Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

In theory, I am all about Sustainability.  Ever since I was in 6th or 7th grade, I’ve been concerned that our society is heading toward an environmental train wreck, and I’ve wanted to help head it off.  Every job I’ve had has been about Sustainability.  I’ve been personally responsible for keeping many tens of millions of pounds of reusable and recyclable materials out of landfills.  I’ve helped thousands of other people do the same.  I’ve come up with some unique and really effective recycling programs.  I’ve written environmental How-To guides and articles and I’ve given How-To lectures across the country.  I drive a car that gets 40 MPG, and I telecommute as much as I can.


I live 30 miles from where I work.  There’s a decent reason I live where I do, but still, I live 30 miles from where I work.  Every time I drive to and from work, I burn two gallons of gas.  What’s that about?

I ski.  I love to ski.  Is there environmentally a worse sport than skiing?  Ski areas trash beautiful mountains, and suck up huge amounts of water from small streams, and use enormous amounts of energy, and are responsible for grotesque development of pristine valleys and mountainsides.  Most ski areas are remote from population centers, so there are huge energy impacts getting skiers to the mountains.  I have plastic (non-recyclable) ski boots and plastic (definitely non-recyclable) skis and (non-recyclable) plastic clothes that I ski in.  What’s that about?

I golf.  Not often, but still.  I could do without golf, but my kids ended up golfing (because they learned it from me), and it’s an activity we enjoy together.  Between landscape destruction, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer, water consumption, golf is right down there in the environmental cesspool with skiing.  But I still golf.  What’s that about?

I hike.  I love to hike.  Nothing bad about that; it’s a pretty harmless activity.  But I think nothing of jumping in my car and driving two hours just to hike a mountain for the day.  I think nothing of driving two cars to go hiking, if it means a friend and I can hike point-to-point rather than making a loop.  I think nothing at all of jumping onto an airplane and then renting a car to go hiking in the Sierras or Rockies.  What’s that about?

I take long drives in the countryside.  I do that with my Mom.  She’s 96 and can’t get out on her own, and our drives are something she really enjoys.  But still.  Sometimes we’ll drive 200 miles in a day, and do it again the next weekend.  As long as she’s able to enjoy our rides, I have no intention of stopping.  What’s that about?

I keep my house warm.  I used to keep my house at 50 degrees most of the time, splurged to 60 degrees when I was home in the evenings.  Then my Mom came to live with me.  I don’t ask her to bundle up.  Instead I keep the house at 65 degrees all the time and 68 or 70 or 72 sometimes.  What’s that about?

Would you make this nice Mom wear a down
parka in the house? Of course not.

What it’s about is that, on some level, Sustainability, for us here in the U.S. anyway, is a delusion, unattainable.  I’m not in the hundredth percentile of environmentally conscious Americans, but I expect I’m close.  I buy local.  I avoid processed foods and eat organic as much as I can.  I walk or bike when I can.  My home is not very large, and I light it with LEDs.  I reuse and recycle.  I get a lot of my heat from a wood stove. I have solar on my roof that produces more electricity than I consume.  But really, is my lifestyle sustainable? 

Not hardly.  “Sustainable” means no train wreck.  Three hundred million Americans living as I do might slow the train down, but we wouldn’t stop it.  Wouldn’t come close. 

Am I going to make any serious changes to make my lifestyle more sustainable?  Give up my season pass?  Move to an apartment downtown?  Quit taking trips to the Rockies?  Tell my Mom to put on a parka?  Not hardly.

I’ll keep doing the work I do, because I love it and I know it makes a difference.  I’ll keep buying local and being conscious of what I purchase and eat and wear and use.  I’ll keep my efficient little car and my comfortable small house.  Less impact than a lot of other Americans?  Yes, for sure.  Sustainable?  Not by a long shot.

Earth Day 2023: We have met the enemy, and he is us.

I cut school in 8th grade to go to Earth Day.  I asked the School Authorities if I could be excused to go to Earth Day, but they said No.  So I cut school and went.  It was the first time I ever cut school.

Earth Day in Philadelphia, 1970. Independence Hall in the background.

This was in Philly and Philly had one of the biggest Earth Day gatherings.  I remember there were a whole lot of people and I was near the back.  Ralph Nader spoke among many others.  I know I got a program because I still have it. 

It was 1970 and there was a LOT of good energy among the kids I hung out with, and among kids everywhere.  It was probably the peak year of all the ferment that went on in the 60s and 70s.  There were antiwar riots all across the country.  Richard Nixon talked about Peace with Honor in Vietnam and sent troops into Cambodia.  More riots.  Kent State happened.  Nixon tried to stir up the “Silent Majority” against the kids in the streets.  But the kids in the streets were the children of the Silent Majority, so what Nixon stirred up was fear and anger across dinner tables, everywhere in America.  But somehow at the same time Richard Nixon was creating the Environmental Protection Agency and signing huge pieces of environmental legislation:  Clean Air, Clean Water, Endangered Species.

There was a lot of ferment.  The thing about us kids of the 60s and 70s was that we were different, and we were going to make things different.  

And we have.  We’re in charge now.  We’re in our fifties and sixties.  We are the people with power, the bosses, the people running the government and big companies.  We have made things different.

We have made them worse.

We are squeezing out of existence America’s greatest achievement, a society built on a large and secure middle class.  We are implementing policies that make the richest among us even richer, while the middle class shrinks and slides backwards.

