This year 2018 sees PwC UK embark on the third stage of its Going Circular programme. Since 2007, the leading professional services firm has been evolving its operational practices with a materials stewardship mind-set and ambitious targets that focus on the protection and renewal of resources. It is a process of collaborative learning and discovery that has created remarkable benefits for the business, its customers, employees and suppliers.
The term ‘waste’ doesn’t really exist at PwC any more. Five years on from achieving its zero waste to landfill target in 2012, the firm is reusing, re-purposing and recycling almost 100% of the items and materials it no longer needs. From office furniture to food waste, IT equipment and construction materials – even the uniforms of the suppliers that work on PwC sites – are used as resources in a variety of circular processes run by partners and specialist providers.
Working in partnership
When you embark on an aspirational programme like this, one of the first challenges is where to start. PwC found that there was good practice in the business that wasn’t already being measured, so mapping and collating the data was an important first step, as was engaging with key suppliers.
“Some waste streams were surprisingly large, such as construction, food and furniture. Others, like IT equipment for example, have the potential to generate significant financial value from reuse and recycling,” explains Bridget Jackson, Director of Corporate Sustainability, PwC.
Getting involved in office building and fit-out projects early meant PwC was able to encourage circular thinking in the design stages such as building for longevity, and using prefabrication to minimise scrap and modularity for flexibility and reuse. They challenged contractors to reduce packaging and find ways to recycle any spare materials leaving the site. As a result, when the firm’s offices at More London and Embankment Place were fitted out, 97% of the material that would otherwise have been sent to landfill was diverted.
Saving costs, generating revenue
PwC has worked with a series of specialist partners to create innovative schemes for reuse, designed to significantly extend the life of materials and equipment beyond that required by the firm.
The IT equipment recovery programme makes good use of all the laptops and phones that their people no longer need. Data is securely removed and the items are refurbished and sold for reuse. If for any reason they can’t be refurbished, they are recycled and the 100% of the materials recovered. Nothing goes to landfill or incineration and the scheme is revenue generating. “We estimate that we make about £500,000 a year from refurbishing and reselling just our laptops,” says Bridget Jackson.
When PwC offices are refurbished much of the office furniture is repurposed, for example by reupholstering soft seating in collaboration spaces and remanufacturing desk chairs to give them another ten years’ life. Furniture that can’t be reused is donated to charities or small businesses. “It is much cheaper than buying new and there is about an 80% saving in landfill costs which easily covers the cost of taking items to wherever they are going to be used next,” explains Jackson.
Even used cooking oil from the kitchens in PwC’s London offices is turned into a biofuel that is then used to power the building. “The scheme has made a huge reduction in the amount of carbon associated with our buildings in London,” says Jackson.
Going Circular isn’t just about better end-of-life treatments; PwC has embedded circular economy thinking into its procurement process too, using its buying power to encourage improvements upstream. Suppliers are asked to propose new solutions based on eco-design principles, circular business models and closed loop systems and encouraged to collaborate on leading edge initiatives in their sector.
Lessons learned, challenges ahead
All PwC’s offices are now run on ‘Circular Office’ principles. The company has made a point of sharing what they have learned along the way and is working with Business in the Community on a major new Circular Office programme to encourage others to follow suit. They are getting employees to play a part too, encouraging them to cut single-use plastic packaging by using a reusable bottle instead and to try eating a plant-based diet in preference to meat.
There are still challenges to be solved, including some waste streams that are particularly hard to deal with (like stationery for example, where PwC is currently running a recycling pilot with their waste services provider and a start-up) but the firm is actively working with suppliers on new options and sharing its findings with others.
“The circular economy is a concept whose time has come, and every business should be actively seeking to implement better practices to safeguard resources, water and energy, and to mitigate climate change,” says Bridget Jackson. “Circular thinking will foster growth and create jobs for our business and for the economy as a whole.”
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