Leading businesses rally to place circular economy into the office workplace

A host of private sector organisations including Interserve, Lloyds Banking Group and JLL have all backed a new initiative aimed at reducing the estimated £15bn waste costs incurred by the private sector, by championing the circular economy in the workplace.

Around 70 delegates from companies like Sky and Unilever discussed the barriers and opportunities of the circular economy at the event

Around 70 delegates from companies like Sky and Unilever discussed the barriers and opportunities of the circular economy at the event

Business in the Community (BITC) has today (10 July) launched its circular offices campaign, through the charity’s circular economy taskforce – a group of leading chief executives aiming to bring the circular economy “to life” in the private sector.

The circular offices campaign aims to make the circular economy mainstream by getting businesses to target a commonality across all sectors, office space. Around 60% of European office space isn’t used during working hours, and the costs of office waste have risen to £15bn.

Speaking at a launch event at JLL’s offices in London today, BITC’s chair of the circular economy taskforce, and chief executive of commercial banking at Lloyds Banking Group Andrew Bester said: “There's a world of opportunity to re-think the way we go about business, re-defining products and services to design out waste.

“The Circular Economy is broad and it can be difficult to know where to start. There is a real danger that we invest lots of energy in thinking and talking, and don’t get on with the doing. The ‘office’ or ‘workplace’ seems an ideal place to start. We all have offices – so it’s a no brainer, with many areas we can look at - building design, leasing rather than purchasing equipment, reducing waste and seeking opportunities to create jobs and wider social value through reuse and recycling activities.”

Lloyds Banking Group occupies more than 2,200 properties across the UK. As a means to drive resource efficiency, the company has pushed beyond a target to divert 80% of waste away from landfill by 2020. The current figure (94.2%) was partly delivered by repurposing around 1,000 pieces of furniture.

Going circular

The BITC-led campaign attempts to monetise the benefits of the circular economy to attract wider interest. It offers a free online resource to help businesses follow the successful blueprint established by professional services firm and circular taskforce member PwC in adopting a circular approach to waste management.

PwC’s “going circular” mindset saw the company undergo an aggressive examination of multiple waste streams – some hidden – which helped it achieve zero-waste-to-landfill status in 2012. To date PwC has saved almost £25m by cutting paper and energy consumption, while refurbishing and reselling IT assets generates more than £500,000 for the company annually.

PwC’s head of corporate sustainability Bridget Jackson told edie: “People generally tell me that services don’t need to worry about the circular economy, because our material footprint is so small compared to manufacturing or construction. But, the UK is largely a service-based economy and my feeling is that we need to take accountability.

“It is totally feasible for every company to conserve and do more with materials. There are many waste streams you can do more with to retain better value, and none of them are rocket science. I want all participants to energise and go away and find actions they can take and for this to be a start of a journey.”

Jackson highlighted the importance of establishing “a symbiotic relationship” with areas of the company like facilities management to ensure the circular economy is explored by differing mindsets. Even leaders of the circular economy such as HP and Philips have struggled to harmonise internal operations due to differing department strategies and KPIs.

Under Jackson’s guidance, PwC set lofty goals in relation to waste management through the 'Going Circular' initiative. A Decoupling goal that aims to halve the amount of energy used and waste produced, while improving company growth by 50%, was joined by an ambitious target to recycle 100% of the waste that the company generates. So far PwC is at 85% for the waste target and has generated revenues from often-overlooked waste streams like laptop bags.

Buildings and bank vaults

BITC is calling on companies to launch an introductory step towards the circular economy by utilising closed-loop systems in offices. Companies are then encouraged to collaborate with suppliers and other BITC members – which include Unilever, WRAP and Veolia – to promote best practice.

Alongside PwC and other members of the circular economy taskforce, BITC will reach out to businesses in Cardiff, Manchester, Peterborough and London to uncover innovative solutions to office waste and design new models of waste management that can drive forward the circular economy agenda.

The UK generates around 200m tonnes of waste each year, 24% of which is attributed to business and 50% to construction. For JLL’s head of sustainability Sophie Walker, current waste streams in the built environment are at high levels because businesses are failing to view offices, furniture and appliances as a potential value once they “become obsolete”. Walker urged delegates to view offices as a bank vault, that held numerous assets with future values, provided they were integrated into a closed-loop mindset.

“Imagine if you walked in to this building today and thought about it as a bank vault,” Walker said. “Imagine if you thought of the solid walls, the floors, and the ceilings as repositories of materials, as banks of concrete, stonework, glass, steel and metal in the window-frames…Imagine if you thought about everything in the building in the same way.

“In this vision, buildings wouldn’t just be valuable assets until they became obsolete. They would be valuable assets after they became obsolete. Every bit of manufactured capital around us would have a future value, as well as a past and present value. For me, that is how I envision the circular office.”

Walker noted that JLL was still “at the very start” of its transition to the circular economy, as outlined in its Build a Better Tomorrow agenda. This is mainly because JLL manages 400m square metres of buildings for clients, and completed 38,800 leasing transactions for both tenants and landlords.

With such a large portfolio, integrating the circular offices ideology will likely take time, although Walker noted JLL wanted to support a UK transition to the circular economy through “services, workplaces and public affairs activities” by 2020.

Also speaking at the launch was GSK’s programme manager for its environmental sustainability centre of excellence, Paul Barnett. GSK examined multiple waste streams across its office portfolio, and found that the disposal of paper towels was costing the company more than £130,000 annually. Since switching to smaller towels in 2014, GSK has saved £65,000 annually.

Coffee cups, which have been highlighted in mainstream outlets for a lack of recyclability, also proved a costly waste stream worth almost £200,000 when combined with plastic cups. More than 900 re-usable coffee cups have been purchased by GSK staff members since they were introduced into offices, accounting for around a quarter of the work force. The use of these cups has removed 9,000 disposable cups from the offices and raised £1,800 for charities since the introduction in January 2017.

For Barnett, it was a prime example of how a waste hierarchy where “avoidance or reduction of waste in the first place” is viewed as the optimal systems model can help companies get to grips with the circular economy.

Matt Mace


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