We are spending trillions of dollars on “Defense” in ways that make Vietnam look cheap and smart in comparison.  Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon could at least argue that Vietnam was part of a global power play.  But Iraq?  Afghanistan?  Given the keys to the Pentagon, my generation has wasted trillions of dollars, made enemies around the world, and left the U.S more impoverished and less secure.

We are spending money and running up debt at a pace that staggers imagination.  Government debt.  Corporate debt. Personal debt.

We are replacing a credo that greed is something to guard against with one that greed is good – the greediest are the most “successful”.  We have systematically dismantled regulations that have kept personal and corporate greed in check.  The winners are the greediest among us; the losers are everyone else.

We are condoning, often encouraging, often doing it ourselves, the destruction of rain forests, depletion of oil, exhaustion of resources, extinction of species.  We are implementing policies that promote the consumption of Earth’s resources as if they are ours and no one else’s, now and forever, and will never run out.

(Used to be a) Rainforest, Brazil

We are denying that humans can have and are having an impact on the global environment and climate, even as the evidence presses in on us from all directions.  We are dithering while the Earth is heating up.

In 1970, I and the kids I hung out with and the kids at Earth Day and the kids marching against Vietnam were pretty sure we knew who was the enemy.  It wasn’t the Vietnamese.  It was boring, greedy, self-absorbed, complacent middle-aged people who could justify any wrong, as long as it didn’t interfere with their comfort and self-indulgence.  We were right.  That was an enemy worth fighting.

What we didn’t know was who we’d become.  Fifty years on, the enemy is us.

Reuse: Cost Savings, Society, and Sustainability

Working as we do across the country, we know that almost every organization in education, healthcare, and the corporate world faces increasing demands to demonstrate Sustainability. At the same time every organization is under constant pressure to keep budgets down.  When there’s surplus furniture that needs to be disposed of, this conflict often comes to a head.  Managers and administrators want sustainable disposition options for surplus furniture, at the same time spending no more money than if the furniture is thrown away.

Liquidation is desirable, but generally not an option in a strong economy, and almost never an option with used school and residential furniture.  Giving furniture away locally is another option, but the time and cost are too much to take on, and in the end much of the furniture remains unclaimed.


This is still the “easy” option, but it’s expensive, and throwing usable furniture away flies in the face of Sustainability.  Disposal also creates a terrible impression among community members when they see good furniture tossed into dumpsters.


Some furnishings like metal desks, file cabinets and storage cabinets can be recycled for their metal content.  But it’s only a partial solution.


Reuse offers large environmental benefits and the greatest benefit to the community.  If it can be done at a cost that’s less than or equal to the cost of disposal, it’s by far the best option for surplus furniture.

Reuse: What’s the Cost Comparison

In projects across the country, clients tell us that reuse has the lowest overall cost.  Labor is the same whether furniture is disposed, recycled, or reused.  Administration costs a little more with reuse, because you’re treating used furniture as an asset, not a liability.  The real savings come in disposing of the surplus, where trailers shipped for reuse cost much less than dumpsters sent to the landfill.  Often the most cost-effective solution is to combine recycling of metal items for their scrap value with reuse of the balance that cannot be recycled.

A More Efficient Process

1 Trailer for Reuse = 3 to 4 Large (30 cu yd) Dumpsters

Loading a trailer for reuse takes about two hours, and is much more efficient than managing labor, containers, and transportation for multiple trips to a landfill or recycling center.  One trailer packed for reuse holds as much as 3-4 large “rolloff” containers, so there’s less traffic, fewer delays, and a safer project site.

Does Reuse Make a Difference?

Children in Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries, at desks sourced in Pittsfield, MA

Reuse saves money.  Reuse is good for the environment.  Reuse makes life better for some of the world’s most disadvantaged communities.  The smallest environmental impact, the highest benefit to society, and the least cost.  Yes, reuse makes a difference.

The bottom line: By thinking and implementing reuse, every organization can achieve critical benefits for their community, the planet, and their budget.

Click here to download a PDF of this post.

If you’d like more information about reuse or have surplus furnishings that deserve to be reused instead of thrown away, please use the Reply box to let us know, and we’ll get right back to you.

Why We Do This: Lilongwe, Malawi

Last summer we did a project with the City of Pittsfield, Mass. and Skanska USA. Skanska was the Owner’s Project Manager overseeing construction of a new vocational high school for Pittsfield. Skanska’s responsibilities encompassed demolition of the existing structure, including disposition of all furnishings.

Skanska was able to auction most of the vocational education equipment, but there remained nearly 3,000 unneeded and unwanted pieces of classroom, professional, and other furnishings, piled into the gym, the cafeteria, and clogging the halls of the old school. Skanska’s FF&E project manager John Bona knew about IRN, and he called.

Taconic High School, Pittsfield, MA. Student desks piled up, with nowhere to go.

K-12 school furnishings are among the most highly sought-after inventories for our charitable partners. Education represents the best route out of poverty for tens of millions of children, but it’s hard to get an education sitting on the floor, or writing on a wood pallet in your lap. Our partner World Vision welcomed the Taconic High School inventory, which they divided among recipients in five impoverished or war-torn countries: Haiti, El Salvador, Jamaica, Lebanon, Mauritania, and Malawi.

Let pictures speak for themselves. These are from a school in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, in south-central Africa. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. America’s per capita income is $60,000/person/year. Malawi’s is $1,200. This school received about 500 desks and other items from Taconic High School.

Are those used and unwanted desks from Pittsfield making a difference with a second life in a new home? Yes, they sure are.

Click here for a case study of the Skanska USA / Pittsfield project