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Sustaining lives: MRPV and OCC Enterprises

OCCE employees Daniel and Belinda
OCCE employees Daniel and Belinda
OCCE employees Daniel and Belinda.

Major Road Projects Victoria is empowering organisations such as OC Connections Enterprises to grow the social and environmental value of major infrastructure projects.

OC Connections has been providing essential support to people with disability across southeast Melbourne for 72 years. For more than 40 of those years, the organisation’s social enterprise arm OC Connections Enterprises (OCCE) has helped create jobs to enrich the lives of people of all abilities.

Carla Phillips, OCCE Business Development Manager, says OCCE’s goal is to support the employment needs of people by providing opportunities for meaningful work, as well as training and skill development in a professional commercial environment across a range of workplace settings.

“Our aim is really to be a stepping-stone,” Phillips says. “We want to provide people with all the skills, training, and confidence they need to maintain meaningful employment and enjoy the independence it brings.

“We now operate four social enterprises, offering a range of workplace settings to the 100 people we employ. These include document management and administration services, light manufacturing and packing, an eco-friendly mobile fleet cleaning business and our soon to launch OC Eco T-Top Bollards.”

Two years ago, the OCCE team began searching for innovative new ways to create employment opportunities for its employees, and to increase the organisation’s social and environmental impact on a broader scale.

This search led to a potential solution for both: Victoria’s Big Build.

An OCCE bollard collection point
Damaged bollards are collected at dedicated drop-off points, before being collected by OCCE employees for sorting and recycling.

Building greener infrastructure

Over the past few years, Victoria’s Big Build projects have been redesigning, reshaping, and optimising the way Victorians navigate the state by foot, road and rail.

The introduction of Victoria’s Recycled First Policy in March 2020 mandated a push for construction and civil infrastructure companies to think outside the box in terms of process, procurement, and priorities on their projects.

According to Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan, the policy is key to balancing the state’s significant infrastructure investment with climate-friendly, industry-led circular solutions.

“It’s more important than ever to minimise the amount of waste we produce and ensure we’re recycling as many items as possible – and this priority initiative is important as we help build the future of the waste and recycling industry,” she says.

From enriching topsoil for landscaping with used coffee grounds, to deploying ink-toner derived asphalt in roads – countless projects are supporting cross-industry collaboration and innovation in the name of sustainability.

The inaugural ecologiQ conference at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre in September was evidence of the enthusiasm within industry and government to pursue innovative solutions in the name of “greener infrastructure” and ultimately, a circular future.

The consensus from the conference was that a unified,
co-ordinated shift in attitude is necessary to bring about meaningful change for the construction and infrastructure sector – one that must go beyond post hoc box-ticking.

Building social value

As this enthusiasm for environmental sustainability builds, Major Road Projects Victoria (MRPV) is leading a similar charge on the social front.

Victoria’s Social Procurement Framework exists to drive businesses to factor social value into their buying decisions. In an infrastructure context, this can include purchasing materials or services from social enterprises, First Nations-owned businesses, or any other enterprise that contributes social benefit.

Kylie Adeniyi, Acting Director of Social Value and Inclusion at MRPV, says the purpose of the framework is to harness government buying power for the greater good.

“We want to reinforce the idea that we’re not just building roads, we’re actually connecting communities as well,” Adeniyi says.

A key role of Adeniyi’s team at MRPV is to facilitate relationships between contractors and social enterprises, and create opportunities for mutual benefit. This includes running networking sessions to help these social enterprises make valuable industry connections.

“One of the visions of MRPV is building better connections,” she says. “For us, the networking we do and the intermediary role that we play is all about connecting our current contractors with what’s possible, with opportunities that go beyond just infrastructure.”

Adeniyi hopes this will help foster an industry landscape where the value of these government policies becomes ingrained and self-evident.

Carla Phillips, OCCE Business Development Manager with the OC Eco T-Top Bollard.
Carla Phillips, OCCE Business Development Manager with the OC Eco T-Top Bollard.

“Our contractors appreciate that they can no longer do the bare minimum,” she says. “They have to go above and beyond, to build their brands around the values that are most important to their organisations.”

Adeniyi says this shift applies to both sustainable and social procurement in equal measure.

“There’s a growing expectation that we will deliver not just infrastructure, but a legacy in terms of the people that are trained, the products that are used and how it impacts the urban environment, as well as local communities,” she says.

“When you have an enormous infrastructure investment from both the State and Federal governments, the community has an expectation that money will be invested appropriately.”

