Globechain has already helped divert five million kilograms of waste from UK landfill alone in just five years by encouraging businesses to re-use unwanted desks, tables and computers

Circular economy

When businesses move offices or give their workspaces a makeover, everything from desks to microwaves often ends up in a landfill. But Globechain is trying to change the corporate mindset by offering the online platform to help them find a new home for unwanted furniture and IT.

Billed as the UK’s largest re-use marketplace, the company is central to a growing circular economy, which is predicted to be worth $4.3tn (£3.4tn) by 2025.

Resources charity Wrap describes the concept as an alternative to a traditional linear economy – make, use, dispose – in which resources are kept in use for as long as possible to extract their maximum value, and then recover products and materials at the end of each service life.

Globechain was founded in 2013 by May Al-Karooni as part of a new generation of “commercial with a conscience businesses“.

She believes the marketplace offers the “fastest way to responsibly get rid of unwanted items and create positive social impact”.

The London-based company has a small team of seven staff but its customer base extends to 3,400 corporates and 10,000 members – and has partnerships with M&S, the NHS and Radisson Hotels.

Globechain, May Al-Karooni
Globechain founder May Al-Karooni

To date, it says it has helped 14,000 communities and 84,400 people globally by connecting them with unwanted items – saving small businesses and charities £2m on equipment costs in the UK alone and diverting more than 5.1 million kilograms of waste from landfill.

May – a prolific speaker about women in tech in London, the circular economy and sustainable business models – speaks to Compelo about the Globechain story.


What does Globechain do and how does it work?

Globechain is the UK’s leading re-use marketplace, connecting corporates to small businesses, people and charities.

It’s like eBay for free, with data. Corporates list any unwanted items to Globechain’s marketplace, which members can then collect for free.

The system collates social impact data on the giving, breaking down the social, economic and environmental impacts.

It’s free to sign up and easy to use – just browse, request and arrange collection.


Why is Globechain and the circular economy needed?

Every day, companies will upscale, downscale, relocate and refurbish.

But what happens to unwanted items, these extra resources?

Companies pay for it to go to landfill or incineration, which has serious environmental impacts.

Globechain has already helped divert five million kilograms of waste from UK landfill alone in just five years – saving small businesses and charities more than £2m in equipment costs.


How did the Globechain idea come about?

I was working in an investment bank and the facilities department where I worked disposed of a hefty amount of furniture and computer equipment when moving offices – costing it around £50,000 per person.

While that included labour and costs, we were only going across the road.

Globechain, circular economy
Globechain is a re-use marketplace that offers the “fastest way to responsibly get rid of unwanted items and create positive social impact”

Shocked by these statistics and the sheer level of waste, I began to think, why has no one digitalised this?

Airbnb and Uber were just starting to hit the market – and so Globechain was born.

It is bold, digital, modern and one of the fastest ways to responsibly get rid of unwanted items and create positive social impact.


Why is it important for businesses to think about their corporate social responsibility?

Sustainability and corporate social responsibility are no longer nice-to-haves – they are core to a company’s reputation, as well as investor and customer loyalty, and future growth prospects.

We work with some of the biggest corporate brands, including H&M, M&S, Nandos and Invesco to name a few, which are all tackling waste in a serious way.

Not only does this have a wider benefit to the environment but there is also a positive correlation in terms of brand reputation – as people’s awareness of these issues increases, so does where they choose to invest their money.

The Globechain model is unique as it incentivises corporates to engage by providing tangible positive social impact data linked to their efforts – something that senior level executives buy into.


How have businesses identified projects and causes they want to work with before your platform existed?

Globechain’s mission is to empower corporates to think differently about waste – so before us it likely would have ended up in landfill.

We offer a practical service by digitalising that waste and connecting corporates to charity and social enterprises in a meaningful way with minimal effort.

Our social impact data helps to personalise this process – providing corporates with information on where the materials end up and the social and environmental benefits.

We also act as a lifeline for charities and social enterprises who do not have the time, money or resources to acquire the equipment themselves.

Businesses have the option to choose who they offer items to and our aim is to help as many organisations as possible.


What examples of the circular economy have you witnessed in your business?

This year, we were honoured to win the circular economy of the year category of the BusinessGreen Leaders Awards 2018.

There are many new business models coming out for the circular economy, including looking at making the production line of businesses more sustainable, consumer products, and construction and design.

However, we are leading the space within the re-use marketplaces as no one does what we do in the way we do it.

By providing an easy to use marketplace, corporates now list unwanted items, which are requested in minutes and collected in a few days.

For example, we worked with one retail client this year to redistribute 13,000 pallets of kitchens – which were requested in 48 hours – and benefited seven different charities – from those helping the homeless to refugees and domestic violence victims.


How has the circular economy developed in recent years and where do you see it going?

When I founded Globechain just five years ago, explaining the circular economy and its viability as a business model was challenging.

Today, it has an estimated market cap of $4.3 trillion by 2025, according to a study by McKinsey and the Ellen McArthur Foundation. 

Millennials are increasingly motivated by shared brand values, and sustainability and environmental will be key to our future survival – so the circular economy is very much a growing sector.


What has your experience been as a female founder in tech and what challenges have you faced?

As a single female founder, with no staff and no funds for the first three years, the odds were stacked firmly against me.

Globechain started making a profit in year four and we recently attracted some venture capital funding, but it has been a challenging journey.

Globechain, circular economy
Globechain is a re-use marketplace that offers the “fastest way to responsibly get rid of unwanted items and create positive social impact”

In my experience, the investment arena in the UK is very risk-averse for new business models and the recent State of European Tech report shows there are wider systemic issues with regard to diversity and both female and BAME participation in the tech industry – particularly in regard to access to finance..

I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, however, and while we’ve had to be really innovative to grow, it has driven our success to date.


What kind of investment have you had so far and what has this enabled you to do?

I bootstrapped it for the first three years and with no funds at all. I signed up more than 3,400 corporates, 10,000 users and established a presence in three key markets – the UK, Germany and the US. The business started making a profit in year four.

I made the decision very early on not to pursue funding after spending a few months understanding whether investors would take the risk and that Globechain was not within the traditional criteria for government funding.

In the early days, investors were sceptical as there was no market cap (now $4.3tn), so I was not only trying to prove there was a business case for a marketplace – which are harder models to crack. With no market capitalisation, it was an uphill struggle.

Having proved that it is a sustainable model in four years, I am now focused on consolidating the UK business and scaling internationally and have attracted venture capital funding.


What’s your vision for Globechain?

As our name suggests, we are focused on creating global and local supply chains to reduce waste so the sky really is the limit.

We are setting the pace for reuse and social impact reporting globally – attracting interest from across the spectrum, so watch this space.