Below is a copy of my latest column for the Bury Free Press, which is published monthly. If you've been pondering how your organisation could make better use of Reuse and push unwanted items further up the waste hierarchy, even helping your local community, then do read on.
Karen Cannard: Bury Free Press: 28 February 2014
A few weeks ago, I managed to catch up with Daniel O’Connor, the founder of WARPit, who was making a rare visit to Suffolk. I’ve been following the organisation for some time and was I curious to find out more about successful schemes that have been implemented around the UK.
In a nutshell, WARPit is an online resource redistribution system that helps organisations and departments to lend or give away surplus equipment to internal departments or external organisations that actually need it. And so far the company has helped divert over 132853kgs of waste and save its clients over £787,000 in the process.
Dan, whose background lies in waste management, created the first version of the sharing tool in 2006, using an email list like Freecycle. However, it did not offer enough control to satisfy waste and liability laws, which are a key part of an organisation’s Duty of Care. He also admits it was also ‘a bit of a scatter gun approach’. So, he started to develop bespoke software in Jan 2011, which hit the market three months later.
Now, with 70 customers around the UK, WARPit’s database & network is helping managers save procurement and disposal costs in all sorts of organisations that vary from SMEs to local authorities, schools, colleges, universities, NHS trusts, government departments and charities.
Resource distribution systems for organisations aren’t particularly new. There have been many implemented around the country using basic technology such as bulletin boards and email rings. East of England’s free Eastex network has also been in place since 2004, but has gone a little quiet in recent years.
So what’s so different about WARPit? From a user-perspective it looks very streamlined, with easy-to-use photo-loading and comprehensive listing facilities. However, it’s the links to facilities management and corporate procurement procedures that may provide a real key to its success.
In a case study of its implementation at Scotland’s University of St Andrews, it was described by the Estates Department as “a very effective stock control system, much like an asset register, so that the university is better able to manage its resource use and waste.”
And organisational savings aren’t to be sniffed at. During its three month trial of using WARPit, the university saved £4,129 in waste disposal and procurement costs. Elsewhere, WARPit’s partnership with Northumberland County Council has just won a Society of Procurement award for cutting the local authority’s purchasing costs by over £50K.
Also from a sustainability perspective, in addition to tracking the financial savings of redistributing surplus equipment, WARPit’s management reports allow organisations to analyse their carbon savings for CSR reporting too.
But what I really love about WARPit’s potential, is the opportunity to create reciprocal resource sharing networks between organisations in a town, across a whole county or indeed a whole region. And this raises the bar for developing strategic partnerships within local or regional economies.
For example, Sunderland City Council’s partnership with Voluntary Action Sunderland - which has recently been recognised with a Compact Voice award - passes on surplus resources within the council and to third sector organisations and schools in the city. The effectiveness of the system increases as more organisations join. With more resources circulating, the system serves its community better, making all partners more resilient.
Before leaving, I asked Dan about his most rewarding experience since starting WARPit.
Apparently, it was rehoming 30 pairs of unopened Ralph Lauren brogues, left by an Olympic basketball team who were staying at the University of East London.
Now that’s what I call a really huge challenge, especially as they were size 12-18s!
EXTRA UPDATE: Please note that WARPit is free for charities. Other subscriptions are dependent on organisation size.