How I Built This: Designing a Sustainable Future with Kimiko Designs


In this week’s episode, host Tiffany Rafii explores the journey of Dianne Murata, CEO of Kimiko Designs, and the creation of Kimiko Green. Discover the inspiration behind Kimiko Green and how Dianne’s 20-year design expertise led to the development of the inaugural Kimiko Green playbook. This practical guide equips businesses with evidence-based tools, resources, and guidelines to responsibly decommission office furniture and divert waste. The Design Board, by UpSpring, is a proud member of SANDOW Design Group’s SURROUND Podcast Network, home to the architecture and design industry’s premier shows.

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Design Board, a podcast created by the team at UpSpring that focuses on design, development, and everything in between. We invite innovators in our industry and explore topics that support your growth in every way. The Design Board is a proud member of SURROUND, a podcast network from SANDOW Design Group featuring the architecture and design industry’s premier shows. Check it out at

Tiffany Rafii: Thank you for joining me today, Diane. I’m so excited to delve into this conversation with you.

Dianne Murata: Thanks. I am excited as well. I hear that you also speak sarcasm, so I think we’re going to get along great.

Tiffany Rafii: Oh, perfect. Love it. So let’s hop in. Can you tell us more about Kimiko Green and the inspiration behind its creation? What motivated your team to develop this initiative?

Dianne Murata: The motivation for it changes as we get in and we figure out more and more about it. So Kimiko Green started with knowing that our customers, our clients, were asking the same question over and over again, which was, “How can I avoid sending my old furniture to the landfill?”

And so if I back up just a little bit to answer your first question. So Kimiko Green is a community. So we’re a community of facility owners and managers, and we are working together to try to solve for sending less furniture to the landfill. It turns out that’s a big problem that almost everybody’s having these days, and I think that it’s been there forever. I think it’s just now it’s hit a tipping point where facility owners and managers want to do the right thing. And then in lots of cases, now they have to do the right thing.

So Kimiko Green brings all of those really smart, passionate people together once a month. We meet as a monthly round table. There’s three parts to it. So there’s the community, there’s the education, and then there’s an advocacy piece to the group. And it changes depending on, we’re just trying to figure this out together as we go. But right now, our Hollywood dream scenario would be that ultimately these owners, these facility owners and managers are able to speak together in one voice and drive change in the industry, ultimately drive change that involves policy.

Tiffany Rafii: That’s incredible. I do agree a problem that has always been, but I think finally coming to a head with a lot of motivation behind making change.

Dianne Murata: Yeah. So the most recent numbers are from the EPA in 2018. They’re telling us that they’ll have newer numbers, I’m doing air quotes, “soon,” because we have been speaking directly with them. But the latest statistics are that an estimated 17 billion pounds of commercial furniture and furniture assets go into the landfill every year. And that’s just the US alone. So if you think about that, the commercial furniture industry is a $20 billion industry. And so every year there’s 20 billion worth of new furniture going into use into the circular economy, and there is 17 billion pounds of it looking to find a new home. It’s a really big problem.

Tiffany Rafii: Huge. So how is your team addressing this issue? 17 billion pounds of office assets dumped into US landfills each year. That’s incredible amount. How is the team contributing to reducing waste in the commercial furniture industry?

Dianne Murata: I think the first step in any initiative is awareness and education. So our team as well as the members of Kimiko Green, we share information, we share research. Our team has spent, oh my god, hundreds of hours digging into what’s really going on, digging into what’s the research to date, and digging into just even things like the fact that the commercial furniture industry gets compared to the automotive industry regularly in terms of its structure and how the process works. And so if we use that same example, so that 17 billion pounds of furniture that goes to the landfill, that equates to one-third of all cars sold in the US each year. And so, I mean, that’s the kind of stuff that we uncover when we are doing the research. And then it’s amazing the number of resources that we have found.

And so as a group for Kimiko Green members, we’ve put together an incredible list and directory of resources. And whether that’s free resources that are available through federal agencies or whether it’s service providers or whether it’s just things like where you can go and share information, places like Material Bank, places like [inaudible 00:05:05] and Mortar. And so just, I think education is the basis of what we’re doing right now. And honestly, we are trying to figure it out ourselves. And it’s a little bit embarrassing. I’ve been in the furniture industry for 23 years, 24 years. Listen, if I’m only just asking these questions and digging into it now, how could we expect anybody else to do it? So thank you, Tiffany, for letting us get out there and speak to what’s happening and ideally try to educate people about other alternatives.

