David Parker, Circular Economy Specialist at Oakdene Hollins, a research and consulting company advising on sustainability and the circular economy provides a first part guide to sustainability and how the circular economy is one way this can be achieved.
Ellen MacArthur knows about sustainability. When you’re solo navigating the globe, a thousand miles from land and no means of rescue, you become acutely aware that what you have, what you can harness is all you’ll ever have: make it work, make it last. On her website, she’s passionate about telling you why this is driving her efforts in sustainability. Give it a visit; it’s inspirational.
Obviously, there are some disconnects when directly comparing solo sailing to the issues facing us today. For a start, she couldn’t actually grow food, so what she had was going to run out at some point. But I think the case is still a good one. It’s the frame of mind that recognises that we’re operating within limits and we have to adapt our mindset if we’re going to last the trip.
For Ellen, sustainability meant living within her means, reusing resources and harnessing the elements. What does it mean for us on dry land? Many businesses are claiming that they are sustainable without being very transparent about what that means. They might claim, like a well-known coffee brand, that their products are recyclable. When you think about it, that’s not an entirely convincing sustainability claim, is it? Someone else has to do the hard recycling work, not them, and isn’t everything ultimately recyclable? Outside of the sun and a nuclear bomb, we’re not destroying many atoms. So, it’s a bit like Ellen putting her drinks bottles in a bag, turning on her engine and chugging over to Monaco to drop her recycling off and maybe having a night in the Casino while she’s there.
Admittedly a bit of a jump, I’m sure they’re doing better stuff that didn’t make it into the ad. But what do we learn? Well, for a start, beware sloppy greenwash, but more seriously, that part of this must be about taking responsibility for our own – corporate or personal – impact: The consequential impact (let’s call it environmental impact), financial impact (we’ve still got to make money) and the social impact (we really ought to get some jobs out of this and not have to live like monks).
The good news is, in truly sustainable solutions, all these things are possible. Ellen has hitched her wagon to promoting the Circular Economy. As it sounds, that’s about keeping stuff flowing around the economy time after time. This concept has been gaining traction and within the automotive sector specifically, there are already good examples of businesses that have, knowingly or not, embraced Circular Economy principles. Two examples that come to mind are Audi, who have been working in partnership with Umicore to try and ‘close the loop’ for the recycling of cobalt and nickel within the batteries of their new E-tron model. And slightly closer to home is SYNETIQ, who have been facilitating the reuse of non-safety critical OEM parts, via their MyGreenFleet portal for businesses. Oakdene Hollins have actually just been commissioned by the latter to investigate the carbon benefit of these parts.
The Circular Economy is one approach to get to sustainability. Not the only one, after all, we could also lose 90% of the population and go back to living off the land, but that’s not a popular policy. And it’s not the one proposed by Walter Stahel, a pioneering thinker in this field and a man you’ve likely never heard of. If you want a comparison, he’s the Greta Thunberg of the business and academic world. To prove it, he proposed the Circular Economy in 1976 in a paper for the European Commission and with great foresight, they shelved it for 34 years.
More good news: Walter, like Greta, is now all the rage and his vision is our stepping point for the next part of the story.
If you would like out find out more from Oakdene Hollins, visit www.oakdenehollins.com