Employment and the circular economy

The circular economy is quietly driving a revolution in the UK economy – one that will lead to a huge boost for UK employment and reduction in environmental damage. All while reducing the cost of goods. Jamie Harbour, relationship manager for Rype Office, explains how.

The circular economy has the potential to transform UK employment and the growing cadre of circular businesses are proving it. Research conducted jointly by WRAP and the Green Alliance in 2015 shows that the expansion of the circular economy could create 205,000 jobs across a range of sectors.

The report also shows the direct and positive relationship between resource efficiency and job creation; retaining more value within a product by reusing it or remanufacturing it generates more jobs. Through reuse and remanufacturing, 8 to 20 jobs will be created per thousand tonnes of unwanted products, compared to 5 to 10 jobs for recycling and as little as 0.1 jobs per thousand tonnes of products sent to landfill.

WRAP suggests that an extensive development of the circular economy could, by 2030, create dispersed employment throughout the UK.

Remanufacturing also creates twice the employment of traditional manufacturing using virgin resources. This is because remanufacturing requires that products be disassembled as well as assembled, doubling the labour requirement.

The additional labour is more than paid for by the significant savings in raw material costs from the quality checking, resurfacing and redeployment of long-life elements. That is, remanufacturing substitutes virgin raw materials (mined and processed overseas) for local jobs – addressing environmental sustainability and creating social value while creating as-new products that cost less than those made from virgin resources.

And where these jobs are located is significant. According to the Office for National Statistics, 87,000 jobs were created in London between December 2018 and March 2019, whereas 22,000 jobs were lost in the North East.

The expansion of the circular economy has the potential to buck the trend of London-centric employment growth. WRAP suggests that an extensive development of the circular economy could, by 2030, create dispersed employment throughout the UK.

Sustainable employment

Click to enlarge

Here at Rype Office, a leading sustainable office furniture and office design company, we’ve found that remanufacturing is ideal employment for those who are either long term unemployed or suffer from mental or physical difficulties because each furniture item presents problems to be diagnosed and addressed, reducing repetitiveness and encouraging skill development.

The remanufactured items look and perform like new and when an office is installed, delighted clients, pleased by the high quality and cost savings they have made through their sustainable choices, create positive feedback and pride for the remanufacturing team members.

At Rype Office, we engage long term unemployed and disabled local labour where possible – both at its main London workshop and locally for projects that are large enough to provide a meaningful period of employment.

Dr Greg Lavery, director of Rype Office explained: “There is a pervasive view that working with long term unemployed or disabled people is prohibitively difficult or expensive. But it’s been a good experience for us. We have a great source of talent who we train and pay the Living Wage or more.

We’ve also found that our clients appreciate the social dimension of our work. There are some wonderful organisations who we work with to source staff who find it difficult to find employment.”

One such organisation is the charity Twining Enterprise, which specialises in providing employment support to people with common and severe mental health conditions to gain and maintain paid employment.

Twining Enterprise’s employment specialists provide one-to-one confidential support to help boost confidence and motivation, advise on effective job searching, and improve CVs and interview techniques.

Oli Jacobs, CEO of Twining Enterprise added: “At Twining, we pride ourselves in empowering the vulnerable members of our society and making sure they find wellbeing through work. We do this through the internationally recognized Individual Placement Support (IPS) model and engage clients to gain and sustain paid work.

Local economic growth

The RePlastic table has a top made from kitchen chopping boards and packaging waste, with remanufactured vitra legs.

Manufacturing new products using virgin resources means that UK companies struggle to compete against low labour cost nations. For example, the UK currently imports £2 billion of commercial furniture every year. It is more cost effective to manufacture a new chair in China and transport it to the UK than to manufacture it in the UK, which has led to the closure of many local furniture manufacturers in the last 20 years.

However, the economics for remanufacturing are very different and structurally lower. It will never be cost-effective to take a used product from the UK, transport it to China, have it remanufactured and transported back again.

This means that circular products have the potential to benefit businesses and communities at home.

For the circular economy to provide local jobs, however, a shift is needed in the procurement landscape to recognise the environmental and social benefits of remanufacturing (as well as the cost savings it provides).

“Traditional procurement processes do not allow for Circular Economy solutions,” notes Rype Office’s Greg Lavery. “For example, most tenders do not allow bidders to review and include in their responses the remanufacturing of a client’s existing products. Nor do they consider the disposal costs of cheap, single-life products. Adopting a lifecycle costing approach and including criteria for waste reduction and local jobs would benefit everyone – while also creating lower cost outcomes for buyers.”

Best practice  

A recent showcase for the circular economy is North Wales Police Eastern Command and Custody Centre in Llay. This £21.5 million building is being hailed as the UK’s greenest police station. Circular economy initiatives range from 88% of the furniture being refurbished or remanufactured to 99% of the excavation soils being kept on site to create wildlife habitats.

Given the right encouragement, including open-minded customers and more holistic tender evaluation criteria, the potential for the circular economy to create new jobs, including for those furthest from the workforce, is enormous.

Approximately £17,100,000 (65% of the project cost) was spent within 30 miles of the project, which helped to create a total social profit for the local community of £29.8 million.  This was driven initially by tender evaluation criteria designed to encourage sustainable and circular economy solutions as well as local value, which led to extensive collaboration amongst all parties to deliver sustainable and best value-for-money outcomes.

Liz Bryan, estates manager at North Wales Police, said: “It is key to the future longevity of raw materials, responsible waste management and the impact upon our communities, both economic and ecological, that we minimise the need for new when the opportunities are available for companies to embrace repurposed goods/materials utilising local labour. This is something that procurement policies can greatly influence and thereby supporting the Wellbeing of Futures Generation Act.”

A circular economy future

With employment benefits, environmental benefits and cost savings, the circular economy is disrupting a range of sectors.

Given the right encouragement, including open-minded customers and more holistic tender evaluation criteria, the potential for the circular economy to create new jobs, including for those furthest from the workforce, is enormous.

Send this to a friend