The Cost of How We Do Business

November 20, 2018

The ” Sustainability Gap” 

The difference between the apparent short term cost and the actual long term cost of any human activity that has an impact on the environment. 


First, numbers. We have a barn to recover all the materials from ( estimated to be from 1890 -1900). The cost to dismantle and process the materials into a sellable product is about  $ 17,000.00. The cost to demolish and throw away is about $ 5,80000.00. $ 5,800.00 is  what we are getting paid for removing it. Adding in the wholesale value of the materials we recover as a benefit $ 2,200.00, we obtain: cost 17,000 – (payments 5,800.00 + return on materials 2,200.00) = $ 9,000.00. This is the “gap” number- the difference in the cost compared to the amount of money to be made. Note: The retail value of the materials is $ 11,000.00, but that value includes the cost for retailing. But it should be noted that much of that value translates into jobs. Similar gaps can be demonstrated for our other current and pending projects: A barn from 1840. Houses from 1749,1933,1945. Two carriage houses from about 1880-1890, etc.

If it cost more to save all these buildings to reuse the materials, then why not just demolish them ? Well the “gap”  demonstrates more accurately the actual cost of removing a building. Because if we do it the inexpensive way, the local affect is we produce more waste and  have less jobs. The bigger impact is that it also causes us to use more new resources and it contributes to climate change ( yes, this is in fact, demonstrable).

Saving entire buildings is a tangible step towards decreasing our negative impact on the environment. According to the recent UN climate report we have twelve years maximum to make substantial , significant changes in how we do things. Connecticut demolishes about 3,000 buildings a year. If we somehow managed to save half of those buildings for materials ( some building must be demolished), that is 1500 buildings times twelve years = 18,000 buildings worth of materials diverted from the landfill ( or incinerator), between now and 2030. I would consider that a small step in the right direction. BTW at $ 20,000 in materials per building that translates into $ 360 Million dollars of materials over the next 12 years. And probably at least that much in employment.

How does the “gap” get filled in the short term so that we can realize the longer term benefits ?  The city of Portland, Oregon and Milwaukee, Wisconsin have deconstruction ordinances that make up the difference. In Connecticut we either find an owner willing to spend the “extra” money, or we have to subsidize it. Or as we so often have to do, just walk away and watch, say, a house from 1760 or even 1749, get thrown in the dumpster. And then we have to look at Paradise , Ca., and other disasters and wonder why we do not see the connection well enough to actually change the way we do things.

In lieu of us having an ordinance, we attempt to manage covering job costs by retailing as much materials as we can directly from job sites, in order to minimize costs. Even so, we have not been able to always cover that “gap” and it shows up as poor performance on our part as we function on inadequate resources. It would seem that either charging more for removing buildings or raising our product prices would be a solution. But in the former case we are competing with the “cheaper” demolition process ,and the latter, the materials market does not support higher prices for a number of reasons. The demolition  and waste hauling industries are way more established than the building materials reuse industry, though that is changing.

Selling all materials directly from job sites is theoretically possible, but in practice due to scheduling and other factors, only a minute percentage can be sold that way. And as we found out recently, if materials are sold in advance and then the job gets stalled, the buyers jobs can be held up, leading to order cancellation.

One partial solution is we sell non specific materials ahead of time, by having you the customer buy gift certificates for later use. Even better, sending them to others to help increase our customer base and have more people learn about reuse. Buying here will create an online account for you or someone you know. EGIFT CARDS HERE. So in other words, buying a gift certificate  for even a few dollars is an actual tangible step , albeit small, that addresses employment, reduced resource use, local manufacturing, decreasing waste, and overall addresses a positive step in dealing with climate change.