The Fitzsimons Lane Upgrade in Melbourne’s northeast, being delivered by MRPV and BMD Constructions, is a good example of a Victoria’s Big Build project that is contributing both socially and environmentally.

In 2021, the project team engaged OCCE to help tackle a niche but ubiquitous waste problem: damaged traffic bollards.

OCCE’s unique service initially offered recovery of worn, end-of-life traffic bollards, diverting them from landfill to be recycled. This involved OCCE’s supported employees collecting the damaged bollards from dedicated drop-off points on site, sorting them, and preparing them for recycling.

Using this service meant contractors were contributing both environmentally, by diverting waste from landfill, and socially, helping provide meaningful work for people living with disability.

While OCCE provided this service to several projects and traffic management companies, the team was also working on a circular outcome for the collected plastic. This is where OCCE’s 100 per cent recycled OC Eco T-Top Bollard comes in.

Vital connections

Phillips says the bollard idea was born when OCCE engaged with another social enterprise, Social Outcomes Solutions, to help identify gaps in the market where a socially and environmentally positive product could be introduced.

Once the concept was developed, and its viability researched, Social Outcomes Solutions helped facilitate the initial conversation with MRPV.

“MRPV has been very supportive in terms of helping identify the target consumer for the product, how best to introduce the product to the market, and providing the necessary connections to construction companies,” Phillips says.

The first working phase of the project started with resource recovery, which helped establish a stream of feedstock for the future manufacture of the bollards, and start building relationships with construction and traffic management companies.

“This started with the Fitzsimons Lane project in late 2021, and that provided a really good case study for our project,” Phillips says. “MRPV provided some wonderful promotion of the resource recovery program for International Day of People with Disability.”

OCCE estimates its employees have recycled approximately 1500 damaged bollards since the start of the project, diverting more than a tonne of plastic from landfill.

It has maintained its working partnership with BMD Constructions, and has a number of other partnerships in the pipeline.

Phillips says OCCE has also built valuable relationships with several Victorian traffic management companies, including Traffic Diversions Group and First Nations Traffic Management.

“They’ve been doing infield testing for us, taking our new bollards onto projects, running them over, and just generally being rough with them to see how they hold up,” she says.

Phillips says working with these and other industry partners helped to identify weaknesses in existing bollards on the market, and address these issues in the design of their own to maximise the product‘s lifespan.

OCCE employees Daniel and Belinda with Lionel Dukakis of First Nations Traffic Management.
OCCE employees Daniel and Belinda with Lionel Dukakis of First Nations Traffic Management.

Partners in plastic

To handle the recycling and manufacturing processes, OCCE has formed partnerships with two local businesses, while supported employees handle everything in between. The established resource recovery process brings in used bollards, from which employees remove reflective strips, and sort by plastic type.

“Polymer Processors in Mordialloc recycles the old bollards, and Garden City Plastics in Dandenong South moulds the new bollards using a blow mould tool designed and owned by OCCE,” Phillips says.

Employees at OCCE then finish the process by applying reflective strips, undertaking quality checks, packing the bollards, and coordinating logistics and freight.

The first full production run of 10,000 bollards is due in the coming months. Confident in the performance of the product, and the added bonus of it being Australian-made, Phillips is hopeful that the demand will build quickly.

“We know traffic management companies that use thousands of these products,” she says. “Once the product is released and we’ve got the process up and running, we anticipate doing three production runs per year, producing around 60,000 bollards.

“At that scale, we’re estimating we’ll be able to provide about 6000 hours of meaningful work, as well as divert more than 40 tonnes of plastic from landfill annually, which would be a really great outcome.”

Building on the future

With the positive buzz around the organisation’s work so far – and the research that’s gone into it – Phillips says the OCCE team is exploring ways to diversify the operation, and is always keeping an eye out for new ideas that would suit the enterprise.

If demand necessitates that operations scale up in the future, OCCE has a network of other social enterprises it can share work opportunities with.

“The bollard project has started legitimate conversations with large scale construction businesses around social procurement,” Phillips says. “It’s opened doors for further opportunities for our supported employees through our administration and mobile eco-friendly fleet cleaning services.”

Adeniyi thinks the success of social enterprises such as OCCE is also a big help to MRPV in its push for positive social change.

“Having the visibility of their staff on our sites enables other people working on our contracts to see people with disabilities doing this work, and see how valuable they are as employees and the commitment they have to their job,” Adeniyi says.

“Just having that interaction, having exposure to lots of different kinds of people on our projects can change the way those projects operate – it changes the way people look at the skills that are valuable to our infrastructure industry.”

This article was originally published in the October edition of our magazine. To read the magazine, click here.

 


 

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