On Wednesday night, I had a very interesting evening at Circular Economy Club Brighton & Hove - Mapping Session. It brought together businesses, academics and anyone interested in running our economy by using resources in a more effective and beneficial manner.
I have to say I knew very little about the circular economy until I met Peter Desmond (pictured above), through events at the Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce. He made this the subject of his Masters in Globalisation, Business and Development at the University of Sussex and is now leading the Brighton & Hove Circular Economy Club network.
So, what is it?
In short, a circular economy can be described an ‘alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.’ (Wrap's definition)
One of the challenges about green and sustainability agendas is that they are sometimes seeking to completely change the way we run our economies by often in utopian dreams or untested theories.
In contrast, what I see with circular economists (if they like being called that) is that they fully integrate sustainability and reducing waste into an existing effective working economy. It is about making the current economic system better rather than rejecting it completely.
Based on reality
What I liked about last night’s event was the optimism that things could be better, and that real-life examples taking place in my city, country and globally as I write. Indeed, that was the point of the mapping event: to see what was out there. This is part of a wider global mapping week taking place and Brighton & Hove will be contributing to research in this area.
The challenge with introducing new concept such as the circular economy is in the communication. Having been created by economists and academics, the language is sometimes dry and technical, all about processes, systems and methods.
Unpacking what it is
So, what was refreshing was the introduction from Steve Creed of Wrap, an organisation that works with governments, businesses and communities to deliver practical solutions to improve resource efficiency. He asked three simple questions to assess whether a business fits the circular economy model:
- How does it reduce the amount of resources?
- How does it maximise use of resources?
- Does it increase the value of the resources?
As a good example he considered whether Real Junk Food Project, who had just fed the event's attendees with some lovely curry, beans and rice, was truly part of the circular economy. It's business model is to take ‘intercepted’ food destined for land fill and use it to feed people who need it, on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis.
So, does it work as a circular business? People eating this food are shifting from using new food resources to use these. It maximises the resources which had already been destined to be wasted and actually reduces further costs more in terms of transportation and destruction. The value of these resources in increased both economically in that the ‘pay as feel’ brings economic value. However, much more importantly, giving significant social value in feeding those who are on low or no income with nutritious well-cooked food. To Steve, it was a strong example of the principles of the circular economy in action.
A simple story can make the difference
Never did I think as I was eating Real Junk Food’s meal that I was partaking in an effective social and economic model described as the circular economy. And that seems to me to be the challenge. How do we explain the complexity of the circular economy in a way that people who are not economists, researchers or theorists understand it?
I would suggest by simple stories of input and impact like the Real Junk Food Project is a good start. It is real, it is impactful and it is happening in cities across the UK as we read this. What better way to change attitudes, behaviours and therefore priorities than a clear story.
As a result of Wednesday's event, I have just signed up to the Circular Economy Club, which is free to join. It breathes some optimism and positive real action that the world can practically run on better lines. I encourage readers of this blog to get involved as well.