Wayne Hubbard, Chief Executive Officer, ReLondon, highlights the benefits of accelerating the transition to a circular economy and calls for policymakers to make it a priority in the build-up to COP26
The world is dangerously close to running out of time to stop climate damage. The recent landmark report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlights that the vital aim of keeping global temperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels risks slipping beyond reach. The IPCC also points to “unequivocal” evidence that humans have driven the crisis. With wildfires raging around the world and irrefutable evidence that oceans, ice caps and rain forests are all being devasted by climate damage, the challenge we face could not be clearer.
Immediate global action is required, and we must all make the changes that are essential to respond to the threat of climate change. At ReLondon, we are striving to make London a global leader in sustainable ways to live, work and prosper by revolutionising our relationship with ‘stuff’. We passionately believe that the circular economy is critical to this mission: we know that we must all waste less and reuse, repair, share and recycle more.
A massive 45% of climate-changing emissions currently come from the global management of land and the production of goods and food and other products we use every day. Clearly, society’s overwhelming use of a ‘take, make, dispose’ model isn’t working.
So we need to find ways to keep resources in use for as long as possible – by increasing the use of circular approaches to products and services. Whether that means buying durable items and getting them repaired; renting or sharing clothing; designing buildings that can be taken apart, relocated and rebuilt elsewhere; sharing excess food through online apps; or simply composting and recycling our waste – the circular economy allows us to truly design out waste from the system.
The circular economy is a model that can redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits. It reduces consumption-based emissions, which are emissions that are attributed to the end-user and associated with what we consume – rather than what we produce. They are made up of emissions from raw material extraction, production, shipping, use, and then disposal at the end of an item’s life.
Alongside this, the circular economy helps to shorten supply chains, encourages connected communities, and creates green job opportunities. A new report by Green Alliance finds that greater government ambition for an effective and expanded circular economy by 2035 would create hundreds of thousands of new jobs across the country. The report estimates that the UK Government could help to create over 450,000 jobs in the circular economy by 2035.
Business Transformation programme
We have seen this approach in action in London, creating business opportunities and driving job creation. Since 2017, ReLondon’s Business Transformation programme has strived to make the circular economy everyone’s business. We have supported more than 250 SMEs in London to embrace business models that reduce waste and increase reuse, recycling, renting, repairing and sharing. Through this work we have been excited to witness the growth of a circular business ecosystem in London with a combined turnover of £50 million from our network of SMEs alone. The programme has recently had a boost from the Mayor of London’s Green New Deal fund which is investing £10 million in programmes that support around 1,000 green jobs as part of a green recovery, including £1.8 million for our Business Transformation Programme and the Better Futures programme to support cleantech and circular SMEs.
Despite its wide-ranging benefits, the circular economy is often overlooked at a national level as part of tackling the climate crisis. This must change. As momentum builds in the run-up to COP26, the circular economy needs to be at the forefront of climate discussions, to help ensure it is much more widely understood and adopted. A circular economy also provides citizens with a clearer narrative about actions that they can take personally to help fight climate change; and crucially, a focus on consumption emissions will stop us from simply off-shoring whole lifecycle carbon impacts and exporting our wasteful, carbon-hungry lifestyle to developing economies outside our boundaries.
Businesses and consumers will be looking to world leaders at COP26 to reset the economy with a focus on sustainability. The world’s chances of achieving the climate change goals expected to be set at the summit in Glasgow will be significantly enhanced by supporting businesses and communities to embed the circular economy as a way of life.
Concern over the climate crisis is at a 30-year high among the UK public – and consumers have high expectations for businesses to act responsibly.(1) As the world’s economy reopens following the worst of the pandemic, circular businesses may find themselves strongly positioned for what’s next, as more empowered consumers dictate the market and call for sustainability.
The challenge for us all is to provide businesses and citizens with the tools they need to significantly reduce resource use by promoting and using circular economy businesses and their services. Policymakers can help with this: circular businesses and those that want to transition to circular business models should be given technical and financial support and promoted to residents.
The time has come for the circular economy to be at the centre of discussions and decisions about combatting climate damage. Together we must strive for a world without waste, where the way we make, consume and dispose of stuff actively tackles the climate crisis and protects our planet.