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The CE World: Circular Economy

Published on 01/02/2023 by Acclaro Advisory

Every year Acclaro’s Sustainable FM Index (The SFMI) assists participants in identifying areas in which they can improve their sustainability performance, both in absolute terms as well as relative to peers. One of the key areas The SFMI judges when benchmarking a participant’s impact on the environment is the circular economy.

According to the most recent assessment criteria, in order to score highly a company has to:

“Integrate resource efficiency into the services and provide examples of sustainability initiatives that have delivered significant reductions in waste, reuse and closed loop recycling. Demonstrate that circularity is woven into the company’s strategy and engagement with circular economy thought leadership taking place. The company can also provide performance data and targets relating to its waste and resources impacts, and show how reclaimed/recycling resources are preferred/choice edited.”

Waste has been under a spotlight for the facilities management (FM) sector for many years. The link between waste generation and climate change means that no business, however big or small, can ignore their role in waste production. While the circular economy approach emphasises the importance of considering resource use throughout the lifecycle of a product or service, most attention continues to be paid at the point where waste arises. Historically, this has led to a single outcome: landfill.

In fact, the UK is improving year on year when it comes to municipal waste sent to landfill. From the latest figures available in 2020, 12,634 thousand tonnes of waste were sent to landfill, compared to 25,019 thousand tonnes in 2010[1]. Although the figures have improved, England is responsible for around 80% of this figure, and there is still a long way to go on eliminating landfill and recovering resources.

With landfill now regarded as something of a dirty word, and an increasingly less viable solution to waste management, there needs to be more recognition that cleaner processes are often more challenging than one may think. Though the goal is admirable, organisations that are aiming for, or even claim to have achieved a ‘zero waste to landfill’ policy, may be chasing an impossible dream.

It can be argued that the entire waste industry has been revolutionised in recent years. Incineration, material recovery facilities and anaerobic digesters have provided alternative solutions and are filling a void in the market. For example, the plastic eating fungi, discovered in 2021, that can digest PET and polyurethane, and offers an exciting opportunity for plastic waste management in the future[2].

However, there remains a small pool of waste rejects, such as bottom ash from incineration, that does not have an outlet. Currently the innovation race only offers a solution to the symptom of waste disposal, not the cause. There still remains a need to cut waste generation from its procuring source – rather than find new ways to deal with a mounting end of life re-articulation process. The result is simply that there is no single solution for any organisation to achieve absolute zero waste to landfill.

The SFMI suggests that instead of throwing more and more technical solutions at the problem, the general overall approach to waste and materials needs to change. Cradle to cradle intelligence needs to be built into systems. Should FM providers choose to move towards full product transparency they would understand at a materials level what is being used, and subsequently be able to manage their waste management processes better, as well as managing risk and compliance obligations, including knowledge on conflict minerals and modern slavery. Very few FM providers are engaged at this sophisticated level of policy but they need to be. As a collective, we are entering a critical chapter in a waste management story that desperately needs a happy ending.

Once an organisation has embedded this type of waste management model, their circular economy approach will thrive, and other ways of conducting business will be viewed in the same light – leading to continual improvement that is sustainable and accountable, and that minimises risk and builds true brand reputation on transparency and cost-effectiveness.

The SFMI benchmarking process enables partners to step back and evaluate their business models from an objective point of view, alongside hearing from industry experts on how the right approach to governance can assist in achieving a circular economy for clients and their internal processes.

For example, BAM, a partner which participated in the 2022 index, has hosted a number of circular economy (CE) workshops with members of its UK supply chain, including Whitecroft Lighting, to promote and explore how they could implement circular economy (CE) solutions together.

In 2018, BAM replaced fluorescent lighting and controls at Cheshire Police Authority Headquarters which had previously been supplied by Whitecroft in 2003. The project included a CE trial by re-using existing luminaires and saved 2,000kg material, plus the retrofitted energy-efficient LEDs saved around £30 per unit compared to an equivalent new LED luminaire. Whitecroft’s reusable packaging – Ecopack – was used to take existing light fittings back to their factory and to deliver new and refitted luminaires to the site, this saved 1.5 tonnes of cardboard and 1 tonne of wooden pallets. On completion of the project, Whitecroft began work on new product lines based on circular design principles with BAM providing feedback on the new product proposals. The resulting ‘Vitality’ products maintain their high utility throughout life and are ‘Cradle to Cradle’ certified.

In addition, BAM is continuing to work with Whitecroft on an evolution of the original Cheshire project to adapt existing fluorescent light fittings to LED without returning the luminaires to the factory, thereby reducing the requirement for transportation between the site and factory, and improving the economic benefit to customers.

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/uk-waste-data/uk-statistics-on-waste

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-57733178

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