Tom Harper of Unusual Rigging Limited
In this episode, Tom Harper talks to Catherine Weetman about some of the many circular economy projects he has introduced to Unusual Rigging Limited, including circular asset management.
Fuelled by a drive to ‘be the change’, Tom has designed and implemented initiatives including asset management, reuse and refurbishment, new services, and new approaches to product design.
These circular initiatives have brought wide-ranging benefits to the company, improving customer engagement, reducing costs and boosting its competitive edge.
Unusual Rigging provides rigging and stage engineering solutions to the entertainment, exhibition and special event sectors across Europe.
You can read a summary of the podcast later on this page.
About Tom Harper
After a successful acting career, Tom joined Unusual Rigging Limited in 2013 as Resource Manager and is now a Director.
Tom’s Circular Economy MBA with Bradford University, in the UK, is helping him put the pioneering themes of a circular economy to good use for the company.
The successful outcomes have been recognised by The Circulars award scheme. Unusual Rigging gained recognition for its circular economy projects in two consecutive years in the awards, presented at the World Economic Forum.
Tom represents Unusual Rigging Limited as one of the core group members of the Sustainability in Production Alliance. SIPA is a group of professionals cooperating to ignite and scale-up sustainable culture change in the live production and entertainment industry.
He has been a keynote speaker at a number of industry events, such as Plasa and Tonic theatres ‘Leadership of change’ event held in 2016 at the Young Vic. He also spoke about Unusual Rigging’s circular innovations at a round table ‘Financing the circular economy’ hosted by Accenture in 2017.
Before joining Unusual Rigging, Tom enjoyed a career as an actor. He worked on television shows such as Spooks, Foyle’s War, Poirot, Silent Witness and films such as Jason and the Argonauts, The Upside of Anger and Surveillance.
Unusual Rigging is the UK’s most experienced provider of rigging and stage engineering solutions. It works across Europe, principally in the entertainment, special event, exhibition and presentation industries. Established in 1983, its offices, manufacturing and warehouse are near Northampton, UK, and many of its 60+ employees have spent their entire careers working in the production side of the entertainment business.
[00:00] We start with Tom’s background as an actor and how he became interested in sustainability. Tom tells us about his circular economy MBA (Masters in Business Administration) at the University of Bradford, mentioning Professor Peter Hopkinsonson and Ken Webster, of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation
[04:33] Then we find out about Unusual Rigging Ltd and its work in theatres and other projects. Unusual provided the rigging for the London 2012 Olympics, and for all the subsequent Summer and Winter Olympics.
Circular asset management and other initiatives
[06:10] Tom describes his role as a Resource Manager, starting in 2013, managing assets including 3,000 electric chain hoists and around 11 kilometres of truss (a structural engineering term for an assembly of beams). Tom began thinking about circular asset management, including material loops and material passports. He started work on an ambitious, wide-ranging project to track the assets and improve cash and capital management. This included RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tagging and bespoke software development. We also discuss behaviour change within the company.
[13:38] Next, we talk about reusing assets and equipment and developing a testing regime to ensure equipment was fit for reuse.
[18:05] We move onto designing for disassembly and reuse, including an example for the Shrek show with 85 per cent of items suitable for reuse. Tom tells us about building extra warehouse space with repurposed materials, and we talk about creating local jobs to refurbish and repair, instead of buying finite virgin materials.
Engaging suppliers, customers and employees
[21:40] The success of the circular asset management project and designing for circularity has inspired some employee ideas. Tom tells the story of one enthusiastic employee who, inspired by the idea of ‘material diets’, created a new design of ‘road box’, to pack and protect four different motor types and sizes. This multi-purpose transit packaging means the equipment gets to the show efficiently and well-protected from damage.
[24:30] Tom tells us about the benefits coming from supplier engagement and new services. We talk about one of Unusual Rigging’s key suppliers, which developed its own refurbishment program. Unusual Rigging then developed inspection services for equipment at its customers, creating a new revenue stream.
[27:30] As the benefits of circular, more sustainable approaches emerge, many of the senior managers start to become circular economy fans. In addition, Unusual Rigging is creating a wider awareness of the advantages of circular and sustainable approaches, through its blog and website. These include the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
[29:30] Finally, we wrap up the interview…
Links we mention in the episode:
- Unusual Rigging Limited
- You can connect with Tom Harper on Twitter: @tafharper
- University of Bradford Circular Economy MBA
- Be the Change Movement and the Pachamama Alliance that runs the Be the Change Symposium in the UK
- Thom Hartmann’s book, ‘The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight‘ (also available on Amazon)
- Tom was influenced by the Perspectivity game, co-developed by the New Economics Foundation
- Unusual Rigging’s key supplier: Liftket