How PwC is Going Circular

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Recognising the opportunity
As a professional services firm, PwC’s reputation for being a responsible business is key to its success in the marketplace. Its growth plans mean that it also needs to attract a large number of young people each year, many of whom now include sustainability as a criteria in choosing their employer when they leave school or university. And, its corporate purpose is to ‘build trust in society and solve important problems,’ a part of which is using PwC’s spending power to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon and circular economy. Combined, these three drivers made it a no-brainer to apply the principles of the circular economy to its business and it has been running a portfolio of projects to do precisely that, since 2007. 

A circular mindset
PwC’s Going Circular programme encompasses collaboration to deliver circular buildings, circular operations and circular procurement, as well as encouraging circular lifestyles amongst people. It also includes supporting innovative businesses that are creating new, circular solutions – helping to prove their concepts are commercially viable and giving them a route to market. In fact, circularity is a mindset which, once you get going, becomes pervasive in everything you do.

For example, PwC worked with architects, engineers and designers to deliver the first BREEAM new-build office in London, introducing – amongst other things – a biofuel made of recycled chip fat for our combined heat and power generators. It also introduced new technologies such as chiller beams to heat and cool our building instead of air conditioning, and incorporated 80% recycled aggregate in the concrete used to build the office, both of which reduced our carbon footprint. 

PwC eliminated as much waste as it could, and worked with suppliers to reduce packaging associated with inbound materials. It took away desk-side bins and introduced centralised, segregated waste hubs to enable it to recycle paper, cardboard, metals, glass, food waste and compostable cups, sending the remaining general waste to incineration with energy recovery. And it found recycling, reuse or remanufacturing options for old office furniture, laptops and smart-phones, support staff uniforms and even hard-to-treat composite materials, such as stationery.

It extended its operational programmes to allow employees to recycle personal items such as laptops, phones and work-wear, at the office. And also integrated circular design principles into the tendering process for relevant suppliers, asking them to help by identifying, designing and sourcing more circular products which we could help bring to market.

Adopting innovations 
Working with its cleaners, PwC introduced a new soap to our washrooms which is not only eco-friendly – with packaging made from old milk bottles, compostable labels and biodegradable glue – but it also is helping to provide jobs for people with disabilities, in a factory adapted by social enterprise Soap Co. 

Working with its document management services provider, it identified a state-of-the-art paper mill, Steinbeis, that could take our waste office paper, recycle it into a high grade office paper which it could buy back, creating a ‘closed loop’. This allows the fibres to be recycled around twenty times, instead of the industry average of seven, making it significantly more circular, at no extra cost. Making this switch means our paper uses 100% less timber, 83% less water, 72% less energy, and emits 53% fewer carbon emissions.

It even collaborated with a new company, VCleanLife, to install an eco-alternative to dry cleaning in one of its offices. Using a new ‘wet cleaning’ technology, VClean cleans clothes using just water and biodegradable soap instead of solvents. Precision-weighing allows the machines to minimise the amount of water needed, and drying the clothes at a lower temperature reduces its carbon footprint. This provides a quick, easy and more sustainable way for people to look after their work garments. 

Understanding the value 
There’s been little emphasis on measuring materials at end-of-life, but it’s a key part of moving to a circular economy. So PwC took steps to measure its waste in detail. Working with its waste management services provider, Suez, it weighs its operational waste as it leaves the offices, and it worked with colleagues in its real estate team to get a better idea of the materials and waste associated with its building renewal projects. Then, knowing there are few benchmarks available in the market and to help accelerate the transition to the circular economy, it normalised its data so that it can be used by other companies to baseline or set targets for their own performance.

A key finding was that switching end-of-life treatments nearly always has a positive business case. For example, diverting waste from landfill to best-in-class treatment delivers carbon footprint savings for society of between of between 20% and 110% depending on the waste stream. It also delivers up to £75 per person per annum in cost savings or new revenues, with refurbishment of laptops or smart-phones for resale in the market generating significant returns. Remanufacturing furniture is also very cost effective. By remanufacturing its task chairs, it reduced the cost by around 60%, whilst also cutting the carbon footprint of the items by 61%.

Between 2007-2017, PwC saved over £20m in energy and offset costs, £4m in paper cost avoided, and generated £500m in one year on laptop resale. Moreover, employee pride and advocacy improves when there are visible improvements in green performance, particularly sustainable buildings.

Have a go 
PwC is delighted to be taking a lead in Business in the Community’s Circular Office initiative, sharing the knowledge and experience we’ve gained during the ten years of our Going Circular Programme. Creating a Circular Office is something that every organisation signing up to Business in the Community’s Waste to Wealth Commitment can do – after all, we all have offices!

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