Three Projects in Three Months … We Can Do This!

Three Projects in Three Months … We Can Do This!


We can do it!

Three Projects in Three Months ... We Can Do This! 1

Annalee Sawiak, CEO & Founder, Furniture Link

Sustainable Circular Economy Solutions for End of Use Furniture are within our grasp.

It has been a crazy three months.

Together with Dan Kershaw, Executive Director at Furniture Bank in Toronto, I got tired of hearing how hard it would be to take the huge flow of unwanted furniture from homes and returns and give it to people who need it. So, we set out to change the way it is done.  Dan and his team not only let us test out our ideas, but they also lent their ‘back end’ of administrative services, marketing, donation receipts and item tracking to another furniture bank on a shared cost basis to launch a new Furniture Bank for Barrie’s Redwood Park Communities in days. Their know how made the magic happen.

Using the experience provided by a 2018 trial with 1-800-Got-Junk? and Furniture Bank,  we took our pitch to 3 different moving companies – one national player, You Move Me, associated with 
1-800-Got-Junk?,  one local Toronto start up and one established local Barrie, Ontario mover. Presented with a unique opportunity like this they all said YES! With these 3 trials we can move forward with confidence (and more than a little excitement) to change the landscape in communities across Canada and the USA.

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What Were These Projects?

Monetize Outsource Furniture Removal and Keep Furniture Coming

Our trials showed us how charities can exit the trucking loop. We directed inbound calls and e mails asking for furniture to be picked up from homes over to a collaborator. The collaborator arranged the furniture removal pickup and brought furniture to the charity partner who gave the donors a receipt for the value of furniture donated. Our charity partner kept the furniture coming in the doors and the cash generated pays for some of the administrative costs of running the charity. These results demonstrate that a charity does not have to deal with running a trucking company or explaining to annoyed people why charities don’t provide free services – they can leverage existing commercial transport solutions instead.  

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Furniture Link facilitated a 20 Week Pilot with Second Closet, and Furniture Bank

Scorecard? The Furniture Bank charity took in 10% more furniture, filled 185 more homes and raised $10,000 for administrative costs for the program

Outsource Delivery at Low Rates

Those people receiving the furniture are our stakeholders and we do not like making them wait for their furniture. On the other hand, our charity partners struggle with the high cost of maintaining a trucking fleet. With a little innovative pricing and scheduling we were able to outsource and be able to offer weekend delivery service. An added bonus? The faster the furniture moves out the door, the more furniture we can take and the more homes we can fill.

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You Move Me & Furniture Bank in Toronto undertaking delivery pilot.

Those Returned Mattress and Furniture Purchases Make a Difference.

Ever wonder what happens to returned furniture? Lots of moving and removal companies are paid to pick up returned goods and most of the retailers want to see them stay out of landfill. We showed that using collaboration with movers, retailers and furniture charities, we could move those goods in to reuse, track the impact and provide furniture charities with some cash flow to support their operations. When the retailers specify that the movers collaborate with our charity partners, our families get great stuff and we don’t trash usable furniture – a win win win for all parties. A great example is how Endy Mattress has ensured furniture returns create better homes in support of charities like Furniture Bank in Toronto. 

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What did we prove?

We can drive socially and environmentally minded new business to collaborating moving and removal companies without additional customer acquisition costs.

These same socially minded and ecologically conscious retailers enhance their brand to their customers.

We can share the community impact of this upside with the collaborators and use it to put more furniture in the hands of charities.

The charities can focus on doing what they were created to do – help their stakeholders in communities across Canada and the USA.

Everybody wins – companies, retailers, donors, governments, charities and the families who most need us to be supporting them as they get their new homes started!

So, what makes us so excited?

