Tuesday, September 16, 2008

But that's a perfectly good desk chair!

Several years back, I worked for a large government agency in a big western state. You know, one of those states where people consider hiking boots an essential part of a business wardrobe? This was a place where green awareness was in vogue long before the rest of the country had a clear grasp on the concept of recycling.

In my office, I had a wonderful, huge, comfy desk chair. I tend to sit cross legged in my chairs, and this was ideal. One day, only a few months after I started working there, someone came around with a catalog.

"We need you to pick out your new desk chair," she said, handing me a catalog of sleek, allegedly ergonomic and decidedly small desk chairs.

"No thanks. I have the perfect chair."

"But you have to order a new one."

A few more minutes of frustrating conversation revealed the rest of the story. It seems that shortly before I started, the entire building had been re-outfitted with new desks, dividers, chairs, and shelves. My beloved chair had been overlooked. It also came out that the "old" furniture had been mostly thrown away, but some was at the state surplus for sale. After begging and pleading and extracting a promise that my chair would remain in place, I went down to the surplus building.

There, in an largely abandoned old school, were stacks and piles of beautiful solid oak desks, solid wood bookcases and file cabinets, and rows of big comfy leather chairs. All deemed by the state to be trash. Whatever did not sell that day would be sent to the landfill. That day. Sadly, I did not have the time or the means to rescue more that a couple of bookcases and a library table. But I decided to find out why all of this furniture had been scrapped.

The reason? It was not modern. It was not new. And the new department director wanted new. And sleek. He did not like wooden desks and big leather chairs. So into the trash it went. In came row after row of plastic cubicle walls adorned with hideous carpeting that was probably off-gassing toxins. In came plastic desks with no drawers and hanging bookcases that could not support more than a few books. And into the landfill went tons of oak and cherry and pine and metal and leather. Why? Because it wasn't new. That's it.

So what is the green alternative? What is the lesson here? It's a matter of priorities. Appearance or sustainability? New for the sake of new (at great expense to the taxpayers, by the way), or functional and already in place? In your green office or company:

  • Use existing desks and chairs and bookcases as long as they are functional.
  • If you need more or need replacements for broken items, look for used office furniture instead of new. Choose the earth over a sleek looking office.
  • If you need to buy new, buy only what is needed to replace or supplement current furnishings.
  • Avoid plastics and synthetics with a lot of off-gassing potential. Opt for renewable woods, glass or recycled metal components.


Annabelle said...

I'd have to say--there's something about a really finely tuned and skillfully constructed office chair. The most wonderful thing about my workday is most definitely my Aeron. It helps my back and my posture. I got it at preownedaerons.com because I know they can be expensive and I wanted a nice one for cheaper. It's really a cool chair; very adjustable that I feel like it molds to my body.