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Second hand not second rate
Tayla Ansell finds out how Recycled Business Furniture (RBF) is preventing unwanted office furniture from ending up in landfill
Approximately 1.4 million desks and 1.9 million office chairs are thrown away in the UK every year, according to estimates by WRAP (The Waste and Resources Action Programme). Some items end up in landfill, but many are given a second life by companies like Recycled Business Furniture (RBF).
RBF stocks a wide range of used furniture, including around 1,000 desks, 1,200, chairs and 200 storage items, that it sells to businesses on the look out for an economical and/or environmentally friendly alternative to buying new. For businesses with old furniture to get rid of, RBF provides a green method of disposal.
Director Mike Cawthra has seen demand grow consistently since RBF was set up in 2003. He points out that the recession was a particularly good time for the business, not because there was a glut of furniture from bankrupt companies, but because companies became “more aware of what they were spending so needed to find a different way to buy”.
He added: “Companies are now also much more aware of their Corporate Social Responsibilities when disposing of furniture. Whereas in the past they would just look to throw the furniture away, they now look to recycle.”
Cawthra says the two main benefits of equipping an office with recycled furniture are lower prices and reduced environmental impact. “The price is typically around one third that of buying the furniture new and you are helping reduce landfill,” he explained.
Using a supplier like RBF to buy good quality office furniture that’s built to last and still in good condition has much to recommend it, but there are still a few things you need to take into consideration when buying second-hand.
The product you are buying isn’t brand new, so you will need to check for wear and tear. That said, if you’re expecting to find rubbish, you might need to change the way you think about used goods. High quality furniture is sometimes recycled simply because a business is downsizing and no longer has the space for it or because a big corporate company with money to spare fancies a change – one man’s trash is another man’s treasure after all.
Cawthra says some of the furniture RBF now receives is of such good quality that customers are surprised to learn that it’s second-hand. “One of the most common things people say when they come into the showroom is ‘I can see the new stuff, where is the second-hand?’,” he said.
New products come with warranties that give buyers peace of mind that if something goes wrong, the furniture will be fixed or replaced. These typically range from 12 months to a lifetime guarantee. Often, there will be different warranties for different parts (e.g. the frame and upholstery).
If buying from a supplier of used furniture, check whether they offer a warranty. If they do, it is likely to be much shorter than those offered with new
products but should still reassure you that the chair you have just bought won’t collapse as soon as you get it back to the office and sit on it – or if it does, that you can return it. RBF offers a 6-month warranty against failure from wear and tear, but expects its furniture to last a lot longer.
When buying used furniture, it is best not to have a very specific checklist in mind. Prepare to be flexible and remind yourself why you chose to buy second-hand in the first place.
“You may need to be flexible about what you want depending on what is available,” explained Cawthra. “If you want a precise colour, size, leg etc., you may have to compromise. But then you aren’t paying the same amount either.”
Meet your match
Linked to this is the question of uniformity. Will buying second-hand leave you with random pieces of furniture and a somewhat eclectic office? It could do, but then again many second-hand office furniture stores stock a large amount of furniture and, because they tend also to provide office clearance and removals services, much of what they have will be matching anyway.
Cawthra said: “The largest matching amount of desks we have currently is around 250 of one series. Generally we look to take in furniture in reasonable quantities so that we have a good range for people to choose from almost no matter how big their need is.”
Ultimately, used office furniture is a great, sustainable choice for those who want to improve their business’s green credentials, save money and have a professional looking office. Even if you’d rather buy new, you can still make a difference by donating or selling your old furniture to ensure it doesn’t end up in landfill.