Online Reuse Set to Save Universities £1 Million in 2017

Universities have already saved £3 million by sharing resources such as furniture and other equipment through the Warp It online scheme. Now, Warp It has announced it has set a target to bring savings of £1 million to the sector in 2017. In addition, waste arisings will fall by 100 tonnes, and 250 tonnes of CO2 will be slashed.

Daniel O’Connor, Founder of Warp It, which allows members of staff to post unwanted items online for others to claim, describes the goal as ambitious. However, he stresses that with budgets under attack, looking for new models of behaviour can reap major rewards. “Maximising existing assets is paramount, and that is where we come in. We extend the life of furniture and equipment by making it easy for staff to swap and trade surplus assets, either between departments or from one institution to another.

“Universities have a fantastic opportunity to make a difference through reuse – the University of Glasgow has been saving over £8,000 per month, while University College London has made total savings of £311,715. The university sector as a whole has donated over half a million pounds to charity, and traded a similar value in equipment between universities.”

The Warp It reuse network works like ebay, allowing staff to post pictures of available items and managing the legal aspects to protect institutions from misuse. Since signing up to the system four years ago, the University of Glasgow has made savings of £8,210 each month, and donated items worth £68,742 to charity.

Director of Health, Safety & Wellbeing, Selina Woolcott, said signing up to Warp It had encouraged the university to clear out all its unwanted stock. “Very little ended up in landfill; the vast majority was reused or gifted.”

The system was so successful that Glasgow has actively promoted a wider partnership to share assets. The Glasgow Asset Sharing Group (GASG) is made up of four higher education institutions: Glasgow City Council, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and the Glasgow Social Enterprise Network. Woolcott said: “It has been remarkably easy because people have been enthusiastic and positive, and we have also been able to demonstrate really good business advantages at savings through using the system.”

Meanwhile, the University of London has successfully used the platform to save more than £31,960. Since signing up to the portal in 2013, it is seeing a return of five times its initial investment.

John Bailey, Head of Sustainability at the University of London, said Warp It had transformed the management of waste, adding that it had proved its worth when the university oversaw a major refurbishment in 2016.
“We had to clear out a large amount of office furniture – filing cabinets, desks, chairs, safes, server racks, coat stands, even hideous Christmas teddy bears that played Jingle Bells. We listed everything on Warp It and almost everything found a home. Some equipment went to other universities, some to the London Fire Brigade, other items were claimed by charities. Linking up with other organisations definitely helped.”

Bailey said one of the greatest challenges had been anxiety around writing off assets, and agreement around the definition of a taxable benefit. However, bringing finance, procurement and waste teams together had overcome any concerns.

Inspiring staff members to sign up to the scheme had also proved easy, with the right encouragement: “We ran a big announcement on our internal intranet, to say we had placed 100 chocolate bars on the system. So immediately we had 100 people that knew how to use Warp It!”

Since 2011, Warp It has saved customers £8 million in avoided procurement costs, and facilitated the donation of £1.2 million in assets to charity. It counts 26 of the top 40 universities (as named by the Times) – including 80 per cent of Scottish universities – as customers, with 15 of the 24 Russell Group universities already signed up.

O’Connor concluded: “With our system, savings are a given. We discovered early on that the greatest savings achieved through reuse impact on procurement rather than waste disposal, and we are so confident that we guarantee customers a return of at least five times their investment in one year.

O’Connor launched Warp It while working as Sustainability Manager at the University of Newcastle. He said: “Estates managers do not like waste, and nothing frustrates them more than seeing equipment go to waste as a result of departmental ups and downs, or the opening of a new building. Meeting our £1 million target won’t be easy, but we are determined, and we follow the Yoda school of thought, ‘Do or do not. There is no ‘try’!”

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