By Rachel H. Pollack
When you step off the elevator onto the fourth floor of 1250 H St. NW, the first thing you notice is how bright ISRI’s lobby is. Recycled glass and acrylic wall panels surround the elevators; white and gray tile made from recycled glass and granite aggregate cover the floor.
The second thing you notice is a 9-foot-tall aluminum sculpture of the ISRI logo. Walk toward it, and you’re in the Recycling Education Center, a room-sized exhibit of the industry’s history, the recycling process, and other essential aspects of the industry. Look down—the education center carpet is 100-percent-recycled material.
To your right is the conference center. Framed on its walls are posters from the ISRI/JASON youth recycling poster contest. The wall fabric and paneling are 100-percent recycled; the carpet and room divider contain more than 50-percent-recycled content.
Recycling-industry messaging continues through the office. A doorway in the education center leads to a hallway where glass wall panels contain information on the life cycles of ferrous and nonferrous metals, paper, plastic, electronics, and tires. In the hallway corners are large infographics about the industry’s contributions to the economy, environment, and trade. “When you walk by, you get a snippet of information and understanding of why the industry is important,” says Kent Kiser, Scrap publisher and assistant vice president of industry communications. Along the corridors and in lighted ceiling panels are oversized photos of scrap commodities. The office doors contain 90-percent-recycled material; the interior window frames are 70-percent-recycled aluminum. The carpet tiles contain recycled content, too.
At the risk of sounding like a late-night infomercial, the ISRI office is four things in one: It’s an office designed to promote staff communication, productivity, and wellness. It’s a flexible meeting space that facilitates dialogue and networking among members and other stakeholders. It’s an exhibit space to educate visitors—and employees—about the recycling industry. And it’s an embodiment of those messages in its construction because ISRI used recycled materials wherever possible, in visible and invisible ways. Everywhere you look, there’s something to start a conversation about recycling.
Making Recycling Visible
In constructing the ISRI office, “I wanted a space that would help tell the story about the industry we represent,” says ISRI President Robin Wiener. “I wanted the ability to show, through tangible items and through images, what the true breadth and scope of the scrap recycling industry is.” This was important, she says, “not only to showcase it to others, but to remind us—to remind me, you, everyone who works here—who we work for and why we’re here.”
In many ways, the work areas of the ISRI office look much like those of any other modern office. That’s intentional. The message is that recycled-content building materials are just as attractive, high-quality, and affordable as those made with virgin materials. Other recycled materials are just as intentionally left visible. Most notably, tables in one meeting room and the kitchen sit on bases that are ferrous scrap sculptures. Look closely, and you’ll see pipes and a rotary fan in one; a bicycle and sink basin in the other.
The kitchen and employee lounge feature several other visible scrap elements. The countertops are 100-percent-recycled HDPE. The kitchen light fixture is built from used fluorescent lamps. One wall is made from 100-percent-recycled drink boxes, their labels still visible. The backsplash tiles over the kitchen counters are recycled glass, as are the pantry door pulls.
Another table contains fabric-scrap chains embedded in a resin surface. That’s an example of recycling’s role in international development: Workers in Senegal use foot-powered sewing machines to create the fabric chains. Revenue from their products supports education and microlending for women in one sub-Saharan town.
Architect Bill London, owner and principal of Bill London Design Group, or bldg (Washington, D.C.), says his firm tries to use recycled material in all its projects as the “socially, globally responsible thing to do,” but for ISRI it tried to showcase them and “use unusual things people might not have seen before.”
Space to Tell the Story
The Recycling Education Center aims to tell the industry’s story in about 450 square feet. Along one wall is a photo and illustration montage with a recycling timeline, from its origins in prehistory to milestones in U.S. recycling history, including ISRI’s history. The timeline “lets visitors see recycling is not new, it has a long, rich history that deserves acknowledgement and recognition,” Kiser says, and its trade associations have “represented the industry’s interests at all levels of government.”
On the two other walls are some industry basics. Wall text gives a definition for scrap and describes which types of scrap ISRI members handle. The next section explains how recycling works, from weighing and purchasing to processing, marketing and selling, transporting, and manufacturing material with recycled content. A rotating selection of ISRI videos about the industry and important issues play on two large screens.
Several interactive and three-dimensional components in the education center help bring the industry to life. A fully functioning model of a truck scale—which Rice Lake Weighing Systems (Rice Lake, Wis.) created using a 3-D printer—comes with a model tractor-trailer and tiny bales of corrugated paper and pieces of metal scrap so visitors can see the relationship between weight and price. A wooden model of an automobile shredder sits below shelves with scale models of material handling equipment. One pedestal displays small samples of metals and a magnet so visitors can do some basic sorting. Clear cylinders hold samples of processed metal, plastic, glass, rubber, and more.
A tiered display area holds partially processed scrap, such as plastic flake and pellet, briquettes and pucks of nonferrous metals, and circuitboards. The final display area shows products made from recycled materials. Directly and indirectly, the education center conveys the integral role of scrap processing in the manufacturing economy, the commodity nature of processed scrap, the global scope of the industry, and its history and legacy, Wiener says.
Creating the education center displays was a joint effort of bldg; independent exhibit designer Jill Vexler, whose family owns Monterrey Iron & Metal in San Antonio; Wiener; ISRI Vice President of Human Resources Olga Zamora; and Kiser, with the input of other ISRI staff members over the course of the project. Wiener credits bldg for coming up with the idea for a timeline and Vexler for helping ISRI tell “a fairly complicated and detailed story” in limited space.
