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How to Set Up a Citywide Asset Exchange System

Somebody has surplus assets and you need to find someone else who wants those same materials, at the same time, and in a nearby location...

This article illustrates the approach we take at Warp It when rolling out a reuse system across a city or region. 

  • We start by getting it right in one organisation.
  • Who then prove the model to other main players.
  • Who then demonstrate it can work multi agency. 
  • And then it goes mainstream
  • This is advanced reuse and we have some great case studies to show you.

In this article we tell you how to do this in a low risk manner which ensures buy in a success!

Almost every major city has tried to introduce and implement a material exchange system of some sort, and generally they have failed. It’s often because they are asking too much to happen right from the outset.

What we've learned with rolling out these sort of systems across a number of cities in the UK is that materials or asset exchanges are actually quite challenging because they have to be done in the same area.

There’s also the issue of time, when handling exchanges, and it must be considered that organisations often have very specific quality requirements from assets and materials.

For example, if the exchange is for the construction industry, it's really difficult to meet the safety standards of insurance purposes.

“It must be about four years ago now my environmental advisor approached me and said she’d come across this wonderful idea. There was this portal by which we could share items across the university. The way it works is that any member of staff can apply for their own logo. They can upload work items that they’re no longer using, whether that is equipment, whether it’s furniture or even some other item. Once that’s loaded up with its photograph and details, then somebody else can go on and have a look. If it something that they’re searching for, they might come across that item. If it’s necessary, of course, if it’s quite a big piece of furniture, for instance, we can then arrange transport from one place to another. If the item, once it’s on the system, doesn’t move for a few weeks, then we can instead arrange to get it uplifted and taken to our own furniture store. Introducing Warp It gave us the motivation to have a really good clear-out. Very little ended up in landfill. The vast majority of it was actually reused or gifted to charities.” Selina Woolcott, Glasgow Asset Share Group, talking about Warp It...

What we’ve learned is to start with small items and build up incrementally...

Our activity here at Warp It is enabling the trade of reusable items in general. Most often this entails furniture, equipment, stationery, lab kit and IT equipment. Because these items are consumer goods, they're easier to exchange, and people know what they're going to get, meaning there's an accepted criteria already. We say to our customers, "If trading furniture or equipment is too much of a challenge from day one, start with things like stationery and simple, low risk items."

The approach here is the path of least resistance and least risk. This is truly the easiest way to get people used to reuse, materials exchange or Warp It’s system, or a rival system, and get used to trading, sharing and swapping surplus assets and materials in the future.

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How does this work on a city level?

We've seen materials markets and, more recently, sharing platforms, which both attempt to go all out and fix the problem in one fell swoop across the whole city. This is not the right approach. What we do on Warp It is start small and grow.

It starts with one of the big players in the city, maybe the municipal council, the hospital, one of the universities, or a big private sector organisation adopting our tool for their organisation first. In their region or area they have control, influence, and connections, so the trading of surplus assets begins in their organisation, and then they make partnerships with other organisations and charities to help reuse succeed.

“Reuse at the university works mainly through us using the Warp It online system. If people have bits and pieces that they think have reached the end of their useful life (for them), they can upload them onto the system. Then other people within the university can claim the items. Also, importantly, there are more than 40 universities in London, and a lot of them are also signed up to Warp It. We actually end up sharing lots of items with other colleges and institutes that are in the same area, which is really good.” John Bailey, University of London

Word of mouth

Every city usually has some sort of sustainability, resource, smart city or waste committee that has grown organically through word of mouth.


One of these stakeholders starts to use a reuse platform or Warp It and the word of mouth spreads. 


Other partners in the city hear about this platform or meetup, and then you have further big players getting involved, and they're often developing a marketplace within their own organisation as well.

Once you have three, four or five large city organisations trading internally amongst themselves, it’s not a huge leap to suggest "let's join together a big network, so there's at least ten of the big players in the city trading internally, and then trading between each other."

“We piloted the Warp It software within the council for the first time in 2011, and from that, the project has grown into schools and into our partnership with Sunderland University, among others. We are now  looking to take it into the wider community.” Diane Patterson, Policy officer for Sustainability, Sunderland City Council and Sunderland City Partnership.

The next sectors

The nonprofit sector, the education sector and small businesses in the city are the next groups to involve in your reuse system. With the incremental growth of a sharing network, starting with one large organisation influencing others, we begin to see a new city-wide marketplace develop.

One additional benefit of this incremental growth is as it grows, people are learning, and they'll correct the course if things go wrong. They'll learn how to roll out in one department or building, make some mistakes, learn their lessons, and then improve their ability and effectiveness for the next department. The communications, system and approach all improve with experience.

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What does a successful citywide system look like?

When the system is proficiently rolling out across the city, it has become a very promising and popular solution for what was previously a real problem. You eventually reach the point where all of the big players, charities, schools and small businesses are trading surplus assets on the system on a daily basis. At that point it's only natural to start wanting to trade materials, and since people are so used to trading reusable assets like stationery, they no longer fear any perceived risks.

This is the growth model we recommend for any town or city putting together a large online marketplace.

If you are commissioning software developers to develop a materials marketplace, we would say to take a more modular view, and prove the model on a small scale. Get it right, and grow it incrementally until you spread it across the city.

“We've saved just under half a million pounds from this exercise so far, so the numbers in that sense are undeniable. They're big, but they're only the tip of the iceberg. We can go further, and that's what we see as the next upstream issue that the Partnership and Warp It will tackle.” Ken Bremner, Chief Executive, City Hospital of Sunderland.

Read about a succesful citywide system here...

Getting initial engagement

Entering the market with, ’Here's our marketplace, let's all start using it’ creates several risks. You're putting a lot of money and time into this, so putting it out in the big wide world without testing it, communicating it, growing aware and building a word-of-mouth reputation may backfire.

Theincremental rollout allows you to create a buzz around the system. Because you're not releasing it to everybody straight away, you can create a bit of a desire with a campaign that gets early signups. People will think ‘Why aren't they releasing it yet? I want it now!’ With this desire already built, adoption and engagement of the marketplace will be considerably better.


  • Start small with low risk assets
  • Start with one main player and prove it works
  • Invite the other main players in th city to participate
  • Prove that it works multi agency
  • Tell everyone about the project 
  • Bring other organisations in the city into the project
  • Prove the city wide model



Keen to learn more? Download this free case study...

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Daniel O'Connor

Daniel O'Connor

I use my time and experience to contribute to the transition to a regenerative sustainable society for all.


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