We are joined today by Sam Kirby-Bray, the Sustainability Commissioning Officer at Shropshire Council. Sam is their Warp It lead, and handles a number of other important responsibilities in his role. We’re keen to talk to him about their reuse project, which launched to all staff in March 2019.
Sam, what was the problem that Shropshire Council were looking to solve?
Back at the start of our reuse project, our key priority was to make savings on procurement. Our Head of Procurement was really keen to see that become a reality, as was the Office Moves and Logistics Manager, who was seriously concerned about removal and transport costs.
Right now, a lot of schools are becoming academies, and others are joining forces. I kept hearing about skips being arranged for building closures, and having an environmental and sustainability perspective, I was keen to solve that is. That was another trigger that drove us towards signing up for Warp It.
How has the reuse journey been since then?
I’d say it’s been an interesting journey, especially being the one managing it. I didn’t see myself ever being involved in such a scheme, as my main role is to do with energy efficiency and renewables. I’ve been quietly surprised and pleased with how quickly it has taken off.
We did our trial day back in autumn, and my initial thought was that we would get a few staff and gradually push along. In reality, we had around 176 signups and over £20,000 in savings, over 3 tonnes of waste avoided and 8 tonnes of CO2 savings! We’ve done better than expected and it’s nice to see Warp It become a success here. However, there’s been a time investment in getting it set up, and I don’t want it to overtake my role and become unmanageable.
Sam, Adam, and Simon from Shropshire Council are all working with Warp It
What have been the biggest challenges, and how did you overcome them?
It’s early days for us, so we are still in the ‘overcoming stage’. A lot of large organisations and public sector organisations will understand when I say that internal culture change is really tricky. Some of us are keen on sustainability and we recycle at home and turn lights and laptops off when we leave a room. For others, if it doesn’t save them money, they don’t see the incentive. We have to remind people that we have a public responsibility for taxpayers’ money. Culture and behaviour change is our bigger hurdle, because whilst we can put a system in place, there’s a gradual nature adoption cycle. We can’t be pushy.
Getting buy-in wasn’t as hard as we thought, as we had a director who was very keen and endorsed signing up to Warp It. The next step will be a bigger challenge, and that involved getting the Chief Executive’s support to bring schools on board. If schools sign up, they will be able to exchange with other schools in the West Midlands without our intervention. Right now there are legal and social impediments to overcome.
Storage is a challenge for the future. Right now, we are using an old print room in a building from the 60s. Space is limited and there’s a potential refurb on the horizon, so we have to be conscious that one day we might lose our storage. For the moment, the Officer responsible is doing a pretty great job managing it. We also know that Warp It acts as a virtual store, so service areas can move items between themselves without needing to use the print room. We have a pretty quick turnaround as it is though.
What are your top tips for success for others in similar roles?
Listen to Daniel from Warp It, a lot. He suggested that we set realistic targets, so we set the bar at £25,000 for the first year, and already we’ve got to £20,000 in 6 months. So who said sustainability can't be commercial - it simply is! This includes savings from our mini-pilot in November and December, a small launch in January, and an organisation wide launch in mid-March. Since January, we’ve been getting some real trades, and the incremental rollout approach has meant that the 3 people who watch over it have had everything under control.
If your organisation is anything like ours, the bottom line is financial. Being able to gather data and communicate that to Financial Directors is absolutely key to getting formal approval.
Finally, it’s more of a ‘note to self’ for any other Warp It admin. Don’t worry too much about the end result, just enjoy the process, relinquish some control, let it happen, and in the end, you will get there.
What’s next for Shropshire Council and reuse?
We have an NHS partner in the form of Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust. They’re using Warp It really impressively and recently joined the £100k in savings club. We are working on becoming a formal public sector partner with them.
Our Easter campaign included a chocolate egg incentive for a spring-clean drive. Following this initiative, we'd like to carry forwards a “stationery amnesty” for unwanted office items that others may need. After that, we’d like to select a few schools to work with and develop a process that could be rolled out to the whole authority area. A regional schools network for the West Midlands would give a lot of schools access to a lot of items. Finally, we wish to link in with other not-for-profit organisations who work hard in this sector already to distribute unclaimed items.
We’re working through a list of priorities for our reuse project, seeing what can be reused internally and in schools first, and then for any items that cannot be reused and claimed, we’d like to be able to consider the third sector.