Tiffany Rafii: So let’s chat through this Playbook a little, Diane. What specific tools, resources, and guidelines does the Kimiko Green Playbook offer to businesses? And how can these tools help organizations cut costs and find new uses for their used furniture? Because it really sounds like this is a really great way to activate some change.

Dianne Murata: Yeah, so thank you for asking about that. So the Playbook is really the result of the first seven round table meetings that we had with furniture and facility owners. We, in the Playbook, tackle the five main decommissioning strategies. So reconfiguration, reuse, resell, recycle, and donation. And so the Playbook lays out and defines what each of those things are just in terms of how it relates to the furniture industry. And it helps owners ask questions. There are tools and templates in there that can be used to try to make strong decisions. There’s a lot of big picture information, and then there’s a lot of nitty-gritty detail that if you have 25 desks that you want to get rid of and you’re looking to donate, we will, in the Playbook, we’ll help spell that out for you, questions that you can ask, things that you need to gather in order to prepare to donate furniture and things to look for, “Here’s the pros and the cons of it.” And so all of that is wrapped all up into 75 pages of Play By Play. Really, it’s a Playbook.

Tiffany Rafii: That’s incredible. Where were you when we were turning over our last office? You could have really helped us out of it.

Dianne Murata: I knew that regularly. So further to that, what we talk about and what we end every single one of our round table meetings with is just one thing. The idea is we don’t need everybody to do all the things sustainably, what we need is everybody just doing one thing. And so we finish our round tables with ideas on simple things that could be done. Just things like asking employees, if you have leftover furniture, asking employees if they would like to take at home, providing task chairs for especially the workforce that is working from home. To be able to provide an ergonomic task chair to somebody who is work from home a couple of days a week really also can impact repetitive stress injuries and just make for a more safe and comfortable workplace, whether you’re in an office or whether you’re in your home.

Tiffany Rafii: Absolutely. When we were sort of reallocating some of our furniture from the last office, another place we found we could help were magnet schools here in the city. Our computers were maybe a little outdated for what we needed, but for the schools and the sort of kids to have access to internet, they were ready to scoop those up. So really also looking outside of the industry, I think, feel like really, really helped us as well.

Dianne Murata: Absolutely. So in the Playbook, there’s a list of even just sort of high level places where you could go and look and ask if they would like resources. So asking employees, your local place of worship, communities, schools. I will tell you that my kids’ schools here in Houston, they’ve benefited from a lot of multiple different companies who were looking to avoid the landfill. And then when they don’t need it, they reach out to the other schools in the neighborhood or in the district and share. And so you know what? At the end of the day, also it feels so good. And the look on their faces when you see the truck pull up and the volunteers unloading even average desks and chairs, they’re still so excited. I think we sometimes lose perspective that what we think is old is no longer useful, but it really, really, really is to others.

So if I can give an example about… And this is part of how Kimiko Green all started because we were working on a project that was about a five-hour drive. And so we had a lot of time to think in that drive. And that’s where we started thinking about what would happen if we brought everyone together and tried to solve this issue together, at least share information. But the project that we were working on at the time is a 12-story inventory. The client had hired us to do the inventory, but had they had incredible purpose, even though this entire building full of probably 12 to 15 year old commercial furniture, systems furniture, beautiful stuff 15 years ago, they were going to repurpose and reuse all of that furniture in other facilities. And because those other facilities have 30 year old furniture, they’re still thrilled and excited to receive 15 year old furniture. That’s the whole point. Just one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

Tiffany Rafii: No, absolutely. I think a lot of times everyone, it might occur to them that it would be great to sort of give things away, but there’s this huge lag where something just starts to feel too difficult to actually happen. So providing that education and those options and resources really just makes it easier for everyone to do something they already want to do. I think who wants to throw anything away? It just doesn’t make any sense. But sometimes it just feels difficult, which is why I really love what you’re doing.

