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Circularity in the workplace: what is it exactly?

This blog is a source of inspiration for facility and workplace managers and highlights a number of initiatives currently occurring in the Netherlands, which can be applied anywhere in the world.

Everyone in the business community is aware of the concept of energy transition. Green energy is the future and part of the major challenge to become climate neutral by 2050. This goal, however, will not be achieved by sustainable energy production and CO2 reduction alone. It requires the support of the circular economy. This means that existing business models across the world will need to be reformed. ‘But what is the circular economy and how can you apply its principles in the workplace?’ This blog is a source of inspiration for facility and workplace managers and highlights a number of initiatives currently occurring in the Netherlands, which can be applied anywhere in the world.

What exactly is the circular economy?

The circular economy is a production and consumption model that retains raw materials in the chain for as long as possible to ensure that our natural resources do not become depleted. This means that the prevailing linear system, which involves extracting raw materials from the earth at such rate that they cannot be replaced, requires a major overhaul. In the current linear system, we mine all kinds of raw materials and use them to produce articles and products for our society, which we then process as waste after use. In a circular system, articles and products are designed for multiple life cycles, which involves collecting and separating them at the end of use (after reusing and repairing them as much as possible) and then recycling them for reintroduction. This results in savings of new raw materials, resources and energy, and ultimately in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

For anyone who thinks that a system change is an enormous undertaking and is uncertain about where to start, you are not alone. But don’t simply wait for the perfect opportunity to get started. Maintaining the status quo is not an option. Action needs to be taken NOW and adjustments can be made along the way. So ‘do not wait for the perfect occasion to start. Getting started makes the occasion perfect’ (Alan Cohen, Omdenken).

How to scale circularity measures

Our common goal is therefore to transform linear chains into circular chains. The Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) has been using the R ladder since 2020 to help organisations achieve a fully circular consumer goods economy by 2050. The R ladder includes seven strategies for circular entrepreneurship, with R1 being the highest.

Circularity in practice

Circularity is different for every organisation. There is a great deal to be gained in the area of circular business operations, not only for the environment, but also for the business community. Benefits include long-term cost savings by buying less and creating a longer lifespan by reusing and repairing items.
A flourishing market has emerged for organisations that have used circular solutions to set up a successful business case through the R strategies. Take Unwaste, for example, the company that converts unused raw materials like orange peel into new personal care products like soap and then sells them back to the market. And then there is Rotterzwam, which collects used coffee grounds from companies and uses them to cultivate oyster mushrooms. These companies would not be able to function on their own, but by entering into partnerships for the collection of raw materials they can meet consumer needs in a circular way. And Royal Philips, the multinational of Dutch origin, is continuously innovating in the healthcare sector. It is contributing to the circular economy by focusing on revision and refurbishment programmes for medical imaging equipment. And at an international level, there are of course plenty of examples of organisations taking the lead in making our world more sustainable.

Circularity in the workplace

How do you approach circularity in the workplace without having to start your own company? The overarching themes that must be tackled include products, energy, transport, food and waste. Each theme can be looked at in light of sustainable changes and possible partnerships that promote circularity in the workplace.
If you are already looking to introduce circular measures in the workplace without delay, the following R ladder strategies can be adopted immediately:

  • Refuse & Rethink: Stop printing documents that you can view or edit online and which are then immediately discarded after use. This limits the amount of raw materials being used and going to waste disposal. And stop using paper and plastic cups by replacing them with reusable cups and mugs.
  • Reduce: Use the same cup, mug and glass several times a day to reduce the dishwasher load. If you need a glass of water, use a refillable water bottle on your desk to replace the quantity of individual glasses or plastic cups. Also, turn off and unplug what you do not use! This can include lights in unoccupied rooms and devices that are not being used, such as the computer monitor at the end of the working day when you go home.
  • Reuse: Reuse packaging and envelopes and use the back of printed material for writing notes. This will significantly reduce the amount of cardboard and paper being used and make additional savings. A central collection point can facilitate reuse. You might also consider reusing USB sticks and hard drives by simply removing old data and reallocating them.
  • Repair/Refurbish/Remanufacture/Repurpose: If something is broken, why not have it repaired! Furniture, for example, can be refurbished to extend its lifespan or offered to office staff to set up a home workplace. And food that remains uneaten can be donated to a local food bank or an organisation like Too Good to Go to significantly reduce food waste.
  • Recycling: Make sure all waste is properly separated. The better we separate our waste, the better the waste streams can be processed. This can be done by placing special bins for the various types of waste at appropriate locations, such as the kitchen or canteen, with clear instructions.

Circular Facility Management

Facility management teams in organisations can support circularity in the workplace and make the process easier for their colleagues. Start by thinking about which material streams enter the company, how they are used, whether they can be repaired and have a long lifespan, and how they are processed after use. Functions that are important in circular FM include: catering, office furnishing and articles, cleaning, IT, security and energy consumption. R ladder strategies can be applied to each function. For catering, for example, you could consider combating food waste, composting and using biodegradable products and more plant-based food. For office furnishing and articles, you can purchase circular options from specific companies like Circufair and optimise the way in which you organise waste separation. And have you considered using sustainable energy yet?

It is also a great opportunity to communicate clearly the sustainable and circular steps the organisation is taking to all employees, along with the message of ‘why we are doing this’. Everyone has an important role to play in taking the sustainable steps towards a circular system. When employees see that they can make a difference and how they can do it, they will enjoy getting involved and contributing towards achieving the transition.

Support the transition to a circular economy and see which quick wins you can implement this week!

You are not on your own

If you are a real-estate or facility manager and are keen to seize the opportunity to reduce the energy consumption of your organisation’s buildings, you should watch this Planon webinar in which various sustainability experts discuss the role of facility management within ESG. Yvette Watson, co-founder of the consultancy firm PHI Factory, is also part of the expert panel. Her goal at PHI Factory is to help all organisations in the Netherlands to accelerate the transition to a circular economy before 2040. If you want more information about how Planon’s software solutions can support your facilities team in achieving sustainability in the workplace, take a look at the Planon Energy & Sustainability Management product brochure.

Roundtable – How FM Contributes to Corporate ESG

Tessa Semey | Project Manager

About the author

Tessa Semey | Project Manager

Tessa Semey is a sustainability enthusiast and project manager with The 2B Collective, where she contributes to inspiring and activating two billion people working towards a sustainable society. She writes this blog on behalf of PHI Factory, where she has developed a detailed understanding of the ins and outs of circular strategy and concept development. PHI Factory is a passionate consulting firm that supports organisations in translating their sustainable and circular ambitions into practical projects and solutions.

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