Step 1: Focus

With your client and project team, choose areas of sustainability to prioritize on the project, leading with low-waste (see below for strategies including increased diversion through recycling/redistribution, specifying secondhand or low-waste products, etc.) Other sustainability areas to consider: healthy materials (natural and nontoxic), low carbon (electrification or offsetting embodied carbon), avoiding plastic (also lower carbon). Don’t know where to start? Visit the GFDA Tool

Step 2: Budget

Discuss how sustainability could impact the budget early on in a project so that your client can fully understand the impact of their decisions. There are likely things that you can do that will have little to no impact on the budget, changes that will impact it slightly, and changes that will increase the price point. Based on your client’s interest and budget, decide together the project’s tolerance for price increases associated with sustainability (perhaps a percentage), and a process (for example, identifying at least x number of sustainable options per decision).

Step 3: Timeline

Discuss the impact sustainability will have on the timeline. Help them understand that it’s quicker (and more affordable) to incorporate sustainable design decisions early on in the process, and that some sustainable decisions could increase timeline, like choosing ground shipping instead of air to reduce carbon emissions, or researching and procuring more sustainable options.

Step 4: Align with your general contractors and subcontractors

Hire a GFDA contractor or another contractor who prioritizes low-waste practices.

Engage in honest, frank conversations with your general contractor about low-waste strategies to ensure you can prioritize as little waste as possible. The only way to decrease our waste as an industry is to collaborate across sectors.

Specify in your contract low-waste practices for your contractor to adhere to.

Step 5: Tax breaks and cost benefits

Although deconstruction is time-consuming and more expensive than demolition, there are ways to offset the cost through tax breaks for specifics.) It’s a low-waste practice that can have one of the largest impacts on getting to our 50% goal. Discuss with the owner of your project and your team whether this is an option for your project.

Step 6: Deconstruction and diversion

Assess what you can keep, restore, or redistribute to reduce your landfill waste. This goes for anything structural like roofing, beams and stairways, architectural like cabinetry and flooring, decorative like handrails and hardware, as well as fixtures or furniture. See the Deconstruction section below or Toolkit Redistribution

Demolition, Design, and Documentation: Throughout your design process, educate your clients to choose low-waste design options.

Step 7: Deconstruction

For companies that specialize in deconstruction, here’s a list of companies for the Bay Area chapter.

Note that donating and selling deconstructed materials can dramatically offset the cost of the deconstruction in some projects, which can make the cost comparable to demolition. i.e. When a structure has old growth lumber that could be sold or donated, ask your GC to compare deconstruction cost to that of demolition. Resources.

Step 8: Divert: donate, consign, recycle, and redistribute

For the things you aren’t keeping but are still in good condition (appliances, cabinetry, etc.), make plans to redistribute. See our redistribution contact list here.

Excess materials: return or redistribute materials you don’t use, or protect and store for future use.

Samples: Return or recycle unused ones. Or, join Material Bank to get material samples on loan, with the option of keeping ones you like.

Step 9: Design for deconstruction

Reduce your contribution to our landfill system by designing with as few composite materials as possible. Materials made from multiple blended materials often contain glue/resin and cannot be recycled. They go straight to the landfill if they are not salvaged or redistributed.

When layering and joining materials, specify mechanical fasteners in lieu of adhesives, to allow for future deconstruction and redistribution.

Where possible, specify rigid materials in lieu of sprays and foams that adhere to other materials and render them unrecyclable.

Step 10: Source secondhand

Sourcing vintage, antique, and from salvage yards is a great way to reduce your contribution to landfill. Check out our list of vintage, antique, and salvage vendors here and check out the GFDA marketplace.

Step 11: Specify low waste and sustainable

Design to minimize waste in your initial plans and drawings by reducing material usage (i.e. studs, concrete, etc.). This includes calculating and reducing overages for materials like lumber, tile, and flooring.

One of the easiest and most sure-fire ways to cut your waste is to increase your collaboration with sustainability-focused professionals and source from vendors who adhere to low-waste practices already. We’ve created this Bay Area-based approved vendor list to make your search for low-waste partnerships easy.

Choose products made of natural and recyclable materials that can be deconstructed for maintenance, and proper disposal per material at end of life.

Contact vendors to make sure they don’t use styrofoam, packing peanuts, non-recyclable or non-compostable materials in their packaging. Ideally, packaging is plastic-free.

Source locally to minimize energy and likely carbon emissions associated with transportation.

Step 12: At the office and on-site

Set up a three-bin system for recycling, compost, and landfill. Establish a point person to ensure items get sorted properly.

Post guidelines from your local waste management company to eliminate contamination (yes, a sheet of paper is okay to prevent contaminated recycling).