The Next Economy
30 New EU Life+ Pilot Projects Make Convincing Case for Circular Business Models

A recent report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and a number of new initiatives sweeping Europe have highlighted the convincing business case for companies to adopt circular principles into their business models. The latest development on the path to a circular economy? A new project across the UK and the Netherlands called REBus.

An EU Life+-funded partnership project led by WRAP, REBus is testing a methodology that enables organizations to transform their strategies to profitable, resilient and more resource-efficient business models (REBMs). For the last two years, 30 organizations in the UK and Netherlands have been piloting new REBMs with the support and expertise of REBus.

European manufacturing firms already spend more than 40 percent of their total operating costs on raw materials, and growing scarcity and volatility mean prices will continue to rise in the future. By reimagining business models and incorporating more circular practices, companies will be better equipped to deal address changes in resource availability, ultimately averting detrimental effects to their profitability and resiliency.

The pilot projects are wide-ranging, but all share the common goal of creating value for consumers, the environment and the organization itself. Examples include Argos’ UK-wide Gadget Trade-In Service; ProRail’s circular procurement of office furniture for the company’s new office in Utrecht, Netherlands; Globechain’s online reuse platform; and IT4Kids’ community-wide reuse collections.

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REBus has published case studies from the 30 pilot projects on its website, and hopes that sharing the successes and lessons learned – along with a €24 billion incentive from the European Commission – will inspire businesses and organizations to embrace the many benefits of circular business models.

“We consume three planets’ worth of raw materials, which cannot continue,” said Steve Creed, director of business programs at WRAP. “With increased demand and diminishing resources, poorly designed products wasted in landfill, a lack of information in the supply chain and among consumers, it is now critical that collective action is taken globally. We need to become more resource efficient and find innovative solutions to combat the global resource crisis. This is what REBus is all about, and the successful pilot projects show how this can work in practice.”

The UniGreenScheme, an organization that works with UK universities and the science industry to reduce waste and consume resources sustainably, teamed up with REBus for its pilot project, which was geared towards collecting, storing and selling surplus equipment from UK universities. Universities are able to avoid paying disposal fees and gain a share of the profit, while also helping keep products in play for longer — a critical part of the circular economy — and diverting waste from landfills.

Over the duration of the pilot, the opportunity to establish a strong circular model for the resale and reuse of equipment between universities and other sectors became apparent. To date, the service has diverted 36 tons of waste, returned over £30,000 to universities, sold over 1,000 scientific instruments and generated £100,000 in revenue.

“I wanted to reduce equipment waste in universities. I knew what I wanted to achieve, but understood that there was so much to do and that I needed help. REBus seemed like a fantastic place to get that support,” said Michael McLeod, founder and managing director of UniGreenScheme. “The customer validation is so strong. We got phone calls almost every day from a new university wanting more information or asking to trial our services. We have been making consistent steady growth and the financials look good; it seems the right time to scale up.”

Thanks to pilot projects like the one created by UniGreenScheme, businesses considering setting up their own innovative business model — big or small — now have access to a wealth of resources.

“The pilot projects have used a range of different business model types; there are so many different and exciting possibilities, but it is about selecting the right one for your business,” Creed says. “Whilst the pilot companies continue their great work into the next year, we hope other businesses are inspired by their successes to really think about making a step-change of their own. If we are to combat the global resource crisis — and we must — what we really need is for innovative business models to become ‘business as usual.’”

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