Our Green Story

PBD has been ‘green’ for over 25 years!

Philanthropy By Design (PBD) is an award-winning 501(c)(3) organization of design industry professionals who volunteer their talents to renovate the interior environments of community service organizations. PBD’s pro bono work benefits thousands of underserved Bay Area residents; at-risk youth, abused women, seniors, AIDS patients and the homeless, bringing them hope, inspiration and comfort.

PBD has channeled more than $3.5 million in products, labor and services to over 700 community service agencies in the Bay Area. Our volunteers transform drab, inefficient facilities into attractive, workable environments, in some cases representing “home”. These transformations enhance the self-esteem and productivity of the agencies’ clients while boosting staff morale. Joanne McDowell, PBD Founder, stated: “Our physical environment has the power to inspire and comfort us. It directly reflects our attitudes and motivation, our behavior, even our health.”


According to Environmental Protection Agency estimates, approximately 3 million tons of office furniture and furnishings are discarded each year. Statistics for 2005 estimated that 8.8 million tons of furniture ended up in U.S. landfills. Since our founding in 1987, PBD has diverted more than 1,000 tons of furnishings from Bay Area landfills – a significant amount to transform non-profit environments.

Even though furniture has a relatively long product lifecycle (compared to newspapers, for example) it is a high-volume consumer of landfill space. In 2007 (the latest data available from the EPA) only 34% of the generated weight of materials from products such as metal, glass, plastics, textiles and wood was recovered. Older office furniture can be run through an auto shredder and sold for its constituent parts – since the majority of this furniture is made out of metal, but if it’s still functional, is it right to abandon it so readily when it still has value to others? In tough economic times, companies may find it difficult to donate cash. They can still positively impact non-profit organizations by donating surplus furniture and supplies.

Furniture is a component of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) – otherwise known as trash or garbage – which consists of “everyday” items such as product packaging, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, bottles, food scraps, newspapers, appliances, and batteries. In the United States, annual trash generation has continued to increase since 1960, from 2.68 pounds to 4.62 pounds per person per day in 2007 (the latest figures available from the EPA). While the number of U.S. landfills has steadily declined over the years, the average landfill size has increased.

Worse still, depending on constituents, coatings and finishes, there is potential for furniture to cause leaching from landfills. A lot of energy is also consumed in removing and transporting end-of-life furniture to landfills.

As consumers, we are encouraged to change our home “style” on a regular basis, and not give thought to where these items originate, or what they’re actually made from. It’s possible that a bookcase was made from endangered old-growth forest in Brazil or Indonesia. The Earth’s tropical forests are now disappearing at an alarming rate, yet they remain vital to our everyday lives – sheltering diverse plant and animal species, preventing soil erosion, and moderating global climate. We think that’s an even more compelling reason not to dispose of furniture without consideration.

Paint & Materials:

Over the years, we have been fortunate to receive donations of paint, fabric, flooring etc, which have allowed us to create beautiful spaces for deserving non-profits. Recently, we have been paying more attention to the type and content of those materials. No- and low-VOC paints are now widely available. FSC-certified lumber, compact fluorescents and LEDs can be found at Home Depot. Local companies like Plan-it Hardware have made it possible for smaller hardware stores to carry bio-based lubricants and protectants, hemp work gloves, and non-toxic wood glue. As we ‘break ground’ on new projects we will making every attempt to use eco-friendly materials. This brings yet another facet to our green story.