Building a circular economy into every business

We all like the idea of sustainable business and sustainable living but what about adopting sustainable techniques in an office?

Barry Bassett from VMI was thinking about this when he received a quote from his contractors for more than twice what he had expected it to be and wondered whether being green could both save the planet and the budget at the same time. Spoiler alert – you can!

Here’s what happened.

Earlier this year, VMI needed to move a shared wall in an office just 2 metres in order to make one office smaller and a workshop larger. The company’s regular contractors prepared a plan and quoted for the job.

“We had expected this to cost around £5K, however the quote was £17,000!” Bassett reported. “I was really surprised and looked into why.”

One of the main items on the bill was a fee for disposal of material including ceiling tiles, carpet tiles plus hire of a skip for same, then the added costs of a rebuild and decoration.

Deconstructing a room in a building, carting away the waste and starting almost from scratch is a modus operandi that most contractors and, to be honest, most of us are used to.  

Could not more of the materials be reused? recycled? rehoused?

Barry Bassett, VMI Managing Director

Contractors prefer to strip everything back to bare walls (in part so that they can warrantee everything). While landlords moving into a new unit are generally unwilling to leave existing fittings (like mezzanines, structure cabling, air conditioners and ventilation plant and ductwork). Even some tenants choose to replace existing good fittings.

There was nothing unusual in the contractor’s initial bill – except when viewed through a green-centric lens. Taking another look and it was clear that not only was the plan reliant on sending huge amounts of waste to the tip but that this was entirely unnecessary.

Could not more of the materials be reused? recycled? rehoused?

My old office – this wall needed moving and the place smartening up!

VMI thought so and requested that the contractor revise the plans.

“We acknowledge this is tricky, especially on bigger projects,” Bassett said. “Finance houses find this approach difficult to fund, since they like to have accurate quotes and it is obviously difficult to cost on how much material could be reused.”

It also helps to have a contractor prepared to adapt. In this case, the contractors understood the issue and agreed a revised framework with VMI.

The end result was as follows: All electrical points were reused. Data points were moved and reused too. All ceiling tiles were moved and reused and air conditioning and ventilation pipes were moved. Remarkably, all plasterboards – bar one – were also reused.

Even more remarkably the bill came in £10K cheaper!

“The room itself looks terrific and is exactly what we wanted but this whole saga, as trivial as it may sound on the outside, speaks to a wider approach that perhaps we can all take,” Bassett said. “Firms can be more mindful about circular principals of construction.  In turn, Landlords also need to be part of this thinking, as do their agents and the funders.” 

A circular economy involves developing more durable products to begin with, while streamlining the ease by which they can be reused and recycled over time. Applied to buildings, this means choosing a plan of action that maximises the lifecycle of existing materials to reduce or stop the supply of raw materials whether that’s wood, steel or electrical wire or chemicals to make plasterboard.

“We can all benefit from a change in thinking,” Bassett added, “and I hope that this small project is an example of the successes that it can bring toward sustainability and to save money.”

For anyone who wants to cut inventory costs, reduce their carbon emissions, meet sustainability quotas, and generally contribute toward reducing the world’s greenhouse gas production, a circular economy that embraces the very fabric of the building could be a great way forward.

Here is a great article about sustainable manufacturing and construction which is you might find interesting.

Barry Bassett.
December 2022

VMI is pleased to recommend Pegasus Storage Solutions who completed our green refit.

Please contact Pat.Booden

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