Six social benefits of businesses developing a circular service

The environmental arguments for moving to circular business practices are extensive and are well known among those already following the principles.  However,  what are the wider social benefits for an organisation moving towards circularity, and how can identifying these benefits help to drive the agenda?
In early March I was challenged to talk about Social Circularity as part of the workshop being held at the Futurebuild event from the perspective of the Circular Office. This led me to reflect on the broader scope of delivering more circular services, and what the positive impacts on business include. There are measurable environmental results in terms of carbon savings and water usage, but we must not forget those social outcomes that are difficult to quantify yet wholeheartedly positive.

Journey into circular service development

Premier Sustain form part of the Business in the Community (BITC) Circular Economy Taskforce. It operates a range of sustainable services for redundant office furniture and IT and AV equipment. Services include sustainable clearances, resale, donation, remanufacturing, refurbishment, repair and recycling operations.
In 2016 Premier Sustain was rewarded with the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Sustainable Development for our contributions to sustainability. Its journey into circular service development meant looking at an existing business model and recognising areas of market failure, identifying those points at which the easiest decision was to waste rather than reuse a redundant asset. Having a core ethos of sustainability at the heart of the operation resulted in key social benefits through all areas of service provision.

The social benefits of developing a circular service

  1. Increased employment: Auditing, segregating and managing assets is much more labour intensive than handling them, but in protecting their value the cost of additional labour can be recovered and additional value still achieved. When we changed the way that office clearances were delivered, we immediately increased the work resource needed.
  2. Multi-skilled roles: Repair, refurbishment and reuse of assets creates the needs for a more skilled workforce than in simply managing waste. At our renew centre – where we fulfil the refurbishment of office furniture – we have 15 full-time staff covering a range of highly skilled roles. We are learning and teaching how to remake items and help improve them for future extended use. The team’s expertise increases with investment and becomes an asset.
  3. Apprenticeships into new dynamic roles: Business operations leading to new roles and circular services can require a different approach regarding skill development. We have created IT apprenticeships focused on the repair, reuse and reselling of IT and AV equipment, enabling it to be securely data-wiped and put back into reuse.
  4. Significant financial and wellbeing benefits to charities: Donating unneeded resources to those who are in need and have limited budget is a great way of delivering social value. There are an increasing number of online platforms that can facilitate this activity. Our Giving Back Project has enabled facility managers to divert thousands of redundant items from offices into charities, schools and social enterprises. This also helps larger organisations to meet their corporate responsibility targets.
  5. Reduction in furniture poverty: We have a huge problem of furniture poverty in the UK and those who can least afford it only have punitive financial options for securing furniture they cannot afford. Responsible business delivery can and should support those most vulnerable in our society.
  6. Attracting a supportive workforce: A highly engaged workforce does not like to see an employer wasting money, assets or resources. Staff and clients can benefit from a greater sense of satisfaction if the services they engage with have stronger social outcomes.

The importance of social value

These areas alone can demonstrate to any organisation that, as they engage with the concept of the circular office, they will be supporting products and services that deliver much wider social and environmental value.
As businesses move towards more circular development or work towards a circular office environment, they too can harness the additional social benefits being achieved. This will become more business-critical for many, as recent political developments have focused on the importance of social value.
In a speech last month at the Social Value Summit1, David Lidington, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, announced a shake-up of the way government contracts are awarded to make sure they consider their social impact, by looking at areas such as the employment of disabled people, the use of small businesses, the prevention of modern slavery and the protection of the environment.
Perhaps more importantly, while reporting on financial and carbon savings does exist, there is also some immeasurable value in making a real difference in the lives of those who need it most. The support we have provided to homeless charities, such as St Mungo’s and City YMCA, has meant that we genuinely have taken one person’s waste and enabled it to become the wealth of someone at their greatest time of need. There are no metrics for that. 

  1. Businesses urged to do more to help improve

This blog was taken from my blog for Business in the Community, the Prince’s Responsible Business Network.