As Liz Goodwin, chief executive at WRAP said at the Resource event in London recently, there is still too much talk and not enough action to bring about the circular economy. Despite it being dubbed the business model best suited to equip future generations to deal with the planet’s resources, we need to be delivering circular methods on the ground.
It’s not good enough to simply pledge support and take a box ticking approach, it must be reflected in the way an organisation works, especially when their activity is highly dependent on limited earth’s resources. By continuously re-using waste, a better use of resources will come to light, which takes the pressure off what are becoming increasingly scarce materials. To put it simply, we can’t continue to just recycle, we must be reusing products, mining them for their raw matierials and pioneering innovative methods and processes to remanufacture them back into the system.
The problem we’re now facing is that it’s still the minority leading the majority. The London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB), for instance, is taking big strides towards a restorative future with the introduction of a new initiative within the cities of Amsterdam, Copenhagen and London. The project will see the organisation work with city leaders to pioneer processes, designed to curb waste levels and enhance resource security which could ultimately lead to more efficient working practices in three leading European cities.
Another example of those doing it right is Argos’ with its gadget trade-in scheme. Launched last year, the initiative was rolled out across the UK, enabling customers to conveniently recycle their old devices. Equally, Bandvulc, which provides support tyre management and support services to a fleet of vans using its own retreaded tyres, is an example of a small enterprise thinking on a circular level. In the first three years alone, the restorative business model generated new revenue in excess of £4 million, while providing significant environmental savings, conserving finite raw materials and reducing carbon emissions.
All examples of solid thinking across varying sizes of business, but no seismic shift in directive or approach. So, whilst raising awareness across the entire supply chain is imperative, what exactly should organisations do to ensure they play their part to achieve the global goal of becoming completely restorative?
Simply put, ‘waste’ should not exist. Working with this mentality means that when a product reaches the end of what’s considered it’s ‘useful’ lifecycle, it goes on to create something new and therefore becomes a raw material re-entering the supply chain. While this has obvious environmental benefits, it also has significant cost savings for organisations, not to mention adding to business continuity by decoupling growth from the reliance on limited resources.
Taking a step back
Before considering circular methods, organisations must first take a step back and ensure all the necessary measures are taken to eliminate waste at all stages of a product’s lifecycle.
From how materials are sourced and extracted, to the method of manufacture, performance in use and what happens to it at the end, are all stages that should be considered and evaluated.
Establishing a circular model
Instead of simply discarding it as waste, we must mine a product for its raw material and remanufacture it back into the supply chain. By making the most of surplus material, businesses leaders can not only reduce their own waste to landfill, but also achieve long-term sustainability.
Dutch company Rotterzwam has an interesting take on waste, using coffee bean surpluses reusing it as fertiliser to grow mushrooms.
Supply chain consideration
Waste is all around us, across all sectors and supply chains. An over-engineered product, for instance, is more likely to produce a higher amount of waste during production, not just after it’s served its purpose, which is something that needs to be addressed.
By thinking beyond individual business models and considering how the entire supply chain is functioning, businesses can work together to establish an entirely circular economy. After all, the real shift will only come when all partners, suppliers, stakeholders and customers all make the necessary changes together.
What’s clear is that there is increasing pressure on businesses to ensure they are sourcing like-minded partners that not only help to achieve circular goals, but also work towards establishing manufacturing methods that transform waste into a viable raw material for future products.
But it’s not simply about the environmental benefits, pioneering a circular model has a list of socio-economic benefits, such as job and income generation for poor communities.
The Net-Works initiative for example, saw Interface team up with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) to tackle the growing problem of discarded fishing nets in some of the world’s poorest coastal communities, while also providing local villagers and fishermen with supplemental income.
The two organisations co-collaborated to pioneer their own supply chain, together with local residents to source new raw materials from the waste that was polluting their oceans. After establishing a successful community-based supply chain, Interface and ZSL remanufacture the discarded nets into carpet tiles, cleaning up the area’s oceans in the process.
While Net-Works™ demonstrates an innovative model for closing the manufacturing loop; it also provides a template for the future of sustainable manufacturing in the carpet tile industry and beyond.
A future focused lens
Business leaders must think laterally by assessing the applications for ‘waste’ materials, which can be transformed and open the door to unlimited revenue stream and innovation opportunities.
By focusing on improving the way products are sourced, manufactured, consumed and disposed, change will happen. Organisations must work together to strive for a common goal. After all, the future should not only be sustainable, but also as restorative and economically viable.
This article is attributed to Ramon Arratia, Sustainability Director at Interface
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
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