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Embracing the Circular Economy for a Brighter Future


It seems like you can’t go a day, or even several hours, without hearing or seeing something about the climate, sustainability, or energy efficiency. Our Earth’s resources are dwindling. We all say we want to do something about it, but how often do we really take action? As Roxane Spears, vice president of sustainability for Tarkett North America, puts it, “We can’t keep throwing things away. Recycling and increasing our use of recycled content are among the most effective actions we can take to preserve the world’s natural resources and reduce the effects of climate change.” 

Facility managers are in a unique position to make a difference by embracing the idea of a circular economy—a system that aims to eliminate waste and keep resources in use for as long as possible. But let’s face it: A concept like circular economy may seem a bit overwhelming when considering your day-to-day responsibilities. So, let’s break it down into bite-size pieces. 

Manage Waste 

Start with a building-wide recycling program. Check with your trash provider to see if they provide both trash and recycling services. They will be able to provide you with the receptacles you need for outside dumping, and depending on their separation rules, you can provide separate, clearly marked receptacles within your facility. This will make it easy for employees and building visitors to discard waste responsibly.  

Many recycling programs now include cardboard as part of their program. But you might also check to see if paper is included. Paper makes up around 26 percent of total waste in landfills. (And many programs now accept paper coffee cups!)  

Then, consider taking that one step further with a composting program. Granted, it is more of an upfront investment, from the purchase of bins to signage and education campaigns, to more expensive compostable liners. Currently, five states—California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont—have food waste bans in place to keep food out of landfills, reinforcing the use of composting. Beyond food, other organic waste from your facility can also be composted—yard waste/clippings, some paper products, packaging and tableware.  


Tarkett’s ReStart program recently helped Loyola Marymount University divert three truckloads of old carpet from landfills.  

Now, let’s think a little bigger. If you’re considering a remodeling project, or maybe need to replace furniture or flooring, don’t automatically rent the giant dumpster. Rather than throw away unneeded furniture or gently used flooring, contact churches, schools and nonprofits in your area to see if they will accept the items you have. National programs like Habitat for Humanity and Rheaply are a great place to start as well, and there may be additional organizations like them in your local region. Other options include: 

  • IKEA will buy back furniture and find it a new home if it’s still in reasonable condition (if you are an IKEA Family member).  
  • Herman Miller’s rePurpose Program moves your furniture, equipment and supplies to a nonprofit that can utilize it.  
  • Apple will accept old phones or computers for store credit (with certain limitations), or will recycle the items for free on your behalf.  

Many manufacturers also have recycling programs that take back old building materials—ceramic and porcelain tile, or carpeting, for example—and will recycle it to keep as much as possible from going to the landfill. (In 2023, Tarkett’s ReStart® flooring take-back and recycling program successfully diverted 1.5 million pounds of flooring waste from landfills in North America alone.) Manufacturers even streamline the removal process to make it easier on you. 

Participating in take-back and recycling initiatives can help you on the road to achieving green building certifications like LEED®, WELL, and the Living Building Challenge, as well as contributing to your overall ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) goals you already have in place.  

Shop Smarter (and Greener) 

We’ve considered things that will leave your building. What about things that you purchase and bring into your building to keep it operating and looking its best? As Spears told gb&d in November 2023, the manufacturing industry as a whole still has some catching up to do when it comes to creating—and communicating about—products made with circular materials. A surefire way to know products are healthy, circular and responsibly made, is to look for a Cradle to Cradle certification. More than 34,000 products—from furniture and cleaning products, to paper, packaging and interior finishes—have already been certified, and more join the ranks every day. Even if materials are not certified, the manufacturer may align with Cradle to Cradle principles in its material selections and manufacturing processes, so ask questions about recycled content, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other third-party credentials associated with the product, such as LBC Red List Free, Green Seal or ENERGY STAR®.  

Optimize Energy Use 

Increasing the energy efficiency of your building is another way to contribute to the environment, while also benefitting you and your building occupants. One big first step is to conduct an efficiency audit, which will look at everything from utility data to your HVAC systems. According to the EPA, 30% of all energy consumption in commercial buildings is wasted. Seemingly small adjustments can make big differences, like switching to LED lighting (which uses 75% less energy and emits less heat than traditional lighting) and upgrading to programmable thermostats.  

large-Sustainable Windmills

There are bigger investments that will of course have bigger returns, such as sealing ductwork leaks, replacing old equipment with ENERGY STAR® certified equipment, and replacing insulation and windows. You could even consider switching to renewable energy sources, like solar panels, which could supply all your building’s energy needs—lighting, cooling and heating. Improvements like these add up to benefits not only for the environment, but for you and your tenants as well: reduced operational and maintenance costs, potential tax incentives, improved property values for energy-saving buildings, and increased tenant comfort. 

That’s a lot to take in. But by taking just a few of the suggestions recommended here, you’re making progress toward a circular economy. If we all just took one small step, think of the difference it would make.  

Editor's Note: This article is in collaboration with our Corporate Sustaining Partner, Tarkett. As the director of workplace segment markets for Tarkett North America, Derrell leads the organization’s strategic planning for market growth in corporate offices, life sciences and multi-family projects. He believes collaboration is the key to any organization’s success and is passionate about supporting Tarkett customers with the research and design strategies needed for evolving the future of workplace environments.