Sustainable business practices. Resource efficiency. Corporate social responsibility. Industrial symbiosis. The circular economy. What do these worthy concepts have in common?
They are all focused to varying degrees on trying to produce, use and dispose of things with less impact on the environment. Plenty has and will be written on the nuances of the differences and similarities of that issue. I want to shine the spotlight on a communitybased network scheme, Community RePaint, which has been delivering what I hear on a weekly basis at events about the circular economy (CE): “We get the theory but can we put it in to practice?”
Community RePaint’s network of more than 70 schemes across the UK has been circularising the paint economy for 20 years. The schemes collect reusable, leftover paint and redistribute it to individuals, families, communities and charities in need, helping to improve the wellbeing of people and the appearance of places across the UK.
It is supported by AkzoNobel (Dulux Paints), and is a great example of a multinational collaborating in the real world with an SME (with Resource Futures as manager of the network) and community groups to tackle a difficult waste material for social good and environmental protection.
Now the scheme has stepped up a gear with the introduction of a remanufacturing process that aims to divert more paint away from landfill and incineration. The process allows batch production of identical paint colours, providing customers with greater volumes to allow entire buildings to be painted rather than just one room.
In 2015, Community RePaint collected around 432,000 litres of unwanted paint and redistributed over 337,000 litres to 31,997 individuals and 2,447 groups. That was before the remanufacturing facility in Cambridgeshire was opened at the end of the year. The benefits of managing this niche product are multiple for all stakeholders:
- Individual schemes, such as Cambridgeshire, receive revenue through collections and selling the remanufactured paint.
- For councils and waste management companies, high disposal costs are avoided and the inherent value of a quality product is maintained in circulation for use.
- Environmental paybacks of avoided pollution, lack of end-of-life disposal, lessening demand on use of raw materials and capturing the value of second-hand goods.
- Significant social benefits that the network delivers for itself and its partners, in terms of number of lives affected positively, civic pride, community value and investment in social assets that a lick of remanufactured paint can deliver.
But these schemes and hubs need to be commercially viable and self-sustaining if they are to continue. We are piloting operations at our Cambridgeshire remanufacturing hub to maximise efficiency of production and retail strength through collaboration. In doing so, we are pursuing commercial creativity through supplying other schemes as well as directly to customers – sharing the benefits.
In managing our vital supply chain, we are looking to work with more waste disposal authorities and waste management companies to access unwanted paint deposited through household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) to increase security of supply. We are also considering which different operational business models may be required to address different collection needs at HWRCs – for example, supplying containers through to establishing reuse shops dealing with all manner of items being deposited, including paint.
While looking at supply, our attention is automatically on demand. To generate revenue, we are aiming to establish partnerships across the third sector and raise awareness.
Our final piece of collaboration is done by testing each other. The work requires all partners to change how they work. Big corporates have to understand how social enterprises and community groups operate and their cultural norms, and social enterprises and community groups need to step up performance to meet expectations. Good communication is key.
Beyond proof of concept and commercial viability, we need volume and impact through scaling up the number of hubs and schemes. This requires increased supply from HWRC contracts, more contracts on the demand side across social enterprises and better distribution contracts, all done while not losing the essence of why the schemes are in this – for the greater good and core values.
Collaboration, transparency and innovation are all buzzwords in the discourse of the CE. However, the paint remanufacturing initiative being undertaken by Community RePaint and the Cambridgeshire group in partnership with AkzoNobel and the wider network is proof that the theory on critical success factors is sound. I look forward to reporting back in 12 months on how work to scale up the impact of the initiative is going.
Sam Reeve is operations director at Resource Futures