Senior Consultant - Carbon Trust
5 minute read
Learn how you can accelerate your organisation’s journey to net zero by applying the principles of the circular economy.
In this interview, Matt Anderson, a Senior Consultant at the Carbon Trust, offers practical advice and guidance to help small to mid-sized businesses start or quicken their net zero initiatives.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation uses a great definition that breaks circularity down into three principles. One, eliminating waste and pollution. Two, keeping products and materials in constant circulation at their highest value, and three, regenerating nature.
It’s helpful to contrast a circular approach with the linear ‘make, consume, throw-away’ pattern we’re all familiar with. The circular economy aims to keep value, materials and products active for longer by reusing their components once their initial purpose is complete. This results in longer product lifecycles, lower consumption of natural resources, plus reduced environmental damage and carbon emissions.
Not at all. All types of businesses have a pivotal role to play in creating a more circular economy. Small and mid-sized businesses can champion the principles of the circular economy in the way they choose their supply chain partners and customers, as well as in their own procurement. By aligning their choices and operations with circular ideals, such as in procurement by choosing technology, office equipment, transport and so on, based on its sustainability credentials, they can significantly contribute to a more circular and sustainable future.
It’s totally understandable for companies to weigh up the financial costs of sustainability, but there are two sides to consider. Firstly, focusing on energy efficiency can actually save costs because it cuts down on energy expenses. Secondly, it’s really valuable to create a mindset where sustainability and business priorities work together.
Take the sizeable chunk of emissions caused by electricity and gas used in offices. If sustainability is at the core of how your business plans and operates, your business can set up policies that simultaneously tackle the financial and environmental aspects of areas like energy consumption, or transport, and make them work together, even when things feel tough.
Take smartphones and computers which may make up a significant portion of an office-based company’s procurement spend, especially for small and mid-sized businesses. Simply keeping these devices in use a little longer can be a game-changer when it comes to decarbonisation, and it’s something any business can put into action today. Research shows that manufacturing and production account for around 80% of a smartphone’s carbon footprint.1 So it follows that extending the life of your devices reduces their impact on the environment – using your current smartphone for three, or more, years is a good target to aim for.
Finding and utilising good repair services and infrastructure that makes repairs simpler can be more appealing than replacements and can also make a big impact on your company’s net zero journey. By adding one year to the life of a smartphone, we could save the same volume of carbon emissions by 2030 as taking 4.7 million cars off the road.2
Making it easier to return old phones that are gathering dust would be a great start, while also investing in repair and recycling infrastructure and supporting devices in use for longer, through software, firmware and security updates. This way, older devices could be repaired, refurbished or recycled safely and responsibly. More competitive leasing and service options would mean businesses and consumers could enjoy the features they need while networks or manufactures take care of repairs and end-of-life processes. A circular approach to smart devices is about making choices that truly consider our planet's future and our needs as users.
In addition to the cost and procurement savings I’ve mentioned, positioning yourself as an environmentally conscious supplier will enhance your competitiveness, at a time when more businesses are seeking sustainability-focused partners who align with their own carbon reduction goals.
Sustainability is also important in attracting talent – especially younger generations who prioritise working for businesses that take environmental responsibility seriously. Your commitment to sustainability will provide your employees with a sense of purpose and meaning, making it a valuable asset in talent acquisition and retention.
I want to highlight that the concept of a circular economy is more than just a buzz-phrase; it signifies a fundamental shift in how our economy operates. Achieving a circular economy requires a collective change of mindset and philosophy. We need to move away from viewing natural resources as free and recognise the true costs reflected in carbon emissions and biodiversity loss. The circular economy model, paired with better metrics and indicators to better understand the “costs” of our economic activity, is a vision of the future that we can all buy in to. Start acting on today and work towards the vision of tomorrow.
With the right mindset and collective effort, businesses of all sizes can grasp the advantages of the circular economy and make meaningful strides towards net zero carbon emissions.
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