Igniting Circular Economy into action
Organized at 12 PM GMT, 16th July, 2014
James Greyson, Head, BlindSpot Think Tank
Geraldine Brennan, Doctoral Researcher, EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Industrial Sustainability
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Imagine a scenario where our current ‘take, make, waste’ economy is no longer sustainable. The world has hit a resource crunch crisis point and government leaders are preparing to shut down all linear industrial production processes. This hypothetical debate will examine the consequences of such actions and explore how more circular business models can be fast-tracked into action.
Initially, there could be huge demand for systems thinkers to explore how materials flows could be re-invented as either biological nutrients, so that they re-enter the biosphere safely and build natural capital, or technical nutrients that can be re-circulated back into the industrial ecosystem with minimal energy inputs.
Economists may come to the fore to build incentives into markets such as ‘precycling premiums’ that would be paid by businesses in proportion to the risk of their product becoming waste – this would help stimulate rapid response mechanisms to drive circular competitiveness forward. Underlining this would be a tougher legislative landscape that could see polluting companies named and shamed, and eventually put out of business.
Public information campaigns could go a long way in driving sustainable consumption enabling more discerning choices to be made around the goods and services we access, rather than buy. It is likely consumers will increasingly rely on localised and community-driven services. And, as new business models proliferate, the waste hierarchy model may be deemed no longer fit-for-purpose as manufacturers and retailers look to retain product ownership. Ultimately, waste may become redundant as a business term.
- Firstly, could linear processes instantly stop without serious repercussions on society? Would we need to take a phased approach to this?
- What nations or economies should world leaders target first? (For instance, there has been a global shift in manufacturing from west to east. The manufacturing sector is growing rapidly in India and China and has shrunk in most advanced economies…)
- If we assume there will be an urgent need for system thinkers, at least initially, where are these people likely to come from? Is there a skills gap here we need to address?
- Obviously economists are also key to help build market drivers for more circular business models – do you think the notion of ‘precycling’ could work in practice? How else might companies be incentivised?
- In terms of government intervention, is there a risk of too much regulation or legislation? Might an overly restrictive approach hinder the level of innovation that is needed among the business community to develop new operating methods?
- Let’s not forget the mindset challenge in all of this – institutionalised ways of working and thinking will be hard to break down. How can progress on this agenda be accelerated?
- Sustainable consumption is also a tough nut to crack. What type of messaging is needed here – both from governments, educational establishments and businesses?
- If all the right mechanisms were put in place to fast-track a global circular economy, how long do you think it would take?