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Resourceful thinking

Dave Raywood of HSS Hire Group argues that rental companies have a vital role to play in establishing a circular economy

In March 2016, the European Rental Association (ERA) welcomed the European Commission’s circular economy package, adding to the debate by calling for specific recognition for the role of rental in realising a successful European circular economy. As renting is an inherently sustainable business model, the ERA believes it should be a key part of policy making.

The European Commission adopted the circular economy package, including an action plan, setting out a programme of measures to cover production and consumption through to waste management and the market for secondary raw material. Although ambitious, these actions aim to bring benefits to the environment and the economy; boosting global competitiveness, fostering sustainable economic growth, generating new jobs, increasing recycling and re-use, and reducing waste. The package included clear targets – reducing 65 per cent of municipal waste and 75 per cent of packaging waste by 2030.

While the UK negotiates its exit from the EU, the need for greater sustainability remains an economic imperative. A circular economy keeps resources in use for as long as possible, in order to extract the maximum value from them while in use. At the end of each service life, the products and materials are recovered and regenerated.

As trends move from a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) towards this alternative circular economy model, businesses are faced with a dilemma. The balancing act of achieving targets on waste, recycling and sustainability without compromising competitiveness could be difficult to achieve.

Last year marked the 60th anniversary of the UK’s Clean Air Act, bringing pollution into the spotlight again, with calls for updated legislation. In many parts of London, nitrogen dioxide levels are three times higher than the safe legal limit. Ministers have brought forward a target to meet the legal requirements of air quality from 2030 to 2025. Almost 10,000 Londoners die every year because of polluted air.

London is the first city in the world to limit emission levels for construction equipment. The engine emission standards for non-road mobile machinery requires that developments keep an inventory of all this type of machinery used at the site, including excavators, bulldozers, generators and forklifts. Since implementation, businesses in the UK have considered adopting the requirement. Showing a commitment to environmental awareness and sustainability can only boost loyalty and referrals, with the added benefit of increasing staff awareness of equipment.

Action plans like the circular economy package and initiatives such as London’s low emission zone will go a long way towards helping to boost sustainability, but they will never lead to systemic change on their own. For that to happen, the concept of the circular economy must be fully accepted. This means going beyond simply improving the way we deal with our manufacturing waste to addressing the fundamental problem of why we generate so much waste in the first place.

Organisations need to think beyond the window dressing of commitments to ‘go green’ that do not make a meaningful contribution to the cause. We must strive to match the level of ambition with new ways of innovative working to be truly effective in creating sustainability.

FMs face mounting pressure to drive efficiency gains against the backdrop of the green agenda, while remaining aligned with their own and their customers’ goals. Public bodies in particular are increasingly being asked to demonstrate sustainability, and how they are contributing to the circular economy through efficiency and productivity. Procurement is expected to demonstrate sustainable initiatives at every stage, from construction to the long-term operation of buildings. This means that enhanced co-operation is required across the value chains to prove commitment to sustainability.

The right products, when rented, can help facilities managers meet demands purely because they are a rental solution. A rental supplier can work with its supply chain, identifying the most efficient products for the individual project. Not only does this provide financial value to the customer, but it is also a practical way of embedding circular thinking into the structure.

As it becomes increasingly more important for FMs to be aware of the social, economic and environmental impact of using equipment, it is worth noting that the most sustainable (rental) option has become paramount. Rented goods are used more frequently than individually-owned materials, saving a considerable amount of resources. The rental companies can liaise with manufacturers of equipment to encourage sustainable performance in the design of the products. Suppliers of specialised rental equipment are well positioned to maintain high standards of quality, maintenance and operating guidelines, for overall better performance of resources.

Driven by these factors, rental companies have dramatically revised not only their fleets of equipment, but also their entire operations to meet the rapid rise in demand for sustainable options. For example, access and lighting equipment decisions are increasingly based on emissions and energy consumption; this is demonstrated by the popularity of products such as hybrid boom lifts versus their older diesel counterparts, or LED lighting towers replacing halogen equivalents.

Power solutions, too, are increasingly selected based on efficiency rather than simple output. ABird and Apex Power Solutions – a subsidiary of HSS – offers a lithium harvest energy system in the form of a compact add-on unit that harvests and stores any energy created by the generator but not used by the equipment, ensuring no power goes to waste. Employing a bespoke fuel management service can lead to more efficient management of an organisation’s fuel supplies.

Finally, for the rental economy to truly contribute to the circular economy, maximising the usable life of equipment must be a priority. Rental companies need to maintain their machinery to the highest standards of safety and efficiency, refurbishing rather than disposing of it prematurely.

In this way the rental sector can play its part in helping facilities managers to deliver on their sustainability targets, no matter how tough.

About Sarah OBeirne


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