Reusing, and Diversifying
Upcycling can be a boon to existing businesses as well. For Hammer & Hand, a Portland, Ore., design-build construction firm, upcycling became a jobs-saving revenue stream during the recession. It began a decade ago, when co-founder and president Sam Hagerman quit using dumpsters.
“I was writing the garbage man a $10,000 check every month, and I realized that could support a living wage and a half,” he says. So he bought a truck and started an in-house recycling system in the yard of the office building (which boasts flooring made from recycled bleacher seats).
From then on, Hagerman took reusable parts from construction sites–framing components, light fixtures, appliances and lumber. “I realized we could get a beautiful pile of lumber for free,” he says, “and turn around and add value to it.”
When the construction industry got a walloping in 2008, Hagerman weathered the downturn by entering the upcycled furniture market, along with the home energy and the handyman business. “We saved the jobs of 40 people,” he says. “We got creative by necessity, but we changed our business because it also makes financial sense.”
If there is a downside to upcycling, Hagerman says, it’s the inefficiencies related to organizing, moving and storing the supply. Regardless of how cheap any reclaimed materials are, they can represent a huge waste of energy and time if you don’t already have a purpose in mind when you take possession of them. Plus, there’s the danger of running out. “You can’t develop a line of something, because there’s no guaranteed way to get more of the material,” he says.