What about leasing and hiring your outdoor furniture and fountains instead of buying? It makes sense if you’re a local council and want to be part of the circular economy.

Queensland-based outdoor furniture manufacturer Urban Fountains & Furniture is on a mission to transition to a circular business. It’s come up with the idea of leasing rather than selling its water fountains to stop waste and save its customers’ money.

According the company’s managing director, Simon Higgins, reducing waste has been part of the 20-year-old manufacturer’s DNA from the beginning.

The company has always sought to design durable products without built-in obsolescence.

It’s also launched a restoration scheme where it takes back its old water fountains and refurbishes them at a lower cost than buying new ones. It even repairs old fountains made by other companies and then donates them to charities or the community.

Higgins says that the company now wants to elevate its circular economy ambitions beyond recycling and refurbishing. This brought the company to a service-based model for its water fountains, with leasing, sharing and hiring schemes valuable because they use goods more efficiently and leave fewer products to gather dust in the back shed, destined for landfill.

Higgins says there’s many benefits of looking at the ownership of outdoor assets differently.

It’s typically a cheaper way to obtain and manage the furniture with no upfront capital cost or wastage once the products reach end-of-life. He expects councils to find cost savings attractive in the wake of Covid, which he says has hit local government budgets hard.

An end-to-end supply and maintenance agreement would also mean lower operational costs, which Higgins says is a priority for water fountains in particular.

“People don’t want to put their mouths near something that looks like bird’s nest.”

Cheaper water fountains also means there’s money to procure more of them, which has the advantage of reducing the need for single use water bottles because there’s better access to water.

The only thing holding councils back is that everything goes to tender. This system rightly ensures fair and open competition for lucrative government work.

But Higgins says it is also inadvertently locking in linear business models.

Fortunately, these procurement challenges have been overcome in countries ahead of Australia in the circular economy transition, Higgins says.

The city of Herning in Denmark, for example, is leasing staff uniforms through a service-based model.

In Australia, Higgins imagines smaller councils will have the agility to take risks on new procurement models.

He says few manufacturers look further up the waste hierarchy than recycling, and although his 20-person operation is only small, he hopes that once other manufacturers see the merits of circular business models, they might follow suit.

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