Emma Burlow, Director of Circular Economy at Resource Futures, helps us to understand how to introduce circular economy into a business in this, episode 41 of The Mindful Business Show on SpiritFest TV.
This episode is also available on podcast at Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
– So can you describe what you mean by circular economy?
Well, you know, it is a term that’s been evolving over 20-30 years really, and it does capture a really broad church if you like, and it means a lot of things to different people. But for me it’s about having a more resource aware approach to life and to business specifically. So, where we have essentially a linear world at the moment where we take resources we make products and we dispose of them. A waste is treated as a waste. A circular economy is where those resources are taken, but they are valued as such through their whole life, so they’ll be used but not disposed. They’ll be reused or recycled, and kept in play if you’d like. So it is a more natural way of managing our resources.
In today’s business world, it tends to relate more to things like repair, reuse remanufacture. And then other business models like leasing, even the sharing economy, are all part of the circular economy.
– It feels like this is sort of almost like an inherent respect over things, not just respect for people but respect over the resources that you’re talking about here. It’s almost like nothing is actually disposable. And that things have a real kind of lifetime value for the lifetime that they can be things, or entities, or widgets, or raw materials because if this thing is circular, there’s a lot of respect going on?
I think that’s an interesting way of looking at it. I suppose the reason we ended up with a linear economy and not a circular economy, we could have could have gone a different way. Because before the linear economy, resources were used much more in a circular fashion. I often talk about repairs as not a new thing, between world wars that things were built on remanufacturing repair and make and mend, and all that sort of thing. So, the linear economy really, really picked up post war where there was a strong feeling of having to get the economy restarted. A free world is a world where you can consume whatever you want. And also at the time, supply chains were changing so rapidly and costs coming down so rapidly. So really the kind of global economy almost had a choice then and it went for the linear option. And there were loads of reasons why? Because it suited and materials were in apparently inexhaustible supply. And it wasn’t really until probably the 70s or 80s started, people started saying, well, what if this stuff runs out? You know, is that a problem, is it a resource scarcity problem? By which point the kind of juggernaut got going with, ‘just in time’, and even lean manufacturing, which is a great thing, a brilliant thing, but it was all about making things quicker, more efficient, but it still didn’t think about getting those products back. It still assumed that they had a single life and that they would be disposed of. So there was no respect really for those things and in the planet as we are learning now, but in the defence of those economists or those people that put those models into place, it was a different time, and we didn’t have the information that we have now about the damage that was being done.
So the respect definitely has changed.