Dianne Murata: Well, thank you. I will say that exactly that reason is why it took us probably six to nine months to speak the idea of Kimiko Green out publicly. Because every time we tried to look at it a different way, every time we learned more, it was so overwhelming, so, so, so overwhelming. And so that’s why at the end of the day, we started to look at, “Okay, what’s the one thing we can tackle?” Okay, well, right now everybody’s asking about avoiding the landfill, so let’s just focus on that one topic. And even that one topic was six months worth of learning and sharing and education.

So I’m excited because in this next series, so the round tables now, we’ve identified at least three series. So the first one we’ve already completed, including the Playbook. And then the second series of round table talks and its Playbook will be around the beginning of the life of furniture. And so decommissioning, being specific to the end of life. We’re going to talk about what to consider, what’s important, what to say, document, ask when you’re looking to buy furniture and what to do at the beginning of its life so that you can better understand what to do with it at the end of its life.

One of the biggest problems that we have heard the Kimiko Green members talk about is that at the end of the projects, when they’re looking to get rid of the furniture, they just don’t have a lot of time. And so it often is that Diane gets a phone call on Monday and somebody tells me, “I’ve got 40 tables…” Actually, this is a true story. “I’ve got 400 folding tables and they need to be out of the building by Friday.”

Tiffany Rafii: Oh my gosh.

Dianne Murata: And so the thought of sending 400 folding tables to the landfill is fairly daunting, but now there’s a phone tree. Now there’s a series of resources. And so being able to do that is amazing. And back to the point, the more time that we can plan ahead, the more options that we have for the end of life. And so really considering that, begin with the end in mind.

Tiffany Rafii: So Diane, there are so many different certifications and standards as it relates to sustainability. I’d love to get your perspective on how the industry has evolved and how everyone can navigate this. Where do you start?

Dianne Murata: Well, that’s a really good question and a really tough question. I was privileged to be a juror for the Best of NeoCon this year. One of the judging criteria was around certifications. And I will tell you, it was reading Italian to me. It is confusing. It is almost impossible to know and understand the differences between them. And so there are a couple of organizations already in our industry that are working to find a common language, and I think that’s really, really urgent. Something for us to be able to do and understand, understanding the differences in the certifications, even understanding how to decipher a manufacturer’s annual sustainability report.

So those are the types of things that we’re going to tackle in this coming series. Do we have all the answers or will we get all the answers? Absolutely not. But one of the greatest things about what we’re doing is the more we talk about it, the more people come together, the more we hear and learn and meet others who are trying to do the same thing. And so the interiors industry is trying to do the same thing with common language, and so that everybody sort of understands the same similar certifications. And so then we all really can make better decisions that way. We’re still five to 10 years out from that, but you have to start somewhere, don’t you?

Tiffany Rafii: Mm-hmm. Absolutely. Change doesn’t happen overnight. And there is no change without discomfort, so you got to push forward.

Dianne Murata: Oh, let me tell you, this whole last 18 months has been so much discomfort. It’s the term “We are building the plane as we are flying it.” But I have to say, our team, the Kimiko Designs team has been incredible. But we’ve had so many outside supporters, manufacturers, other facility managers. I have a meeting tomorrow with the facility manager who is saying, “Look, I just want to help. Tell me what I can do. Tell me how I can help.” And so we are going to talk tomorrow about putting together a matrix that compares the different manufacturers. Who’s doing what? What resources are available? Because the furniture manufacturers are doing a really great job of diving into the sustainability space. And just like the certifications, I think we are looking for tools to be able to understand the similarities and the differences. I know I sound like a broken record, but really it’s just so that we can all make really strong decisions.

Tiffany Rafii: Mm-hmm. No, absolutely. Beyond the environmental benefits, what other advantages can businesses gain from adopting sustainable practices in their furniture planning and decommissioning process?

Dianne Murata: Well, what I can tell you is what we hear from our members. And so we have one Fortune 100 company that’s a member. We have several, but one of them, one the Fortune 100 companies that’s a member of Kimiko Green, they include our sustainability stories, we call them Sustainability Shout outs. They include those in their newsletters out to their employees, and they tell us that employees want to hear this kind of information. Employees want to hear that their companies care and that they’re doing something about the environment.

