‘We investigate the whole chain: from production to waste streams’

How can you make the operational management of a penitentiary institution circular? What can a living lab contribute to the circular operational management? Why would you let your students sort out waste with their hands? These are exciting questions which come to be discussed as we speak with Thomas Wissingh. He is a junior researcher involved in all the aspects of the public project RAAK about the operational management of the Circular Business research group within the Centre of Expertise Mission Zero. ‘We investigate the whole chain: from production to waste streams’.

Everybody who wants to organize operational management in a circular manner, which shall not produce CO2 or very little, aim to produce the least possible amount of waste and lead an effective dialogue with the suppliers about the products and their packages and have control over the whole chain. Circular operational management requires a change of mindset. All these aspects have been implemented in the public project RAAK about the circular operational management. Thomas Wissingh is a junior researcher, a position which has been known for years in research university education, but it is relatively new at the university of applied sciences. He is happy to explain about this research project in which many students and a handful of lecturers are involved and where The Hague University of Applied Sciences collaborates with the United Nations The Hague Penitentiary Institution and the Custodial Institutions Agency.

Paper tiger?

The United Nations The Hague Penitentiary Institution is responsible for all facility processes within the ministries. The Custodial Institutions Agency is responsible for the prison system in the Netherlands. Thomas: “It is a RAAK public project because we conduct this research in collaboration with extern parties. The NWO invests exactly as much money as The United Nations The Hague Penitentiary Institution and DJI. The study will be carried on from September 2020 to September 2022. If, hopefully, we are no longer prevented too much by COVID-19, there will be a great action protocol in September 2022 and we shall start for smarter circular facility management.”

A research of two years for an action protocol: that kind of output sounds like a paper tiger. “This is not the case. In this protocol, we align as closely as possible with the current operational management established in many organizations. As a consequence, we enable facility professionals to carry out the right interventions inside their own organization to achieve circular business operations. This action protocol will provide many practical examples, examples of right reporting and many data about human behaviour. The protocols are aimed at facility policy makers, purchasers and cleaners.”

Measuring people’s behaviour

Thomas agrees that circular business operations concern people’s behaviour to a large extent. “That is the reason why it also determines a large part of our research. We have a living lab operational in the Facility Management degree programme. Sensors have been installed in the rooms, including at the windows and doors. But beside the trash cans as well. We use the data provided by these sensors in order to analyse people’s behaviour. How do they move in space? How do they sort out their waste? To produce this data, people must go back to work and study at school. The biggest question for us right now is thus when the restrictions that stand in the way of this project will be lifted.”

The researchers do not have the above-mentioned problem in the Penitentiary Institution of Utrecht, which is located in Nieuwersluis. A basic measurement was recently carried out at this location of circular business operations at the end of the chain of waste processing. Thomas: “The prison system has the ambition to minimise the flow of residual waste within the nearest future. A facility manager can take control of this process. However, it still does not happen enough right now. The purpose of the baseline measurement is to give the facility manager an insight into the ongoing mono-flows and thus show the potential of sorted-out waste. Because you work with prisoners here, we cannot test every intervention for security reasons. What is possible is the sorting out of waste by the detainees and the strengthening of the role of the facility manager in purchasing and in the zero-waste ambition.”

Dirty hands with waste

There is a lot of work in the Circular Operations project. A living lab within the university of applied sciences. Zero measurements in three penitentiary institutions. And an investigation into the ideal trash can as well. Thomas: “Yes, a student is working on it. I am very curious about the presentation he will bring afterwards.” A part of all this research is still in the development phase, and a part of it has already been implemented. Thomas: “I expect that at the end of the summer this year, when the buildings will be occupied again, we will then start carrying out real interventions.”

He gives an additional example of such intervention. “We involved students in the baseline measurement in Nieuwersluis by letting them sort out the waste with their hands. They have now really felt what people throw away. This intervention has raised so much awareness that I would like to repeat it with all first-year students at The Hague University of Applied Sciences.”

Holle Bolle Gijs

The Circular Operations project is aimed at many target groups. What is the purpose? Thomas: “The Facility Management lecturers involved in this project can implement the results in their education. This results in a little bit of curriculum innovation which students can use to their benefits. The students participating in the project acquire considerable research experience. They work closely with people carrying out professional practice and also get more involved in the subject within the research. And the partners with whom we collaborate can use the research results to achieve circular business operations.”

It is only a question of human behaviour. How do you guarantee that people become enthusiastic about circular business operations? Thomas: “We use gamification and nudging techniques to achieve it. A gentle push, without people experiencing any kind of emergency or obligation. The best example – when it comes to circular business operations – is Efteling. Visitors can hardly resist the voice of Holle Bolle Gijs. That is an example of gamification and nudging that works well. We want to use identical techniques in this project as well.”