With the European Commission’s public consultation on the circular economy package currently open, our industry has the opportunity to influence what a circular economy would look like in practice.
For most of us in the waste industry, I’m sure that being ‘circular’ represents far more than the traditional environmental perspective of ‘doing more with less’. Of course, this remains of fundamental importance, and for most is the starting point of their sustainability journey. But, equally, it is about considering the bigger picture rather than elements as separate entities. Embracing interconnectivity and integrated thinking is the key to unlocking the power to rethink waste across the continent.
Beyond the holistic coverage of the phrase, for me the circular economy means collaboration. Engaging with others and involving people within the process and journey is key to making it happen. This goes beyond existing silos and organisational boundaries – be expansive!
To achieve transformational change we must be innovative together. Linked to this idea of innovation, sustainability equals opportunity – something I think business leaders are slowly but increasingly coming to realise. Sustainability should not be treated as a procedural exercise to tick the compliance box: it needs to be seen as a business opportunity to reduce costs, innovate, engage and lead.
With this in mind, how can we approach and start the journey towards ‘circular’ integrated improvement programmes for maximum impact?
Measuring There is no point planning any reduction in waste, water or energy use until you have found out where those resources are being used and in what quantities. It sounds obvious, but no company would base its financial accounts on assumed values, so why should this be the case when it comes to your environmental improvement programmes? Any robust business case has to be built on accurate, measured values, thereby necessitating a robust audit; after all, if you can’t measure, you can’t control.
Feasibility Financial transparency and good commercial decisions have to accompany our passion for creating a sustainable future. Although most organisations use their green credentials in varying degrees to boost reputation, this alone will not be enough to convince hard-nosed financial directors to loosen the purse strings without a solid and reliable business plan which identifies the lifecycle costs and payback periods of said waste, energy or water- saving projects.
Control and management Many well-designed systems are installed and frustratingly fail to perform to the expected standards as a result of lacklustre control systems following implementation, not properly specified, commissioned or operated.
At least a year of post-completion monitoring should be built into the design scope so that those same smart people who designed the systems can see how well their predicted performance compares with reality. Equally important is the training of site technical staff to ensure effective ongoing operation and management.
Join the generation game On-site low or zero-carbon generation of heat and energy generally scores big points in the quest to achieve a zero carbon (and zero water and waste) site, as well as attracting Government incentives which can make the right technologies stack up well financially.
Inspiring participation While we can enhance the efficiency of waste management and recycling through our approach to design and maintenance, if we do not inspire those who use our expertise to ‘get with the programme’ then waste minimisation will be limited.
To maximise the value from such investments and accelerate the journey towards true sustainability, businesses must engage with their employees, educating and inspiring them to do more with less in an authentic and creative way. Often overlooked, people are the secret to success and longevity of any sustainability journey.
Ensuring our industry becomes an accelerator of the circular economy requires economically effective steps by individuals, developers, operators and users. But perhaps most important is the role of collaboration between us all to deliver the transformational change required in our society.
It is vital that the Commission hears the dulcet tones of our industry. The more of us who speak up, the more likely it will hear us, loud, clear and in tune ready for action.
Kate Cawley is creative director at Veris Strategies