We caught up with London Metropolitan University’s Pamela Rodrigues, a graduate intern working in the sustainability and environmental teams within the university. Pamela plans to go on to study her Master’s degree and work in Environmental Auditing, but right now she’s here to talk to us about her experience of working with Warp It within the university.
At the end of this article we also give you access to a free intern job description for your reuse program.
You will read about
- Why London Met decided to work with Warp It
- The problems they faced with charities and item collections
- How building rapport internally will help communications
- Why hiring an intern to work with Warp It is a tried and tested strategy
Hey Pamela, would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?
Sure! I’m Pamela Rodrigues, I’m Brazilian but I live in Spain. After my Masters I think it would be great to go back to Brazil, Environmental Auditing is a great area to work in, there’s loads of things to do with it there.
You started as a student intern, but were you able to get a great insight or history into the problems that caused London Met to commission the Warp It programme?
Well, I can tell you some of what happened. London Met has three buildings on one campus, and two main buildings on the city campus. So, all the campuses are merging into one. This means there are many projects ongoing, and it doesn’t stop at the merge. They are refurbishing the campuses to accommodate more students and they are also renovating some buildings, so they have to empty them. I think this is the origin of the need for Warp It. Items were being recycled but many of them could be re-used by charities or other organisations and it was a manual process to collect the data on how many chairs etc were being recycled. This is why Rachel Ward (Sustainability Manager) decided to put Warp It in place.
London Met Graduate Interns
It’s been beneficial for your organisation, but I’d like to know about your personal journey with Warp It.
In the beginning it was very confusing, all these projects were happening at the same time and I didn't know how to address senior staff members and say, "Hey, this furniture. Give it to me. I'll put it up on Warp It". So they would say, "Hey, we have this massive amount of furniture to give out in a week”, seventy desks, or one hundred chairs for example. It was very hard for me to try and find a charity who had the transport required to take all this furniture. There was also a bit of reluctance to change the way people disposed of furniture, mostly because they didn’t want delays, they just wanted to get on with everything. A few months into using Warp It, when I had a clear idea of what was happening, people would provide me information on the next move, how much furniture there was that needed to be gotten rid of. It became clearer over time, and now it’s perfectly fine. They let me know well in advance.
Great, so how did you get the desired behaviour change and what were the challenges in getting to that point?
I think they all realised that it was a big waste, and we needed to improve on that. So Rachel was the one sitting at these meetings, saying, "Hey, this can't be happening." There were people inside the university who needed this furniture, like chairs and desks, but didn't know that they existed or how to get them- Warp It solved that. Communication was not great as in most organisations, so I think that it was also a platform for improving collaboration, in terms of what these people needed, and where they could get it from. So I think it really helped.
What's been your biggest challenge? When have you felt really like, "Oh my goodness, this is so difficult?" And how did you get over it?
Oh, my goodness, yes! Charities! Working with charities is tough. Obviously, you're giving them stuff for free, but you expect people to show up, right? Many charities didn't show up, and I kept saying, "No, don't throw away this, we can find another charity”, but they didn't have the transport, or something happened on the way, and then I was delaying the bigger project. And I got a bit down on myself for this delay, but I needed more time to find charities. At first we were relying on charities to get their own transport, but often they cannot. So, we would use internal porters to move things, and once things are moved, they don’t want to move them back, so when the charity doesn’t show up, I have to deal with angry porters. They might say “We’re not moving anything else until they show up”.
Did you find a way to get the charities to behave better?
I started contacting the people who were interested in coming in and taking the furniture, so what I did with the porters is we just agreed that they would start moving the furniture once the claimants arrived, not before, or any other time, so that they would allocate a certain time of the day just to moving items, and to help the charity to get the furniture. And then I started contacting charities that came once, to see if they would like to come back and see what furniture is available, I’d say "We have this furniture available. Do you want it? You can claim it right now" and they’d just come in and collect. There’s not much you can do if they don’t turn up, right?
That’s true! You’ve built good rapport with the people clearing the buildings, as they get in touch with you and keep you in the loop. How did you reach this stage, was it trial and error?
There are some things that are not under my control. Even though I don't like waste, if a charity can only claim three chairs, you sometimes have to do it. What our team does is they give me clear deadlines, so if by that time I can't find anyone to take it, they'll have to dispose of it, which is still a shame, but I think we've improved loads, and loads of furniture is going internally as well to charity, so it's really good for us. If they have furniture they know to come to me. They’ll email me, and I’ll arrange everything, so it’s nice that the people internally are participating and communicating.
Current savings for London Metropolitan University
We’ve got other partners with interns working with Warp It, which is such a great idea and can really help to show an alternative strategy. I’d like to know your personal opinion on what has been the most challenging part of your internship?
The most challenging part was at the beginning, because I was so lost. They needed to finish the project and I had to jump into something not quite knowing how much importance they placed on reuse.
Looking back over the last year of your internship, are you going to put together a report?
Yes, I have one already. Rachel asked me for a personal reflection of the first month, when I was three months into it. I wrote down a reflection and a little checklist in case someone else wants to do it. In that first month there was loads of furniture, like twenty or thirty rooms at the same time full of desks, chairs, shelves and more. There was a problem with people taking internal items that were abandoned, and also with finding items when the Charities were coming to collect. So I started tagging items at some point, and we had a list of things to keep or things to go.
This is great to hear, it’s interesting to see how your role developed as you saw the opportunities. Finally, I’d like to ask you what your advice would be to any other interns or graduate interns going into a role working with Warp It?
Use common sense! Don’t waste things, reuse them, as much as you can! It’s a great way of saving money.
There will be awkward conversations. It’s important to get everyone on board and involved right from the beginning. Have a system, make sure deadlines are known in advance and stick to the procedure. Make sure awareness is good and that everyone knows the importance of reuse.
That’s funny, awkward conversations! We can appreciate that it’s not always easy to introduce a reuse programme, but to do it on an internship is something we find very impressive, so thank you for your work Pamela and good luck for the future!
If you are looking to engage interns. Then as usual we have some help for you. We have created a intern job description for your reuse program.