Horsham District Council’s Commissioning and Performance and Sustainability teams won the Sustainability/Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative of the Year Award at the National Government Opportunities (GO) Excellence in Public Procurement Awards 2016/17.
The team won for their innovative commissioning approach to the sustainable disposal of surplus office equipment when the council moved from its old premises to a new shared office space with West Sussex County Council in 2015.
Using Warp It, the commissioning project succeeded in disposing of a large amount of unwanted office contents without it having to go to landfill, greatly minimising the cost of disposal of the items.
Warp It opens the floor for Helen Peacock from Horsham District Council, who has been generous with her time in giving us some fantastic and in-depth answers to our questions. In this article you can expect to find important advice for:
- Encouraging culture change
- Recovering value from unwanted items
- Using savings reports to your advantage
- Engaging with connected charities
As well as much more, so, without further delay, we welcome Helen.
Hi Helen, let’s jump straight in. At what point of a building move or a change of company culture or practice would reuse be considered? Would it be in preliminary meetings?
I think so. As soon as the decision is made that you're actually relocating and you're barely taking anything with you, you know that you're therefore going to be dealing with a very large volume of furniture and stationery. People had squirreled it away in every conceivable cupboard space possible, and you also come across very unusual items as well. We had a basement where stuff had been stored for donkey’s years.
You end up first of all with volume, both of stationery and of office furniture, but also unusual things that you might think ‘actually, maybe someone else could use that’. If one of your driving forces is to reduce the amount that's going to landfill, then you're going to come across, as I say, non-standard items that you have to give a little bit more thought to.
Therefore, as soon as the decision is made, ‘Yes, we're going to move offices’, that needs to be the trigger point for if we want to do something different that isn’t just ‘Throw it all away’. You need to be planning that from as early as possible.
You mentioned a desire to divert assets from landfill. What else was driving your approach?
The main ones from a senior management point of view were ‘Can we recover any value from the items?’, ‘Do they have any value?’ and ‘Can we recoup some public money?’. These things were purchased with public money, and that was a very important consideration from senior management, who actually felt that there was a lot more value in the things than there turned out to be.
So, you were surprised by how much interest there was in different items?
In our chief executive’s offices and the director’s offices, they didn’t have the regular desks that the rest of us had. We thought we might be able to sell those. Some did sell, but what we also did was work with a local charity. They took items that they thought would sell, things like desk fans and office chairs.
We tried to sell items through websites ourselves initially, but that got us absolutely nowhere, so as a fallback we did a lot of auctions. The charity we were working with had some great contacts, like local SMEs who bought some furniture on the cheap for offices they were setting up.
Going back to your motivations, did you want to support the local economy and community?
Yes, that was certainly an aspect. We wanted to work with a local charity so that the money and assets were going back into our local area. I guess because this is coming from my colleague Mark, because he's got a commissioning background, he wanted to achieve environmental, social and economic outcomes. Senior management was very much money driven, but actually as the project developed they were really pleased not to have a skip sitting outside our office where everything was being dumped, because obviously that's not a good PR story, is it?
Was reputational risk a fear or factor in decision making?
Not to start with, but I think as the project gained momentum and we were actually able to say the reason we're doing it this way is so that you haven't got a skip sitting outside the office. They went, oh yeah, actually that's a good thing. We also put a little report together at the end that we used to demonstrate our efforts and we put that information towards winning an award. We were able to say we are supporting local charities here, not just in terms of the physical product that they're getting, but actually that they can then spend that money somewhere else.
When you reported back on the estimated savings, including carbon and waste avoided, as well as time taken for the reuse element of the project, were the senior committees happy with that?
Yes they were. Staff also got involved with Warp It and we were able to show that. In fact, some of our counsellors also got involved, not just for them personally, but because they were active members in the community. I can think of one in particular who took loads of chairs for a charity he was involved with locally. That all helps to generate positive feedback for senior management, and it all went towards a very well received report that demonstrated what had been done. The chief executive was very happy with the approach.
Would you recommend trying to source charities within your own staff body?
Yes, definitely, we did try to say that in the messages that we sent out to staff and to members, that if they do know of others, then get them to sign up. We said they could spread the message, but actually we then found that understandably, people have lives outside of work, and so they'd say, ‘Well I'm involved with the Scouts. Is that okay?’.
What would have happened if you hadn’t got involved with the furniture and equipment, and managed to involve reuse and Warp It?
What probably would have happened is we would have gone with a traditional office clearance company. I did talk to some of them because I needed, at the early stage, to be able to give cost comparisons. A lot of the larger companies do have a sustainability arm, where they say they will try and resell things. So, I'm sure it would have gone down that route, but I didn't feel particularly confident that the percentages that we were talking about were particularly large.
If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?
As soon as we had identified that the local charity couldn't do what we needed, I was desperately searching around for a way to make it work. Once I'd found somebody else and we'd contracted them to do the work, I should have got the two of them together to sit down and go, right, well this is how it's going to work. This is what we are doing. This is what you're doing. We need to be talking to each other. I guess I naively thought that they both understood the situation, whereas actually, as things evolved tensions did grow a little bit between them. If I had my time again that's definitely something that I would have done.
I also think we weren't able to do as much publicity externally as we’d hoped to get people using Warp It. We tried as much as we could, but I still think that we could have done better with that than we did. So, I think that would be something if I was doing it again that I would try. Being involved earlier would have helped, so that Comms understood what we were trying to achieve, and therefore why getting those messages out was so important.
Thank you for sharing Helen!
Here are our takeaway points:
- Start your reuse project with preliminary meetings containing only the necessary individuals
- Appeal to your staff and local community for help in rehoming assets
- Find ways to avoid needing a skip or an office clearance company - both are expensive!
Thankyou to Helen for sharing Horsham District Council’s experiences with Warp It and building decommission.