Small-business profile: Green Standards Ltd.
How Jonathan Milnes and his partners created an industry with used office furniture
When used office chairs, desks and tables end up in the landfill, it creates F-waste – furniture waste – a messy problem that has strained city dumps for decades.
"Green Standards has found a new home for 98% of its clients’ excess furniture and equipment, resulting in 40,000 tons of furniture diverted from landfills"
Since its launch in 2009, Toronto-based Green Standards Ltd. has built its business on finding new homes for surplus furniture, whether by donating, reselling or recycling. Working with large North American corporations such as Google, United Airlines, GM and Rogers Communications as well as with office furniture resellers, specialized recyclers and commercial movers, Green Standards has found a new home for 98% of its clients’ excess furniture and equipment, resulting in 40,000 tons of furniture diverted from landfills, 132,000 tonnes of C02e (carbon dioxide equivalent) offset and $22 million in-kind donations to charity.
It’s a business that naturally attracted Jonathan Milnes, Vice President of Global Accounts. As well as holding a BA in Environmental Studies, he ran for the Ontario Green Party in 2011. It’s no surprise he wanted a seat at this particular table.
“Yes, I care about the environment. I went to school for it. Everything about it pulled me towards this,” says Milnes, whose company was ranked in 2017’s PROFIT 500. “Those numbers speak for themselves; they’re why we get up every day and pound the pavement.”
Green Standards essentially created an industry out of this circular economy. Sustainable decommissioning of office furniture didn’t exist when Milnes and his partners, Executive General Manager Trevor Langdon and VP Strategic Accounts Richard Beaumont, were starting out. Nor did any of them have experience. “No training in real estate, commercial interiors or office furniture,” he admits. “We almost were building the plane as we flew it. We probably made every mistake in the book, but we learned from those mistakes and didn’t make them again. We were a small company for a long time, with very little overhead, and that allowed us to adapt and evolve quickly.”
"And to keep track of all that inventory – what it is, where it goes, how much is recycled, resold or donated, and how much is diverted from landfills – the company designed a specialized cloud-based reporting portal."
The partners employ a disposition strategy for building value around inventory. Once they’ve figured out how much will be resold, they work towards recycling, which is also used to offset project costs. “We take the rest and donate it to local charities or non-profits. And local is the key,” adds Milnes. “We make sure that these companies know exactly who these charities are, within 30 to 40 km from their project site.”
And to keep track of all that inventory – what it is, where it goes, how much is recycled, resold or donated, and how much is diverted from landfills – the company designed a specialized cloud-based reporting portal. That’s not a luxury but a necessity, as Green Standards works with companies and charities across Canada and the U.S. “The portal also tells the stories of donation – who the charities are – through photos, testimonials of how they desperately needed [the furniture] and their thanks for the donation,” he adds.
Those stories move Milnes to scale ever higher, and to increase his staff from the current 20 to 25 by the end of 2019 to keep pace with a burgeoning industry of which they’re scratching the surface. “There are tens of millions of square feet [of office space], thousands of moves and decommissions that happen every year in North America, and we deal with maybe 5% of them,” explains Milnes. “There’s a huge market out there; we still have a lot of work to do.”
To read about an equipment-sharing entrepreneur, click here to check out our story on AnyQuip.