David Parker, Circular Economy Specialist at Oakdene Hollins, a research and consulting company advising on sustainability and the circular economy, provides part 3 of his series on sustainability, where he focuses on how every sector will soon have carbon reduction targets to follow, therefore, we must be ‘carbon ready’.
Johnny Depp is a lizard. More accurately, he’s a chameleon. Catapulted – literally – from an unchallenging life as a pet, he finds himself the presumed saviour in a bad-mayor-vs-townsfolk, animal-based spaghetti western, Rango. But eponymous Depp is a pretender: cometh the hour, not cometh the lizard; indeed, the opposite, he’s cast into the desert. Aimless and hopeless, he hallucinates a Clint Eastwood (a remarkably good Timothy Olyphant) offering the uplifting “Every man is the hero of their own story”. Re-purposed, our ‘David’ returns to vanquish the ‘Goliath’ and earn the respect of his girl/meerkat.
A well-worn Hollywood trope (see most any film with Willis or Cruise) but, nonetheless, a maxim we can all live up to. Why? Because if you think ‘sustainability’ is somebody else’s problem, time to think again: there are some big changes coming down the line and they will pretty much impact every business and every householder. What are they? In one word, decarbonisation. And why focus on this? Because it’s the single biggest understood, impactful and measurable metric associated with our effect on the environment. Everyone can be a carbon hero.
A large fraction of the developed world has signed up to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 (latest) with a big push to accelerate this. Excellent news for many reasons not least because it now gives a solid target to channel efforts around. And that is what we need to make the ‘loop strategy’ from Part 2 work. Whilst the loop strategy makes sense, it’s tricky for a business ‘stuck in the middle’ to work out how they can influence things, so let’s shortcut: all businesses will need to reduce the impact of their own operations, full stop. If they can help others reduce their impacts too, so much the better.
It doesn’t matter that you’re already a recycling or re-use business. In this case, it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it. So, back to personal responsibility, these absolute reductions apply to each and every business, not just to some middle-men in a general ‘recycling’ loop. Lots of science-y stuff going on, but every sector will pretty soon have some stiff carbon reduction targets in place. They’ll be voluntary at first, later by sector commitment; that won’t be enough, so they’ll then be law. To force it, there will be carbon permits and trading to reward (especially re-use) and penalise (especially landfill). Governments will haggle over permits and impacts and that is likely to create more reporting challenges. Every business will need to prove its heroic contribution.
This will definitely be good news for re-use and remanufacturing businesses because the science says there’s a good story to tell, but it needs telling well. The great part of that story is that, as a re-use agent, you will be in demand from customers who need to get their carbon impacts down, as long as you make the case to them. In technical terms, this is their Scope 3 emissions. In the meantime, you need to worry about your Scope 1 and 2 emissions, the fuels you use and the energy you buy.
So let’s wrap up with some predictions and some guides to the future.
Guide 1: Use the 4 principles of the loop (see Part 2) as a handy guide to your Circular Economy mission. You can use this to steer both what you do and the way you do it, and as both a seller and purchaser – see the next Guide point.
Guide 2: Carbon accounting will soon be upfront and centre. You need to get carbon-ready. The first and most obvious thing is to eliminate carbon dependence from your operations. Do a benchmark now, and then – as a minimum – switch to renewables supplies, non-carbon fuels, and electric vehicles. Use offsetting as a back-up. If applicable use recyclates and recycle whatever you can. This will all look good on your carbon hero balance sheet.
Guide 3: Shortly you will be very concerned about ‘Scope 3’: In short, Scope 3 are the emissions ‘embedded’ in the materials, goods and services you buy in – they’re the emissions someone else made in creating those goods – but they will all add to the carbon balance sheet. Here, practice what you preach: get your own Scope 3 down by using recycled materials, use remanufactured tools and machinery (including IT and office equipment) and put dead stuff back for reman; ask suppliers for a Scope 3 CO2 statement of their products and purchase on that basis – it’ll scare them witless, but you’ll need it. On the selling side, assess the carbon impact of your products (the total of your Scope 1, 2 and 3). As a recycler or remanufacturer, it should be lower than the equivalent new purchase so it’s a major selling point. Remember, this sale is your customer’s Scope 3 burden, which they need to drive down, so push this line hard.
Guide 4: Supply chains will become considerably shorter and more localised. Part of the problem of the circularity thing is that so many people are in the loop. We need to make these loops shorter, tighter and more manageable and with people you trust. Quite often that means local clusters of suppliers so it might be good to explore what’s going on around you and – as a sector – start building those relationships.
Work on these principles and you’re well on the way to being the hero of your own story.
To find out more from Oakdene Hollins, visit www.oakdenehollins.com