Making the curve happen

In the world of resource management, recycling and renewable energy, it is encouraging to see that the dominant conversations in the industry involve the circular economy in some way. Business leaders are asking the questions: How can we make the transition from a linear economy? How can we encourage our supply chain to do the same?

Most people seem to want to move in the right direction, but then reality sets in. Responsibilities to the shareholders, existing contracts and agreements, financial constraints – just a few stumbling blocks on the way to transitioning to a circular economy. But that doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen.


Global support, global pressure


Perhaps we have Greta to thank, or the thousands of other climate activists, scientists and environmentalists around the world. People who have been sending out the same consistent message over the past decade: Humankind cannot continue to just take, take, take! In the past they have been drowned out by the capitalists who prefer to say they’re building economies, while quietly also building their own financial empires. Money as we all know, has quite a loud voice too.


Perhaps it’s not just the voices of protest getting louder.  Perhaps it’s the reality of climate change which is finally getting people to realise that change is essential. Every year summer heatwaves are getting hotter, rainfall is absent in many drought-stricken areas while in other parts of the world, floods are causing havoc – just look at what’s happened in the UK recently.  In some areas a months’ worth of rain has fallen in just a few days.


Just recently one of the poorest countries in the world made headlines once again – Somalia. Having experienced an extended drought the country has now been devastated by floods. Scientists believe that these extremes will become the norm everywhere (nature doesn’t really discriminate between first and third world) if globally rising temperatures are not brought under control.


Many people acknowledge that the circular economy is a way that can make a difference. Because of the integrative approach, circular economies can make inroads into many of the most pressing global environmental issues, namely waste, resources, energy generation and food security.


Recently the World Economic Forum announced support and incentives to governments to encourage a transition to the circular economy. It means a lot that global organisations are willing to put their weight behind circular economies. The hope is that this will encourage more businesses to start moving in that direction.


Linear realities


One of the biggest problems is that current economies are built on the linear model and it is firmly entrenched. It’s going to take a major shift to make the transition to a circular economy. For many the starting point is to look at their waste and resources and start to ask how they can close the loop.


This is where the resource management industry can add immense value, consulting with businesses and advising them of the options to recycle or dispose of their waste in a more efficient way. There’s also the consideration that one company’s waste could become another company’s resources. It’s amazing how just a small shift in thinking can start to open up new possibilities and opportunities.


Another challenge is addressing the supply chain and getting them to buy into the concept of a circular economy. Existing long term contracts could be problematic but if a company does want to renegotiate this could be done with circular principles in mind, focusing on sustainability as a key factor.


Perhaps what many companies will struggle with most is the cost and effort to change existing systems and processes. While it may make long term sense, it’s a hard sell if businesses are experiencing short term cash flow problems and having to endure challenging economic times and therefore don’t have the money to invest in making the necessary changes.


This is where government could step in to help, by providing incentives and rebates to companies who want to transition to the circular economy but don’t have the resources to do so. Organisations could help facilitate industry idea incubators where innovators could help find resolutions to the problems companies face.


As much as we’d like it to be, the switch to a circular economy will not happen overnight and there are many obstacles to overcome. However, almost every challenge presents an opportunity to do things differently, how exciting to be part of the change process!