Skip to Navigation

Case study – Partnering for the planet: how circular business is collaborating with the public sector


  • Public sector organisations can create social value when they engage with and support circular economy innovation. London is a great city in which to do this, host to a growing network of exciting businesses that challenge how we make, use and throw-away stuff.
  • We’re seeing different models of collaborations emerge. In some cases, the public sector procures circular services directly; in others, they facilitate their local residents and supply chains to take up circular practices.
  • The environmental, economic, and social benefits of working in this way are profound, and sometimes surprising. Even the smallest business can create big impact and help the public sector tackle problematic waste streams, address the cost of living crisis, encourage community cohesion, and create new jobs and upskilling opportunities.

Small businesses in the circular economy help tackle the causes of climate change, regenerate nature, and create positive socio-economic opportunities for local communities. Their business models are designed to meet society’s needs while using less ‘stuff’ and keeping it in use for longer, at its highest value – for example by offering repair, selling second-hand items, or making products from ‘waste’.

Public sector organisations can benefit from engaging with these small businesses. We’ve gathered examples of collaborations – big and small – that speak volumes about the positive impact these collaborations can have.

Case study 1 – Verte
Kid Couture: new generation, new shopping habits

Verte, a small and mighty female-led start-up, is challenging Londoners’ need for newly-made clothes through clothes swap events.

In 2022, Verte was commissioned by Station-to-Station business improvement district to run a clothes swap for kids in West Norwood. Verte partnered with a local church to collect unloved garments from the community. They then organised a pop-up event in a school as part of the local Spring Festival, with children and parents invited to browse the curated collection of second-hand clothes.

What was the outcome?

The event was incredibly popular, bringing out kids from all age groups to ‘shop’ in a more sustainable (and cheaper) way. The event engaged 30 children and their parents and was effective in finding new homes for 200 items of clothing. As a result, Verte estimates that this avoided 2,000 kg of carbon emissions!

Please have more of these events, you’re helping me to save so much money!

Parent at event

Verte has since evolved its offer, partnering with local businesses, councils and landlords to activate vacant retail space with pop-ups. For example, Verte recently helped Brookfield Properties and Knight Frank run a 4-day pop-up with over 300 people visiting a previously empty unit – helping drive leasing enquiries for the space in the process.

Credit: Ksenia Chernaya

Why we like this example

  • Circular projects don’t need to be stand-alone – they integrate into planned or regular activities (in this case, an annual festival) and can involve a range of local actors (business improvement districts, schools, churches, and commercial landlords).
  • Small, one-off trials create valuable opportunities for earlier-stage businesses to refine their business model at relatively low-risk – and unlock social value.

Inspired? Here’s a next step:

Case study 2 – Freegle
From trash to treasure: donating to the local community

Freegle helps businesses and individuals give stuff away, instead of throwing it away. If you have stuff you don’t need, Freegle matches you with someone local who can use it – like online dating for stuff!

Ahead of a major office refurbishment project in early 2022, the London Borough of Sutton worked with Freegle to find new homes for its surplus items.

What was the outcome?

Using the Freegle platform, individuals, local groups and charities were invited to claim items direct from the council, at no cost. Around twenty people attended ‘open days’, including representatives from a local church, a children’s charity and four of the borough’s schools. Sutton Council provided staff on three floors to help direct visitors.

It was lovely to give another life to furniture. We saw a variety of reuses, from helping people perfect their home offices, to charities and even schools. It was a win-win for the council and the community!

Project officer at Sutton Council

Freegle was able to re-home over 100 pieces of large furniture, as well as many smaller items. Schools and community organisations particularly valued the larger items on offer, which can otherwise be expensive or difficult to get. Office chairs were popular, claimed within only a few days. But no item was too small: even hole punchers and foot rests were given a new home!

Credit: Alex Bamford photography

Why we like this example

  • With just a little bit of planning, and by offering flexibility around collection, public organisations can unlock social value in the local area – just from their unwanted stuff!

Inspired? Here’s a next step:

Inspired by these examples, but not sure how to apply this to your organisation?

ReLondon is keen to help you on your journey to engage with circular economy innovators – get in touch if you’d like to explore how.

Sign up to hear about our latest events, research, projects and partnership opportunities