actually a whole movement.
We know your philosophy on recycling. What's your view of good design?
There's a school of thought that says every project will eventually be torn down. In that case, make sure your initial materials are high-quality and disassemble easily. That kind of design is smart, because it can be reused.
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