The group took its inspiration from similar exhibits Wiener had seen in her travels, including one at the Sims Municipal Recycling facility in Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Copper Museum at La Farga’s headquarters outside of Barcelona, Spain. As the group came to consensus around what the educational elements would be, Kiser selected the photos, wrote and edited the text, and worked with vendors on elements such as the display pedestals and the model scale. “Kent really had the ability like no one else did to put all the pieces together,” Wiener says. Kiser and Wiener also solicited donations of scrap and finished products.
“As you go around the office, different features let you take the knowledge to different levels,” Kiser says. Some visitors will only have time to look at the pictures and models, but if you “really take the time to read and look at everything, interact with everything, you can leave the office knowing the industry on a decent level.”
A Multitude of Meetings
ISRI designed the conference center for flexibility of group sizes and multimedia needs. In early March, for example, ISRI hosted a meeting with China Scrap Plastics Association (Beijing) representatives one day, officials from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration another. The largest event to date was the 2017 State of Recycling Forum, which ISRI held with Keep America Beautiful (Stamford, Conn.) on Nov. 15, America Recycles Day. The event attracted about 75 participants from recycling and related organizations as well as journalists and officials from various levels of government. ISRI live-streamed the opening remarks and panel discussions to reach an even wider audience.
Also sizable was the open house and reception ISRI held Jan. 31 in conjunction with the winter board and committee meetings. ISRI members and guests congregated for hors d’oeuvres and cocktails in the education center and conference center and had the chance to tour the rest of the office. Smaller group events have included ISRI chapter treasurers training, the 2017 Industry Leadership Training Program, the board meetings of JASON and Sustainable Electronics Recycling International, and training for auditors of the Recycling Industry Operating StandardTM. Two 90-inch screens make it easier to view presentations or host webcasts or videoconferences.
With the conference center positioned between the education center and the kitchen and employee lounge, visitors get exposed to recycling messages and office elements made from recycled materials when they enter, exit, and take a coffee break. The space even promotes ISRI’s and the industry’s core values on the way to the bathrooms and water fountains, where ISRI safety posters line the hallway.
Wellness at Work
Wiener emphasized to bldg her interest in creating a work environment that promotes health and wellness. During move planning, ISRI employees had a chance to weigh in on what they value in a work space: more natural light, areas to facilitate collaboration, and passages that cut across the ring of offices so you’re not constantly walking in circles. A committee of employees also helped select the furniture, color schemes, and other décor elements.
The office receives abundant natural light from windows on all four sides of the building. The kitchen and employee lounge have a variety of seating areas suitable for eating alone or in groups. The lounge also can host small-group meetings—and it’s an alternative spot to get work done. Nursing mothers have a private room for their needs. Adjustable-height desks give employees the option of sitting or standing while they work. “The space is so nicely designed, it helps the staff be highly functional so we can do our jobs better” for ISRI members, Zamora says.
Animal sculptures around the office, all made of scrap materials—soda-can dinosaurs, newsprint dogs, a giant panda in miniature made of recycled flip-flops—provide a counterpoint to the serious recycling messages on the walls. Wiener contributed most of the sculptures at her own expense, Zamora notes, finding them in local stores, hotel gift shops, and even Target. The exception is a furry red monster in one room. Staff members named the meeting rooms after scrap commodities or their specifications, including Elmo, the specification for electric motor scrap. Soon after the name went on the door, two staff members brought stuffed versions of the Sesame Street character who shares that name and added them to the room just for fun.
At 18,750 square feet, the new ISRI office is about 30-percent larger than the previous one, but the use of space is much more efficient, Wiener says. It has 75 percent less storage space, and work stations replaced about two-thirds of the offices. Four work stations are available for visiting ISRI members and other guests. Phone rooms and “huddle rooms”—small spaces for meetings of two to six people—offer privacy and reduce distractions in the work-station areas.
According to benchmarking ISRI conducted, the lease agreement presented very favorable terms compared with what other Washington-area associations spend on their offices, Wiener and Zamora say. It’s a 13-year lease with multiple concessions, including a year of free rent and a $1.7 million allowance that covered moving costs, the build-out of the new space, new furniture, and the conference center and education center.
Some of the office elements look more expensive than they are, Zamora notes. The ferrous table bases were about $1,000, for example, created by a young artist from the University of Maryland whom bldg had used on other projects. Most of the items in the education center were donated. Despite the many unique materials, “we didn’t have to spend a dollar more to design this office than we would have had we not gone with this concept,” Wiener says.
To offset some of its costs, ISRI is subleasing six offices in one corner of the floor to staff from the March of Dimes, an agreement which generates $86,000 a year, Wiener says. Other building tenants have expressed an interest in renting the conference center when ISRI is not using it, she adds.
Planning for Change
The recycling industry and ISRI both continue to evolve, and ISRI designed the office, conference center, and education center to evolve with them. The sublet space could grow or shrink according to future staffing needs, for example. The wall text and photos around the office and in the education center are all vinyl decals that peel off and easily can be replaced. Wiener and Kiser still have a wish list of items they’d like to add to the education center, especially more industrial items with scrap content that represent the wide range of commodities members process. (Contact Wiener at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202/662-8512 if you have an item you’d like to donate.) Wiener also would like the center to tell more about industry innovation and the newer materials entering the recycling stream.
What won’t change is the space’s celebration of the scrap recycling industry and the achievements of its members and their association. “We want members to be proud when they come in here,” Wiener says. “We want them to be proud of what they do and also of the association that represents them. I look forward to welcoming any and all members who visit Washington to come on by.”
Rachel H. Pollack is editorial director of Scrap.
The ISRI office, conference center, and recycling education center demonstrate how fundamental recycling is, not just through pictures and words, but in everything from the lights overhead to the carpet below.