It’s a safe bet that few of us ever really think about our hotel room furniture, unless we damage it and the charges end up on our credit card. Doug Williams does, however. His business case was so compelling, he received the 2022 U.S. Bank Foundation Cleantech Inclusion Award.
Williams is an Army veteran and West Point graduate who founded Calico Sol, a North Carolina-based company focused on providing furniture as a service to help environmentally conscious businesses achieve the latest in green certifications for their buildings and solve the problem of what he calls “fast furniture.”
“A lot of companies will mention sustainability as a perk with the main proposition of comfort or style, but sustainability is a core component of our value proposition,” Williams explained.
His furniture concept is based on what’s called a circular economy and its three principles: designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems.
If the furniture in hotels, offices and other large buildings sounds like a non-issue, the numbers say otherwise. On average, Americans generate 12.1 million tons of furniture waste per year, and 80% of these items end up in landfills. It’s a wonder we’re not up to our waists in old couches.
The U.S. Bank Foundation Cleantech Inclusion Award is a grant awarded to entrepreneurs who are female and/or people of color and who are building innovative companies that benefit the environment, create jobs and drive economic development. It comes with a $25,000 grant and a year of business mentorship and programming provided by Evergreen Climate Innovations.
Williams plans to use the money to fund production of a small batch of products for further testing, with a goal of getting to market later this year. To start, Calico Sol is targeting businesses like hotels, universities and offices that are already focused on sustainability.
“Recent studies have shown that over a typical 60-year life span of a building, if you change out furnishings multiple times, the cumulative impact frequently exceeds the greenhouse gas emissions of the structural footprint of the building—sometimes significantly,” said Williams. “Calico Sol is an attempt to keep products out of the landfill and lower the carbon footprint of these buildings using sustainable furniture and interior design.”
With the help of Bunker Labs -- a cohort program for veterans interested in entrepreneurship -- and a fundraising campaign of $120,000 from friends and family, Williams developed his first prototype: a couch made of recycled polyester, polyurethane and steel. There is no glue involved, making Calico Sol’s couch 100% renewable.
Moreover, Calico Sol’s furniture-as-a-service model enables a closed-loop system, where individuals can return their used Calico Sol furniture once it is no longer needed. Williams is still building out the technical components of his furniture but plans to use QR codes for customers to scan and return their products to the manufacturer once they need replacement. He also plans to use technology to physically track the product’s overall life cycle and provide his customers more accurate analysis of their carbon footprint.
This is the third year of the U.S. Bank Foundation Cleantech Inclusion Award. Information on how to apply for the 2023 award will be available later this year.