These experiments validate 8 key findings that will drive Furniture Link in support of the Furniture Bank Network going forward:

  • We’ve demonstrated there is absolutely enough unwanted furniture moving around communities to supply local furniture reuse charities (aka Furniture Banks).
  • We’ve seen that when furniture charities do not have to hustle to run trucking operations, and have reliable streams of funds and furniture that can focus on helping their core stakeholders – the mothers, fathers and children moving from homelessness into homes and a new bright future.
  • We’ve demonstrated the right moving companies will make great partners when we create the right collaborative arrangements that motivate a sustainable financial model.
  • We can make it easy for all business and households to direct furniture into reuse and away from landfill.
  • We can direct new business to these moving and removal companies with a social impact mandate.
  • We can make our furniture reuse charities more financially stable without public funding.
  • We are creating a new self-financing system that has social impact, waste reduction, without new infrastructure costs.
  • We’ve seen this activity will play a pivotal role in creating new and expanding furniture reuse charities in any community that wants to support housing first homes second programs.

Now that we know we can do it, what is stopping us? Nothing.

Let’s get out there and make it happen.

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Meet the network of furniture reuse charities and nonprofits!

How Toronto’s fastest growing ‘valet storage’ startup Second Closet is helping Furniture Bank increase social impact.

How Toronto’s fastest growing ‘valet storage’ startup Second Closet is helping Furniture Bank increase social impact.

Re-posted from LINKEDIN

How Toronto’s fastest growing ‘valet storage’ startup Second Closet is helping Furniture Bank increase social impact. 9

At Furniture Bank as we look for creative, efficient and effective ways to scale our environmental and social impact. We are working with Furniture Link Inc. to demonstrate how partnerships between business and charities can create sustainable models for maximum social and environmental impact. Over the life of our organization we have diverted more than 20,000 cubic meters of goods from landfill, which created savings for the city exceeding $8,000,000 and turned housing in to homes for over 100,000 men, women and children in our community.

Furniture Bank is a registered charity that provides furniture to our city’s most vulnerable members. as community shelters and social agencies are lucky enough to secure housing for their families. When you have an empty apartment and no financial support, you can spend years living off the floor, using milk crates for chairs, clothing piles for mattresses, and garbage bags for storage.

At the same time we see unwanted furniture all around us. While statistics in Toronto are limited, the trends from other countries are informative. In the U.S. the EPA reports that furniture accounted for 9.8 million tons (4.1 percent) and of all household waste and was the number one least-recycled item in a household. In the UK reports suggest Britons throw away more than 300,000 tonnes of reusable furniture every year.

Our primary goal?

To secure more furniture donations for families experiencing furniture poverty here in Toronto and divert usable furniture from landfill.

On March 11th Furniture Link Inc. helped us launch a pilot program with Second Closet to test the use of outsource resources to expand our collection of usable goods without additional investment or cost to Furniture Bank.

In these first 43 days, the pilot has diverted 736 items of home furnishings from landfill into the homes of over 50 families emerging from crisis and displacement. Stacked one atop another, these items measure a full CN Tower’s height of furniture! Based on volume, the pilot saved landfill space that has a value of over $100,000 and created homes for 50 more families from our community agencies and shelters. These same 80 donors got the added bonus of significant charitable receipts for their donations.

More Furniture + More Transportation + More Resources =

More Impact

This is a complex problem. There is more than enough quality furniture, and unfortunately growing need from community agencies and their families. The challenge for Furniture Bank is accessing the furniture, transporting it, and resourcing this redistribution network.

Our vision is to partner with our existing and new stakeholders to divert good quality but unwanted furniture from landfill to households that desperately need it.

Our pilot with Second Closet, and Furniture Link is our most recent program to engage in adding a social component to the Circular Economy, with a sustainable model to deliver our maximum environmental and social impact. We are piloting “more access” and “better transport” without requiring more resources from the Charity.

Our first Second Closet delivery from Furniture Bank donors!

Seeking More Partners for Social Impact and Waste Diversion!

As part of a network of similar charities across Canada and the US, we are working with Furniture Link to forge sustainable commercial relationships to divert more household goods from landfill to homes that need them. We are seeking relationships with removal and moving companies, retailers, manufacturers, government agencies and stakeholders In the Zero Waste movement.

