What is the circular economy and what could it mean to you?

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Circular economy

It's tempting to simply dispose of office equipment that has outlived its usefulness, as it's often a quick and easy option for bosses that are preoccupied with other matters. But in an age when business leaders are expected to deliver more with less, as well as boast strong green credentials, this attitude doesn't necessarily cut it in today's operating environment.

Hence what has been termed the circular economy - an effort to keep resources in use for as long as possible and get the most value out of them, before repurposing them at the end of their service life so they can be used in new ways.

Business in the Community (BITC) is actively promoting this approach with a new campaign that has secured the backing of the likes of Lloyds Banking Group, JLL and Interserve. As a result, this approach could be set to become much more common in the future.

What's it all about?

The key objective is to get the mindset behind the circular economy into the mainstream and get businesses thinking about how they manage themselves in a new way.

Andrew Bester, chief executive of commercial banking at Lloyds Banking Group, and the chair of the BITC's circular economy taskforce, said: "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."

The campaign is also pushing the message that nearly two-thirds of office space in Europe isn't used during working hours, while the cost of office waste has gone up to £15 billion, edie reports.

Lloyds is a good example of a company that has sought to tackle the latter problem head-on, as it is on a mission to ensure 80 per cent of its waste doesn't go to landfill by 2020.

Leasing office equipment and furniture could be a great way to achieve this target, as the responsibility of disposing of any equipment you are replacing will lie with the lessor and not with the client.

Not only does this mean you avoid spending time and money getting removal vans in or worrying about whether you can sell items on quickly and for a good return, it means the burden of what to do with something you can't sell doesn't exist.

All sorts of office equipment can be leased, such as desktop PCs, laptops, servers, printers, photocopiers and telecoms hardware.

Alternatively, you could turn to a lessor to obtain tools such as coffee machines, office furniture and security and alarm systems, all in a budget-friendly way.

Services economy 'must take accountability'

Critics of the circular economy approach could easily argue that sectors like construction and manufacturing have a much bigger material footprint than services-based firms, which means the latter don't really need to worry about it.

It's an argument that has been put to accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) more than once, as it has fully embraced the notion of cutting waste and making sure nothing goes to landfill.

However, PwC's head of corporate sustainability Bridget Jackson has dismissed this point of view, telling edie: "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."

Options to explore

If the idea of minimising your environmental impact appeals, then it's well worth carrying out an audit of your wider operations and seeing where positive changes can be made.

For instance…

  • Are you wasting energy by leaving lights on in unoccupied rooms or leaving appliances on standby when they could be turned off at the mains?
  • Are you recycling materials such as paper that could easily be repurposed in new ways?
  • Do you encourage practices such as flexible working to reduce the energy requirements at your premises and the size of the office you need?
  • Could you lease office equipment rather than purchase it outright? 

The options are endless and the approaches you choose could help you save money and protect the environment at the same time.

And as if that wasn't enough, it could help you secure a competitive advantage over your rivals, as it demonstrates a social conscience, financial responsibility and a willingness to embrace new operating methods.