WITH BUSINESSES facing rising costs and uncertain supply chains it's time to embrace the circular economy.
The circular economy is a very straightforward concept, and very easy to picture in its purest sense. But debate rages over what it actually means, and therein lies the problem.
There is as much interest in the theory of the circular economy as there is in the practical. Often its meaning is moulded to fit existing systems or functions, or what someone wants it to mean for convenience. Too frequently, one component part of the supply chain will talk about what it has achieved, rather than what it has encouraged and enabled a supply chain to deliver. This is where Footprint comes in, with its supply chain focus.
Purists are dismayed at the simplification of the circular economy, as they were – and still are – at the dumbing down of “zero waste” with the practical addition of “to landfill”. But that’s the problem: if you start with utopia as the aim, you have set up to fail.
But I don’t see what’s been achieved to date as a failure; far from it. There has been huge investment in anaerobic digestion,substantial increases in recycling and a real focus on procurement and supply chains. But by the few, not the many.
Just over a decade ago, a supermarket representative said at a waste sector event: “I want to achieve these targets and more, but it must not cost more than landfill.” Time moves on. That same supermarket has now embedded targets for avoiding carbon emissions into financial targets.
Brands are in a uniquely powerful position to change habits, make markets and lead the way. This is important: with power comes responsibility. And brands are centre-stage – their name is on the product, in the bin and occasionally in the gutter when someone doesn’t properly dispose of their drinks can or sandwich wrapper.
They own the problem whether they like it or not. But this often comes about through solving the problems of others – convenience, efficiency, cost. However, the challenge has changed. It now includes environmental limits, security of supply, finite resources, and consumer and shareholder expectations.
I’m naturally optimistic and trusting. I think major corporations can and will lead the way. In some cases they already are.
So ultimately power rests in the relationship with consumers – all of us, at home and at work. We have choices to make; currently those choices may be more financially influenced, in part due to the state of the economy.
But the squeeze from increasing costs, increasing demand, a growing population, competition and technology affecting buying and selling patterns means that the time is now for the circular economy.
Supply of raw materials and demand for raw materials are clearly a major threat to some supply chains, and thinking circular is the key.
Over the medium term, history has shown that major shifts are often led by innovation, technological breakthrough and by major corporations investing.
Seldom are they led by politicians. Legislation is there to catch the laggards, not instruct the leaders. Let the leaders get on with it, but please make sure you are right behind them in support.