Mark Shayler: What should be on the next government’s to-do list


Mark Shayler

Mark Shayler, author and circular economy expert, speaks to Circular Online about what the next government must do to transition the UK to a circular economy.

  1. If you could only pick one policy, what would you like to see the next government implement?

Rewriting the Companies Act. Currently, this means that director’s responsibilities are limited to returning value to shareholders. This is defined in S172 of the Act and there is significant discussion about amending this section to embrace responsibilities to other stakeholders. This is particularly prescient in terms of climate change and biodiversity collapse. This is urgent.

  1. Should the government be responsible for encouraging businesses to transition to more sustainable business models?

The government has shown such appallingly low levels of environmental leadership over the last 12 years that I truly expect nothing from them.

The hard reality for businesses is that if they don’t transition to more sustainable business models they will struggle to stay relevant in a changing market and, most importantly, they will struggle to attract and retain the best talent.

With over 60% of employees defining themselves as belief-driven employees, the war for talent just got a lot tougher.

  1. A recent survey shows that 68% of the public supports interventions to reduce single-use plastic packaging compared to only 49% of MPs. What do you think is the reason for this disconnect between the opinions of the public and MPs?

This is a great question. Indeed this topic is a complex and value-loaded area. The public is very concerned about plastic – 92% of people in the UK are concerned about plastic pollution. Whereas 82% are either concerned or very concerned about climate change with only 16% are not concerned at all or not very concerned.

A study by the University of Nottingham says the “war on plastic” is distracting from more urgent threats. This is undoubtedly true and whilst the two most threatening challenges are climate change and biodiversity collapse, they are fundamentally less visual for our media and ask tough questions of governments and individual behaviour, whereas the plastic issue is easy to blame on others.

That said, I’m not sure this explains the difference in the two levels of concern on its own. I respect that another contributing factor is that MPs are a little off the pace of public opinion, don’t watch as much TV, and are more likely to get letters from constituents about things that they can have an impact on.

  1. What business model innovations would make the most instant impact?

We all need to get used to gaining more happiness from owning fewer things. Consumerism has conflated joy with the acquisition of items. It’s time to unpick that and understand that joy comes from the use of things.

Furthermore, we can’t derail an economy through a rush to regrowth. Hence, business model innovation is required and re-calibration of what “enough” and contentment are.

Therefore the usual suspects of leasing, rental, and buying the output, not the product are where we should look. But I’d also add in the development of buy-back systems. I did this with RS Components and their new range of warehouse lighting. Rather than lease it we decided to offer a guaranteed buy-back price that tapered over time. Sales increased by 8000%, true story.

  1. What policies will help the UK transition to a circular economy?

Okay, so there are many policies that would nudge or tip us to a circular economy. I’m not talking about extended producer responsibility here – although that may stimulate systems.

I’m really talking about shifting the tax burden to incentivise the use of recycling in new products, enhanced R&D (research and development) tax credits for companies that apply eco-design principles, and increased taxation on virgin raw materials.

  1. What green skills, if any, should the next government embed in the education system?

Green skills will become part of everyone’s job. The approach I would take is to build horizontal strands of carbon literacy, resource awareness, geopolitics, waste and eco-design thinking into all subjects.

  1. What more can the UK do to support a global green transition?

Stop allowing new oil exploration licenses, enforce the legislation that is already in place, and support investment in renewables (particularly off-shore wind, geothermal and solar) at the same level as they support the oil industry.

I also think that there is a need to champion good business, to hold up those businesses that are making a difference and to reward or recognise them in some way. This is on top of the policies discussed above.

  1. Does the UK government have a loud enough voice during UN global plastic treaty negotiations?

I think the UK has nearly no global voice. As a sole nation operating outside of the main trading blocs, the UK is increasingly irrelevant politically. The space we shine the brightest in are the creative industries: music and film media. All the subjects that government is cutting funding from in terms of education.

Our voice at the UN is small because we have made it smaller ourselves. I don’t want to get political here but we have done this to ourselves and if we want to have a voice we need to be in the room and then, of course, not contradict ourselves with compromised environmental behaviour and the weakening of net zero targets.

  1. What is the one thing the next UK government can do to scale circular economy infrastructure?

There is a real need to unify waste collections at the domestic level, apply a resources tax to pay for infrastructure and explain the complexity of materials to consumers. Easy, eh?

  1. How can over-consumption, resources and waste get higher up the political agenda?

It will only get higher up the political agenda when there is a supply crisis or when enough people shout at the government. Sadly, the former is more likely than the latter.

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