Andy Doran, chair of the Resource Association and Novelis, takes up the circular economy debate, stating that we need more collaboration if we’re to see the real benefits in the future.
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Interest continues to grow in the circular economy, as witnessed by the recent Resource Event in London, this following hot on the heels of numerous conferences and seminars on the theme. But is this just a case of the emperor’s new clothes and have our Governments finally got the message that the times they are a changing?
The cynic in me (and others) would say that the circular economy is something we’ve all been doing for a long while. But if I’m a little more pragmatic in my outlook then I’m prepared to admit that it wasn’t that long ago that recycling and recovery rates were in the minority and aspiration far exceeded outcome. So if the linear economy has started to turn, what makes it different from good resource management or recycling?
Well for me it’s in the word “economy”. I was mildly rebuked recently on a public platform for explaining our emerging circular economy business model with the automotive business, in this instance Jaguar Land Rover. My inquisitors ire was that “this was all well and good, but you’re only doing it to make money”… well YES!
Sustainability is about being profitable too. To my mind it’s time we stopped thinking about ploughing money into saving the environment and started actually investing money into areas that deliver societal outcomes in harmony with environment. You’re now even starting to see some businesses move into publishing Environmental Profit and Loss accounts, valuing natural capital and aspiring to become net positive businesses. The mythologized win-wins can happen if the conditions are right.
So where are our Governments on this? Well, I think many of the civil servants understand the journey we are on, but as usual the policy (if indeed there is any) is more sedentary than revolutionary. So whilst Scotland and Wales appear more nimble footed, in England we’re rooted to the spot. In this regard the general proposal to concentrate resources policy under an Office of Resource Management (which is supported by Novelis and The Resource Association amongst others) is a welcome move and I’m sure the discussion, should it flourish, will focus on whether this should be housed in BIS or Defra.
I can easily make the case for not having it in Defra; why would you? In contrast, BIS seems to offer a more welcoming home with its focus on growth and the green economy, but actually for the circular economy to really flourish it needs better co-ordination of policy across Government and the freedom to be innovative.
Circular economy and sustainable businesses often need to collaborate along their supply chains to find mutual benefit. Now more than ever we particularly need the Whitehall Government to be more collaborative in how they engage with an ever-growing part of industry. Don’t box us in.