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TALKING POINTS

Embrace the Loop: The Circular Economy is Coming to our Workplace

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Smarter planning and more thoughtful choices will keep office waste out of the landfills

The world is choking on waste. The World Bank estimates that humans generate over 2 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste annually. At least a third of that is not managed in an environmentally safe manner. And the region that produces most of the world’s waste? We live in it: East Asia and the Pacific.

Here in Hong Kong, the homegrown waste crisis is visible for all to see, and dramatically so. Take a walk on the High Junk Peak Country Trail, look to the west–and take in the jarring sight of the scar cut between the mountains. That’s the South East New Territories Landfill, a sprawling brown expanse larger than an airport. It’s just one of three similar sites in Hong Kong. And at the rate we’re going they’re going to be completely filled up by 2030.

The circular economy is a concept that’s gaining traction in the world, and Hong Kong, as we struggle to wrestle back the waste monster. What, exactly, is it? Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), a British climate activist NGO, explains the circular economy thusly: “Instead of taking resources from the earth, using them once, and disposing of them in landfill, we keep them in use for as long as possible. We make sure that we gain the maximum benefit from them while reducing negative environmental impacts.”

Circularity is a concept that can be applied to just about any human activity, but it’s particularly relevant to the workplace. The “circular office” thinks about office space and design not as an end product, but as part of a sustainable loop. By keeping office fixtures and materials “alive” and in use for as long as possible, businesses can not only reduce waste–they can make a significant positive impact on their bottom lines. WRAP has found that businesses can save up to HK$10,000 per employee annually simply by managing waste more effectively.

Planning–not just for now, but for the future–is key to achieving the goal of the circular office, according to Pamela Hinton, general manager of Sustainable Office Solutions, a Quarry Bay inventory management consultancy. “Businesses looking to implement a circular approach to their projects should try to get to a point where designing waste solutions at the end of a project is just as important as the functional and aesthetic brief at the beginning. By taking a long term approach to real estate, companies must reconsider fixtures, fittings, and equipment as assets with reuse value rather than depreciated waste.”

The good news? The circular office, zero waste concept is gaining traction here in Hong Kong.

Hinton says, “All major companies in the world now have annual sustainability reports and set goals regarding sustainability and social impact. Many of these global companies have a significant presence in Hong Kong, so they are leading the way for more innovative and long term solutions.” (Swire Properties was an early adopter of environmental impact awareness, releasing its first Sustainable Development Report in 2008, you can find the most recent one here).

“These solutions take time and effort, but we all have an important part to play.”

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