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Architects, Designers Aim for Zero Waste in Challenge

The Zero Waste Challenge, hosted by the American Institute of Architects’ New York Chapter, challenged architects, designers and engineers to reduce waste in their workspaces.

Reducing waste in the workplace is no easy feat. And getting management, coworkers and facilities staff onboard with waste reduction efforts like recycling and composting is one of the biggest challenges.

This summer and early fall, architects, designers and engineers were tasked with reducing waste in their workplaces via the Zero Waste Challenge. The challenge, which was hosted by the American Institute of Architects’ New York Chapter (AIANY) with support from the Durst Organization and launched with the "Designing Waste: Strategies for a Zero Waste City" exhibit previously on view at The Center for Architecture in New York City, took place from June to October and helped support New York City’s goal of sending zero waste to landfills by 2030.

For the challenge, participants were encouraged to apply the best practices outlined in the "Zero Waste Design Guidelines” (a comprehensive set of strategies that address issues of waste management and waste reduction through building design) to their own workplaces to reduce waste, measure the results of their efforts by weighing bags and doing waste audits and share strategies to improve performance.

Participants of the challenge included: AIANY; Architecture Research Office; ARUP; Atelier Ten; Caples Jefferson Architects; Cosentini Associates; Dattner Architects; FXCollaborative; HOK; HR&A Advisors, Inc.; Hudson Studio Architects; Jonathan Rose Companies; Loci Architecture; Magnusson Architecture and Planning PC; MBB Architects; NRDC (Chicago); NRDC (New York City); NRDC (Santa Monica, Calif.); RicciGreene Associates; Robert Derector Associates; RUX / StickBulb; Sage and Coombe Architects; STUDIOS; W Architecture & Landscape Architecture; WSP; and WXY Studio.

“The challenge really gave participants a chance to see how we can take the guidelines further, as they are really a living document that will improve as time goes on,” said Clare Miflin, AIA, author of the Zero Waste Design Guidelines and founder of ThinkWoven, at the Zero Waste Challenge: Results event held on October 9 at The Center for Architecture in New York City. “It was great to see the concepts that participants came up with for this challenge, such as clear signage, centralized sorting stations, awareness and education campaigns, etc., and it’s great to hear that many of those concepts will stick around in the workspaces.”

WXY Zero Waste Challenge

Photo courtesy of WXY Studio

The winners of the Zero Waste Challenge were announced during the results event and are listed below:

Highest Average Diversion Rate Achieved

RicciGreene Associates, 90 percent

NRDC (New York City), 87 percent

Highest Percent Increase in Diversion Rate from Beginning to End

HOK, 56 percent

WXY Studio, 44 percent

Largest Total Waste Reduction

Architecture Research Office


MBB Architects

Most Innovative Strategy to Reduce Waste


W Architecture & Landscape Architecture


During the event, the winners and Miflin hosted a panel discussion on some of the accomplishments and obstacles that the participants faced during the challenge.

Across the board, best practices included: creating and posting clear and consistent signage; removing garbage bins from individual desks and utilizing centralized sorting stations; starting and maintaining a composting program; encouraging the use of reusable cutlery, plates and cups; recycling product samples; and stepping up education and recycling efforts.

WXY Organics Challenge

Photo courtesy of WXY Studio

“It was really difficult to get started, but once we got momentum, things started to get easier and we started to see results,” said Sheryl Owen of HOK. “People were upset that we took away their garbage bins, but once they saw the amount of waste we were reducing, they were fine with the change.”

“We approached the challenge with a rip off the band-aid attitude,” said Michelle Finan of RicciGreene Associates. “By doing that, we saw a quick change in peoples’ attitudes toward recycling, and a lot of people started asking if we could add a compost program. We weren’t able to implement a program during the challenge due to cost, but it’s something we are considering adding to our workplace in the future.”

The challenge motivated many of the participants, and now that the challenge is over, some are working to take their zero waste efforts to the next level.

“We have a motivated Green Team that helps get people excited about waste reduction, and they will continue to lead our efforts into the future,” said Belle Stone of Architecture Research Office. “Composting really caught on for us, so we will continue doing that as well as implementing some new zero waste practices.”

“We have a lot of offices around the world and our own internal sustainability initiative, so we are looking at expanding some of our zero waste efforts from this challenge to other offices,” said Jonna Turesson of ARUP. “We realized how important it is to communicate with your hauler or waste management company to understand how waste flows and what materials they accept. We will continue communication with our partners going forward as well.”

Learn more about the Zero Waste Challenge here.

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