And when you think about the fact that I believe in 2025, 40% of the workforce will be millennials and younger, it’s really important for organizations that are looking to attract talent. You can’t avoid the fact that reusing, repurposing, reconfiguring commercial furniture has significant cost savings, significant. I think a person, a company could save 50% of their budget if they were really to dive into some of those sustainability practices.

And then at the end of the day, I think there’s huge benefit in the community. The amount of networking and matchmaking that has come up as the result of the last eight months has been amazing. Several of our members, they will email and ask a question. We have had two large million plus square foot facility managers speak at the round tables. And so when there’s questions that are coming to us, lots of times we’ll just engage into a side conversation with the presenter and the person asking the questions. And it’s really amazing some of the ideas that come out of that and for them to build their own networks.

Tiffany Rafii: So it seems like you’ve been up to a lot with Kimiko Green. Do you have any upcoming initiatives or expansions in mind that will help further promote responsible furniture decommissioning and waste aversion?

Dianne Murata: Well, we do for sure.

Tiffany Rafii: Let us under the hood. Let us under the hood.

Dianne Murata: Okay. Yeah. Well, I can tell you in my head, there’s just a hurricane of ideas. So far, I have been asked to provide the first series of the Playbook and the round tables. We have been able to turn those into training program. And so for organizations that are looking to learn more, we can spell out, we can talk about sustainable decommissioning. We can teach them about sustainable decommissioning. We can help them create their own sustainable decommissioning programs. And so that’s really exciting to be able to put this all into action. And I think the big idea is that starting in September, we will begin the series two of the round tables, and ultimately we’ll punctuate with a second Playbook. So the second of three.

Tiffany Rafii: Amazing. We actually run an initiative here at UpSpring called The Circle, where we really bring our clients together to discuss important issues. We run webinars, round tables. It’s really essentially a community for UpSpring clients. I think it’d be a really incredible to sort of have you come and run one if you’d be up for it.

Dianne Murata: Absolutely. All day long. So I’ve never been more excited about my job than in this last year. It doesn’t feel like a job. So I was born and raised in Canada, so there’s probably some genetic default to wanting to hug the tree.

Tiffany Rafii: I love it.

Dianne Murata: But we’ve really adjusted the way we do business so that I can focus on Kimiko Green. And for any of your listeners, the more I can talk about it or the more we can teach somebody else to talk about it, the better we are all going to be. So thank you, Tiffany. Yes. Yes, yes, yes. I will be there.

Tiffany Rafii: Awesome.

Dianne Murata: You just tell me when.

Tiffany Rafii: Okay, perfect. We’ll make it happen. So my favorite question, how do we get involved? How can the Playbook be accessed? How can our listeners get involved in this initiative? And then are there any resources of or events that they should be aware of?

Dianne Murata: How much time do you have?

Tiffany Rafii: I mean, a lot.

Dianne Murata: So the easiest thing for anybody who’s interested is to go to, K-I-M-I-K-O, designs with an S, .com. There is a whole section about Kimiko Green. There’s also a way to sign up. So regardless of whether you’re a facility owner or manager, or whether you’re a commercial real estate broker or project manager, anybody that is interested in learning more about what we’re doing or to reach out to us directly, you can do that through the website. And then of course, myself and our Green team are all over at LinkedIn. So I’m just Dianne Kimiko Murata on LinkedIn.

Tiffany Rafii: Awesome. Thank you so much for being here with me today. It’s really been super eye-opening for me. I am really excited to have learned more about this initiative and really can’t wait to see where you all take it. So we’ll be watching.

Dianne Murata: Well, I hope you’ll do more than watching. I hope you’ll be a part of it. And tell us anything that we can do next time you have to move your next office.

Tiffany Rafii: We would love it. Absolutely. Thank you again.

Dianne Murata: Thank you.

Tiffany Rafii: Of course.

Dianne Murata: Yeah, you’re very welcome.

Speaker 1: Thank you so much for listening in with us today. We hope you leave inspired by the ideas in today’s episode. For more, follow UpSpring on LinkedIn and Instagram. Don’t forget to check out the amazing lineup of shows brought to you by the SURROUND Podcast Network at