A warm welcome back to “Women in Circularity,” where we shine a light on women moving us toward a circular economy. This month, I connected with a dedicated nonprofit professional: Karen Jayne. Karen is the Chief Executive Officer of Stardust in Phoenix, Arizona—an innovative nonprofit organization that operates two reuse centers and offers deconstruction services that diverts reclaimed building materials from landfills and supports economic and environmental sustainability in their community. She has more than 13 years of expertise in building materials reuse. 

Stardust recently celebrated 25 years and you have been with them for half of those years. How have you and the organization grown during this time? 

It has been an interesting 13 years at Stardust. There have been lots of ups and downs but for the most part Stardust and I have experienced significant growth together. During my tenure, Stardust has increased diversion rates of usable materials from under 1,000 tons to over 5,000 tons per year and we expanded our reuse center space from two locations with approximately 25,000 square feet to over 70,000 square feet. In 2013, we added a gifts-in-kind program which distributes usable materials to nonprofit organizations in Maricopa County. Through this program we’ve distributed over $151 million worth of usable materials to help over 200,000 individuals and their families every year with material resource needs. Three years ago we started the Valley of the Sun Deconstruction and Reuse Work Group in an effort to share information about deconstruction policy related activities happening across the country with our local municipalities. Personally, I have grown in terms of my connection to the community. Over the past 13 years I have established a robust network of colleagues who help me better understand the needs of the community and how reuse can help provide support for those needs. It’s been a wonderful journey of personal and professional discovery as I form strong connections and collaborations among a diverse group of people.

How does deconstruction complement your organization’s waste diversion mission? 

Stardust’s deconstruction services are at the heart of our waste diversion mission. Deconstruction provides an environmentally friendly solution for homeowners remodeling their homes. This service is not only cost effective for the homeowner; it also provides potential tax benefits to them while reducing the environmental impact of discarding usable building materials. Deconstruction also provides access to high quality reusable materials for our reuse customers. Some of the best, most usable materials come from deconstruction activities as the teams are able to gently salvage cabinet sets, appliances, windows, doors and so much more, making these items available to folks who support reuse and all of its social, economic and environmental benefits.

Do you have a personal anecdote that exemplifies the triple bottom line benefits of your work?

Most of what Stardust does exemplifies the triple bottom line. One example that touched every part of Stardust was with a local arts school. The school was renovating a large building to create classrooms for art students. They would frequently stop by our Mesa Reuse Center looking for materials to use in the renovation that would support both their creative vision, environmental mind set and need to keep costs low. They used reusable carpet squares as flooring, reclaimed cabinets, sinks and faucets for the kitchen and bathrooms and white boards and office furniture outfit the classrooms. Ultimately, they renovated over 90% of the building with reclaimed materials from Stardust.

What advancements have you witnessed within the reuse movement?

While building material reuse is still not widely embraced, there is a growing network of reuse center based organizations across the country along with a national organization, Build Reuse, that is gaining membership and impact traction. Organizations like Stardust are continuing to make advancements in building awareness around reuse and the role it plays in stopping the advancement of climate change. I am also seeing advancements in social justice and building equity related to broadening access to high quality, low cost, reusable materials. This work serves to raise-up neighborhoods and communities, which benefits all of us. In addition, we continue to explore policy activity through the Valley of the Sun Deconstruction and Reuse Work Group. We are seeing increased support for deconstruction ordinances, policies and incentives that will continue to enhance communities and improve the quality of our environment.

Do you have a circularity motto? 

Don’t demolish–deconstruct! Keeping usable materials out of our local landfills and putting them back to use in the community is essential for achieving circularity.

MaryEllen Etienne is the creator of “Women in Circularity.” Etienne works on the Market Transformation and Development team for the U.S. Green Building Council. She has over 20 years of experience in sustainability and is a champion of the circular economy.