Much more to share on Second Closet, Furniture Link partnerships, expanding our impact in the Toronto area and illustrating the environmental and cost savings to municipalities of a thriving furniture bank in your community.

Diversion with Purpose

Diversion with Purpose

Furniture Bank here in Toronto has been tracking data outputs for 10 years now. We all know that throwing a good couch or bed into landfill is a dramatic waste when we see it, and look to find clever ways to change behaviours. We are seeing a lot of movement and success engaging government and zero waste leaders explaining the role that organizations like us permit in the discussion of diversion and reducing carbon impact.

Last week I was fortunate to have a Calvin Lakhan from The Waste Wiki at York University visit us for a tour and to discuss his preliminary results on the top level LCA impact of a furniture bank.

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Furniture Banks in general lead with the lives changed, children and families supported, and beds given. We generally do not lead with discussing how the social work we do has a knock on benefit to zero waste / landfill goals of local municipalities. Calvin was kind enough to highlight some less popular areas for more diversion – one being furniture, and connecting that diversion to local furniture banks. I have pulled the excerpt from his Linkedin report below – ‘Diversion with Purpose’

You can see it (and share it) on Linkedin here:  DIVERT WITH PURPOSE


Where will our next diverted tonne come from? Diversion with a purpose

Co-Investigator: “The Waste Wiki” – Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University … See more
Provincial diversion rates have largely stalled in the past five years, and in fact, is trending downwards for the first time in more than two decades. The reason for this stagnation is heavily debated – some point to the proliferation of light weight packaging, while others suggest municipal inefficiency and lack of applicable legislation. Whatever the cause, the reality is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to divert “the marginal tonne”- where will our next diverted tonne come from? What will it cost? And what will be the environmental, economic and social benefit? What makes this issue particularly salient is that municipalities across Canada continue to set lofty diversion targets as a first step towards achieving a circular, zero waste economy.
The next tonne will not come from printed paper and packaging (Blue Box)

Furniture – A Missed Opportunity

Much like textiles, there is no prescriptive legislation for how furniture waste should be managed. In most instances, households bare the physical and financial responsibility for transporting furniture waste to landfills, and will often rely on “junk” collectors to provide this service.
While furniture waste generation is highly variable (depending on locality, season etc.), a review of Ontario waste audits suggests that furniture and white good waste makes up approximately 5% of the overall waste stream, representing approximately 125,000 tonnes of material annually.
However, unlike textiles, end of life furniture does not have a value (or at the very least, it is highly dependent on the item, and site/situation specific factors). As such, collectors have to be financially incented, with the generator (in most cases the household) paying to have items removed and sent to landfill.
Municipalities have traditionally played a limited role in managing these items, but what role can a municipality play in not only supporting keeping these items out of landfills, but maximizing social and environmental outcomes as well?

Charitable Initiatives – The Furniture Bank Case Study

Furniture Bank is a Toronto based charity and social enterprise that helps marginalized and at risk families furnish their homes. Furniture bank accepts gently used furniture and other household items, distributing them to families in need. This initiative helps divert more than 1500 tonnes of material from Toronto landfills annually, but perhaps more importantly, serves more than 5000 local clients in need on an annual basis.
In strictly economic terms, the City of Toronto benefits through avoided landfill tipping fee costs (as well as collection costs for large, bulky items), while the province benefits through the provision of a social service to marginalized communities (without incurring a direct cost).
Since 2010, furniture bank has diverted almost 10,000T of furniture/household wares from landfills, which has had an enormous environmental impact for Ontario (shown in figure 3):
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Given that the vast majority of furniture waste (as noted earlier, in excess of 125,000 tonnes) is ending up in our landfills, there is an enormous opportunity not only to increase diversion rates, but achieve a truly sustainable outcome.
Leveraging organizations such as Furniture Bank (to serve as a used furniture collector) provides a rare opportunity to address all three pillars of a sustainable waste management program. We are able to increase diversion from landfills (environment), while transferring costs away from local government (economic) and simultaneously support social impact initiatives (social).
As noted earlier, research suggests that Ontarians express a strong desire to support social initiatives and charities through waste donations (used textiles, furniture etc.). In a two year study conducted by York University, households were more than twice as likely to donate their used materials to a designated charitable collector.

