When you speak to people about the circular economy a lot think that it is just about recycling, making sure that goods are re-used and do not end up in landfill, but it is about much more than that. The circular economy is about taking those goods and turning them into something new, something more, something that can be used again in the same or different function – and at the same time you can provide people with jobs and the opportunity to learn new skills.
I recently spoke to Dr Greg Lavery, Director of Rype Office and he explained to me what they have been doing in the circular economy related to office furniture. He explained how they recently worked with Public Health Wales, a division of the NHS, on an office fitout project.
In 2016, PHW were consolidating 10 offices into one new headquarters in Cardiff. Instead of using the traditional procurement route of buying new furniture from framework suppliers and disposing of old furniture, PHW wanted a more sustainable approach which included benefits for the environment as well as the community, consistent with the Welsh Welfare of Future Generations Act 2015.
Working with Rype Office, 94% of the furniture was from the old 10 offices or sourced from the used furniture market and remanufactured.
The benefits of such a project are numerous; firstly PHW saved money. Secondly they were able to have ergonomic chairs, desks and tables that exactly suited their needs and requirements. Thirdly, they were doing their bit for the environment by re-using the furniture that they already had. And finally, they were able to give back to the local economy through the employment of eight long term unemployed disabled citizens during the project.
The project provided an employment pathway which taught new skills and resulted in three of the eight staff finding full time employment following the project. So, this circular economy project not only had positive benefits for PHW and environment, but also added value from a social perspective.
Embarking on such a project requires strong internal leadership at the organisation to say “I think that we should be approaching this in a different way”. It would have been easy for PHW to simply carry on with traditional procurement approaches. Fortunately, PHW decided to think outside of the box – and for that they must be applauded.
In recent weeks, this project has won two NHS Sustainability Awards and been Highly Commended for two others. We hope that this circular economy approach to furniture will become standard practice within the NHS and other public sector organisations in coming years. Indeed, they would be wasting public money if it did not.