Science, sustainability and economic growth.

Science, sustainability and economic growth.: Making the scientific industry more sustainable by re-using available resources.

Cwmbran, United KingdomCwmbran, United Kingdom
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
$10,000 - $50,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

As a student, I saw £5,000 worth of functional equipment being dumped into a skip. Why? Because universities lack an effective system to sell unwanted equipment. UniGreenScheme makes universities money from equipment they would otherwise throw away, whilst reducing their waste and carbon footprint.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if giving scientific instruments a second-life helps researchers in less well-funded institutions make discoveries that change the world?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

In the last 50 years humans have consumed more resources than in the rest of human history (UNEP) and over 20 are now at serious risk of economic depletion. Many particularly scarce materials are used to manufacture complex scientific instruments so it is imperative these machines be used as efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, many instruments in UK universities are sat in storerooms unused or dumped into skips far before end of life.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Increasing the re-use of products has emerged as one of the best strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and tackling natural resource challenges. UniGreenScheme offers a unique service that collects, stores and sells unwanted equipment from universities. Typically we sell this equipment to our network of over 30 specialist business customers which we have lined up for a wide range of equipment types. Some equipment is also sold on e-commerce sites. For each item we get out of storage into re-use, we displace the need for new product manufacture and associated carbon and resource costs. Crucially, we share profits from sales back to laboratories - incentivising staff to move items out of storage and into our service.


Shortlisted for the Shell LiveWIRE Smarter Future award. Secured partnership with WRAP on competitive REBus project supported by EU LIFE+ funding. Secured partnership with Zero Waste Scotland. UoB winner for Santander Universities Entrepreneurship 2015.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

• A School of Physics spent £16k on 30 boxes of Polyurethane Anechoic Foam in 2003. Only two boxes were ever used – with the remaining 28 still sealed. • The boxes were moved from corridor to corridor for over a decade. The staff didn't want to throw it away because of the value. They tried offering it internally but no-one else wanted this specialist material. Ultimately, it was deemed for disposal in 2015. • We collected preventing two tonnes of waste and £500 disposal costs. We have a buyer for £10.5k. • The buyer won't need to purchase newly manufactured foam - preserving virgin materials and avoiding the supply-chain carbon costs of manufacturing. • The University and buyer have saved money which they can spend on their research.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

So far we have been conducting a 3 month feasibility study. Net impact in just three months: > 5 tonnes waste prevented. > 30 tonnes supply chain CO2e avoided. > 5k recycling costs saved for universities. > 500 items collected. > 20k worth of equipment collected. > 5k sales. The service potential is clear, but this is only our first step in our goal of changing behaviours in the HE sector. The uptake of circular economy models has been slow in universities because there is a major shortage of case study data showing the potential benefits of re-using equipment. We can provide this data. We will show universities and other market sectors what can be achieved simply by doing more with what they already have, and not treating unwanted items as a waste problem. Finally, we can show that sustainable businesses can be profitable businesses.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

From January to June 2015 we are conducting a pilot in 6-10 universities in partnership with WRAP (England and Wales). From there growing organically and spreading across the UK and then EU. We estimate we will prevent 13.4, 70.6 and 201.6 tonnes of useable equipment going to disposal in years 1, 2 and 3 respectively. This will save 50,000, 265,000 and 758,000kg CO2e in years 1, 2 and 3 respectively compared to traditional recycling. That’s equivalent to a full days carbon cost of 37,000 people, or the entire district of West Somerset.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

The director has put in substantial personal investment support early pilot work. Financial sustainability will be achieved because of our unique profit share which minimises risk and promotes growth because we don't have to buy equipment. Buying equipment would be high-risk as it's challenging to estimate equipment sale price ad-hoc. Sales are forecasted at £180,460, £497,000 and £3.4m in years 1, 2 and 5 respectively.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

'Freecycle’ style services, which match unwanted items to new owners have made some progress but the problem persists. Our simple and hassle free solution is more effective because: - We remove and store items until sale - whereas donation services only work if a new owner is immediately available. - We generate revenue from sales and share this with the university - whereas donation services charge the university a subscription. - We distribute items worldwide - essential to find new owners for specialist equipment. We are the only incentivised re-sale / re-use service for universities.

Founding Story

In 2013 as a student I was asked to take useable and valuable equipment out of my laboratory and dump it into a skip. The equipment wasn't needed and there was no storage space available so it had to go to make space. But organisational barriers meant sale wasn't an option, and no-one locally wanted the equipment. There was a clear problem. I had been running a used goods businesses for a few years so conducted some test trading. The equipment sold for thousands of pounds. I realised a resale service was a simple but viable solution. I had found a real opportunity to promote sustainability, economic growth and research with a win-win solution that embodies the circular economy.


Directly involved in the team consists of one full time director and founder and one staff member for collections. Michael McLeod: • Managing Director of the company. • Young entrepreneur, highly motivated, driven by a desire for achievement. • Grand-final winner of the BSEEN business networking award (7 year multi-university start-up programme, which fostered over 1,000 start-ups). • Regular invited speaker for Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (Manchester, Nottingham, Edinburgh). • Previous experience running used goods business. Matthew Soden : • Internal staff member. • Involved in item collections and processing. • Excellent attention to detail with experience in testing and calibrating scientific instruments. We are looking to substantially expand the team over the following few years. In particular, we intend to hire a stock processor in February and a second in July 2016, a customer service agent in May and a collections agent in July 2017. All will be full-time positions starting at £16.5k per annum. The Director will be full-time throughout.
Please confirm how you heard about the Unilever Awards:

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Please confirm your role in the initiative (eg Founder/co-Founder) and your organisational title:

Founder and Managing Director

Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

Climate Action.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

Prior to UniGreenScheme I launched a business called Perfect-Purchase LTD.

Starting with less than £100 grew the business substantially.

Within 6 months the business had expanded to 320sq ft of storage with turnover in excess of £2,000/month (20+k per annum).

I took a different perspective on product resale within the used goods market. Rather than wholesaling products I took the single-person 'job' model of a typical eBay seller and upscaled substantially using a franchise model.

We acquired stock from exclusive auctions, shop closures and local buyers to be resold.

From a zero start-up position the company had in excess of 1000 products in storage and available to order in an enormous range of categories from medical through to furniture.

I sold the stock from this business and closed it down in May 2015 to focus time and finances on UniGreenScheme.

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

In addition to the central team, there are two non-executive directors: Benjamin Glazier, a professional business consultant and chartered marketer, and Paul Adams a well-established social entrepreneur with over 2,500 connections across UK universities.

We also have secured strategic partnerships with both WRAP and the Center for Global Eco-Innovation (University of Lancaster).

The partnership with WRAP is part of the EU LIFE+ REBus programme. A competitive programme to support just 30 businesses across a five year period to establish circular economy business models. Other companies involved include Argos, Sky, Panasonic, DHL, National Union of Students and many more.

In collaboration with the Center for Global Eco-Innovation we will conduct an research project:

Project aim:
To demonstrate the potential environmental benefits of promoting external reuse of the underused assets that universities hold. Key goals:
1. Demonstrate the volume of unused or underused equipment that universities hold.
2. Assess the potential environmental benefits of re-using this equipment (CO2e, material (kg), energy (mJ)) and thus displacing the need for manufacturing new products.
3. Evaluate the feasibility of universities adopting circular economy models for their underused assets.

The ultimate outcome would be an estimated CO2e saving potential per tonne of scientific equipment in accordance with the WRAP methodology, paired with an approximation of tonnes of unused equipment within universities.

All of the above data would feed into our IP and be critical to improving our service.

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