Diversion with a purpose

Waste management (at least in a Canadian context) has historically not been seen through the lens of social sustainability. It is largely seen as a service provided by municipalities, to help keep material out of landfills and promote circularity.
However, as we look to increase diversion rates, we have to ask ourselves two questions:
1) Where will the next diverted tonne come from? And
2) What do I want achieve by diverting more material?
As noted earlier, conventional means and mediums of diversion (i.e. Blue Box) have been exhausted – the next diverted tonne is not likely to come from newsprint or cardboard, but from organics, textiles and furniture.
In addition to finding new opportunities to divert material, what are we trying to achieve by doing so? Is it good enough just to keep material out of landfills, or should we seek to identify ways to maximize economic and social outcomes as well?
This article hopes to highlight that it is possible to “divert with a purpose” – municipalities (and the province) can play a critical role in supporting waste collectors that have a mission beyond “managing waste”, and look to improve the lives and well-being of Ontarians.
The opportunity isn’t just about the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of material not currently being diverted, but the thousands people that benefit through strategic prioritization of material streams and waste collectors.


Ikea continues its journey to a Circular Furniture Economy

Ikea continues its journey to a Circular Furniture Economy

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Was great to see major brands changing their operations to be part of the circular economy and tackle consumption and waste.

Making the furniture sector fully circular and having a positive impact on people and the planet is a tall order. Furniture Link is already collaborating and partnering with retailers to go beyond ‘just circular’ or ‘zero waste’ and work with a network of furniture banks who can reuse, recover, repair, and regift in communities of our most vulnerable families. There are many companies of scale, and all of them are approaching the circular economy, social responsibility and community engagement differently. Congrats to IKEA for leading the way to a ‘social circular economy’!

Raw materials, by far, are the largest part of that footprint, so reusing or recycling materials can have a dramatic impact.

Furniture Banks across North America are reusing these quality items and changing lives while supporting a better environment. We are seeing that by working collaboratively with retailers, can we achieve meaningful change and impact in all parts of the community, beyond the restailers primary customer group.

You can read more here: 




Where do coffee tables go?

Where do coffee tables go?

Furniture Bank Toronto has found a great way to visualize how to express the impact of in-kind donations to corporate and community partners. As long as you are capturing the items you are collecting and the Zip/postal code of the donor and beneficiary family receiving an item it is not hard today to ‘map’ where the donations come from and go to.

Today’s Example

Later this afternoon we are having a “Build-A-Thon” at a large telco in downtown Toronto. A team of 110 office executives will have 1 hour to build 55 coffee tables and bookcases. They will be collected and brought to the Toronto Furniture Bank and then passed on to families. They should all be in new homes by Friday!  You’ve probably noticed donors have a very hard time visualizing the size of the problem, and we find maps help.

 If you are interested in ‘how’ – let me know and I can write a member post on the steps to do it. Email me and maybe we can collaborate on a joint version. If we all provided data in a consistent format we can map anywhere. 


So here are 2 maps visualizing ‘2018 Coffee Table & Bookshelf’ community impact:

Where donations came from (with our pickup service)

Where do coffee tables go? 13

Where these same donations we sent too Where do coffee tables go? 14

If food waste can do it?

If food waste can do it?

Amazing to see business move into address waste.
Furniture Link is focused on waste in home furnishings and linking them to the thousands of organizations and their beneficiary families who cannot afford these goods as they recover from a crisis.

“Waste, at its heart, is an expense”

We completely agree with the sentiment, and it applies to furniture and household goods as well!

