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From refuse to resource

July 27, 2012

Neville Grigg can find a resource in just about anything.

Under his guidance, Heritage Office Furnishings Victoria Ltd. in Saanich B.C., is diverting packaging and old furniture from the landfill. The Royal Roads University MBA alumnus is calling on his community connections, creativity and commitment to sustainability to make it happen.

“The big challenge that we find is we have tractor trailer loads of product coming in the door and all the packaging, and all the waste that goes along with that,” he says. “I was appalled at the fact that it was my company and we are responsible for throwing this stuff away. So I started to work on how to make that better.”

That means the company is committed to recycling the obvious – soft plastics, paper and metal – but it is equally committed to finding a new life for old things. Wooden pallets, used to transport furniture, are donated to compost centres, community gardens and individuals for any number of building projects or to be used as fire wood.

“If we see people out there struggling to load pallets on to the back of their vehicles, we go and give them a hand,” he says. “If we see them repeatedly we will offer to deliver them. It works for me because I find a home for the pallets and it works for them because they get free delivery.”

When the Heritage team delivers new furniture only to be asked to remove the old, Grigg reaches out to the community to see if non-profits can use any of it. He has donated office furnishings with more than 20 agencies such as Women’s Transition House and Cool Aid Society.

“Rather than just figuring out where to dispose of something or how to shred it up into raw materials we are trying to find … an alternative use for that item so that it doesn’t have to be recycled, it can be reused,” he says. “To do that job better we have carved out an area in some additional space, where the stuff can arrive and we don’t have to throw it out today. We can hang on to it until we can do that match making service.”

As a result, Heritage has reduced its waste disposal costs from roughly $1,000 to $100 a month. The business has also won several environmental awards, including the Saanich Environmental Award for Business this year. With those successes in place, Grigg is keen to bring like-minded business owners together to talk about the bigger picture and make connections. This year he plans to build on an initiative started by the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce called Sustainable Futures dialogues. The sessions brought people together to learn from experts, and Grigg plans to focus the next round of conversations on practical ideas and best practices so that people can enact their own change.

Top of the agenda is finding a way to bring a larger recycling facility to the area to deal with the hard to repurpose items.

“That’s one of the challenges we would like to wrestle with in this community dialogue,” he says. “How do we gather enough critical mass to tip the scale so somebody can install a facility that brings the price down so we can all take advantage of that?”

Creative ways to reuse and recycle materials is by no means a new practice, Grigg says, and bringing people together to share ideas is an easy step towards more sustainable businesses.

“That’s the part I get excited about, being part of the tipping point.”