Cross sector collaboration is required to reduce carbon emissions and waste

Reducing carbon emissions is recognised as a global issue. It is one of the reasons that the Paris Climate Accord was so significant, with world leaders recognising that collectively and individually countries have an obligation to implement changes that can help reduce emissions significantly in the coming decades. This is another reason why Trump’s planned withdrawal from the Paris Climate accord is such a setback, especially as the USA is the world’s second largest producer of carbon emissions. The global impact of emission reductions will be severely hampered if major players refuse to participate and continue with business as usual.

But, politics aside, there is a consensus that collectively governments, industry bodies and the private sector will need to work together to achieve the impact needed in reducing carbon emissions.  So which industry sectors can have the most impact and what does this mean for the waste management and renewables sectors?

Critical industries

Globally, construction and buildings account for a total 39% of carbon emissions. So it’s no wonder that it is a focus point when it comes to reducing carbon emissions and waste. 11% of that total is new construction while operations and maintenance of building accounts for the rest. In some countries such as Germany, new laws are being passed that require all households to have solar PV systems that can feed power back into the grid. In other parts of the world it is becoming mandatory to have green roofs. This has a dual benefit, reducing heating and cooling requirements as well as helping to reduce the effects of urban carbon emissions and improve air quality.

Tourism while only contributing 5% of global carbon emissions has also come into the spotlight, primarily because of its reliance on transportation and aviation. But tourism is also ideally positioned to be a catalyst for change in that it has the power to alter people’s perspectives and influence behavioural change. Nothing makes an impact like travelling to what is supposed to be a pristine wilderness area only to be faced with the adverse effects of plastic pollution. Or exiting an airplane to be engulfed in the foul smell of pollution. When people see and feel the impacts of pollution it makes them realise that the climate crisis is real and that it is not enough to just talk about reducing carbon emissions, real action is required to make it happen.

Most major manufacturing sectors are having to take a critical look at their processes, supply chains and manufacturing methods. There is a big push in the clothing sector to reduce reliance of virgin materials and instead make a concerted effort to recycle fabrics more effectively and in much greater quantities. It is estimated that more than 15 million tons of textile waste is generated each year. This trend is being spearheaded by major brands such as Adidas and Levi’s jeans who are being very vocal about their efforts to embrace the circular economy. One can only hope it stimulates an industry wide change towards using recycled textiles as an alternative.

Collaborative learning

Circular economy innovations have the benefit of impacting multiple industries at the same time, from improving waste collections and recycling efforts to providing a market for recycled resource materials. Instead of companies looking for supply chains of virgin materials, there is now an opportunity to take into consideration materials that are already in the marketplace and ask the question: how can we use this to solve a problem in any industry? To showcase the possibilities, Ford motor company is now producing car parts from McDonalds used coffee grounds. Through experimentation it was found that the coffee grounds, combined with other polymers and materials makes a very robust material that can be used for fitting car interiors.  In many countries, not just the UK, plastic waste is recycled into plastic planks that are used for building weather resistant benches, balustrading and decking.

The interesting thing is that collaboration can provide a shortcut to reducing carbon emissions and waste because individual businesses are not having to reinvent the wheel. They can learn from others who have already been through the process and simply apply and adapt the ideas to their situation or industry. When major industries start to collaborate it creates more opportunities to implement circular economies. One company’s waste may become another’s resource material.

Finally the waste management sector is ideally positioned to facilitate collaboration and provide expertise to many different industry sectors. Where do you see opportunities and what do you think the industry can do to facilitate a collective effort to reduce carbon emissions?