Read the full article here 

Big Money Joins Fight Against $1 Trillion in Wasted Food

Companies have raised more than $125 million in capital to improve the industry’s efficiency, but it’s proving hard to convince consumers not to throw away perfectly good food.
February 23, 2019, 8:00 AM EST
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Illustration: Cathryn Virginia
There’s gold in keeping bananas yellow.
Companies fighting food waste in the U.S. attracted about $125 million in venture capital and private equity funding in the first 10 months of 2018, according to a report from ReFED, a coalition of nonprofits, businesses and government agencies. This amount is expected to rise.
Luring funding are products like smart tags that change color when milk goes bad, a mist to prolong the shelf life of fruit and software to help grocery stores order just the right amount of produce so they throw less away.
The solutions have skeptics, but the problem is generally acknowledged as an economic and ethical calamity. Every year, 1.4 billion tons of food—a third of global production—ends up in landfills. By some estimates, this adds up to nearly $1 trillion of annual squander and the production of about 8 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gases. At the same time, nearly 800 million people go hungry every day.

Business Opportunity

“Investors are seeing that food waste is a big business opportunity,” said Michelle Masek, head of marketing at Apeel Sciences Inc., which formed a partnership this month with a major European supplier of avocados that will use a water-based solution the company says extends the ripeness as many as four days.

63 Million Tons

That’s how much food the U.S. wastes per year, with consumer kitchens the worst offenders
Source: A Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20 Percent, ReFED, 2016
The challenge is that individuals—not restaurants, supermarkets or farms—are among the main offenders. In the U.S., about 43 percent of all the waste happens at the end of the supply chain, in home kitchens, according to a 2016 ReFED report. A study from the Natural Resources Defense Council found 68 percent of what’s trashed is still edible.
People are aware of their shortcomings, according to a 2016 survey. They feel guilty, but not guilty enough to make a difference.
But not everyone is sold on the idea that the answer lies in more stuff.

Grocery Stores

“I worry about this food-tech, food-waste boom becoming a food-waste bust,” said Elizabeth Balkan, director of the NRDC’s food-waste program. If consumers want to throw away less food, what they have to do is plan better and store smarter, she said. It does “require lifestyle adjustments, but it shouldn’t be things that require a lot of costs and newfangled devices.”
The hope for serious change, and the greatest opportunity for investment, rests with grocery stores, where narrow margins and tough competition from Walmart Inc., Inc.’s Whole Foods Market and European transplants Aldi and Lidl provide bottom-line incentive. Not only is revenue lost from tomatoes gone mushy and expired cheddar, there’s the added expense of getting rid of it.
“When they started to realize the cost of food waste, we started to see a change,” said Anne Greven, global co-head of food and agriculture innovation at the Dutch lender Rabobank.

Imperfect Produce

Startups have stepped in. FoodMaven, which sells discounted surplus food and what it describes as “imperfect produce” to restaurants and commercial kitchens, announced $10 million of investment in January, from members of the Walton and Pritzker families, on top of $8.6 million from a first round of funding. Afresh Technologies, which taps machine learning to help retailers buy just enough to keep inventories in balance, followed a $1.7 million seed round in January 2018 with an undisclosed, but larger, funding round that closed in December.
Other companies include Bluapple, maker of a gas-absorbing device for refrigerators that claims to add a few more days to berries and greens, and Ovie, which says its Smarterware combines Tupperware and sensors to let you know how much time that leftover fruit salad or beef stir-fry has left. Companies like Copia and Goodr are making food donations easier.
Older companies, too, see the benefit of new products to address the problem. Newell Brand Inc.’s Rubbermaid advertises the containers in its Fresh Works line as capable of prolonging the life of items like strawberries and leafy greens.
Walmart “looks at food waste in a more holistic way,” said Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. For example, the biggest U.S. retailer cut strawberry delivery time from farm to store by 50 percent, adding two to three days to the berries’ usable lives.
Through its Customer Value Program, Walmart reduces the price on items that will expire soon to increase the likelihood they’ll be purchased and created a standardized date label to lower the chances anything goes bad at home. Walmart donates to local food banks what doesn’t get sold.
“Waste, at its heart, is an expense,” said Laura Phillips, Walmart’s senior vice president for global sustainability.
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