You can’t just change the words…

Semantics and the Circular Economy

I was delighted to be asked by RWM to present at their show in Birmingham last week and share with visitors my knowledge and experience in developing commercial opportunities in the circular economy.  In particular I was asked to focus on the exceptional developments in reuse achieved by Premier Sustain, both in office furniture and now IT reuse services.

I have been a long-term attendee of this show, in its various guises and geographical locations, but I hadn’t been for some time, so I was also looking forward to seeing what was new. Given that my panel session was on the circular economy, I was intrigued to see how the industry was embracing new ways of working.

The night before, I read my latest copy of the CIWM magazine to brush up, as it were, (I have to admit I don’t read every copy). My eyes were drawn to an advert for a container fabrication company and their strapline of “enabling the circular economy” … with a picture of some roll-on, roll-off containers at a HWRC site. I was somewhat taken aback, although I’m not sure exactly why. Perhaps I just always hope for more than simply namedropping the latest ‘on trend’ phrase for marketing reasons. I am not naming that particular company as I don’t wish to single them out; they are part of an industry that has sometimes innovated more in language than in action.   I can imagine a similar advert from 20 years ago using the tagline ‘enabling recycling’ and perhaps 10 years ago: ‘enabling resource management’… Or am I too harsh?

I hoped the visit to the show would demonstrate more innovation and mindset change than this.  Now I will caveat my comments carefully – I was only at the show for 1 day, I only attended about 3 sessions and I only saw about 75% of the stands… But did I see or hear real innovation?  I am sorry to say I didn’t – just better ways of containing, collecting, processing and measuring waste.  Progression…. Well maybe, if doing the same things slightly better than before counts, but not what I would class as innovation, and certainly not the level of disruption required to move from a linear to a circular economy.

Outside of the circular economy theatre there was no focus on the upper echelons of the waste hierarchy – I am sorry if I missed the stands on waste prevention, or skipped by the services enabling reuse, my feet were too sore to manage the complete circuit.  There were pockets, to be fair, of good practice – it was great to see bio-bean in place and I was pleased to see Craig from MD Recovery present, but I am not sure what else I was missing… Or maybe I just expect too much?


Circular Economy Panel Session

On a more positive note it was great to be part of such a positive panel, chaired by the FRN CEO Craig Anderson and alongside Nick Davis (Founder of Neighbourly) and Katie Thomas, Circular Project Officer from Opportunity Peterborough.  Craig commented in the opening address that it said a lot about how the waste hierarchy was prioritised that a panel session on “Commercial Opportunities from Reuse, Remanufacture and the Sharing Economy” was held as the last session at the end of the last day.  That said, the session was fairly well attended and we had some lively and engaging discussions.

During my address, I made the point that I did not see today’s custodians of waste as being the circular solution providers of tomorrow.  This was the view I had before the show and which was reinforced on the day.

Is it too much to expect such an old trade as the waste management industry to deliver such a radical mind shift change to a primary focus of waste prevention rather than ‘management’ – Is that asking turkeys to vote for Christmas?

From my work with Premier Workplace Services, (traditionally a commercial relocation company) and the significant role they have developed in commercial reuse I can demonstrate that the answers that are needed can come from all sorts of service suppliers. Alongside this I have seen fantastic innovation from circular start-ups, involved with organisations such as Advance London, and read excitedly about charity innovators such as Hubbub, all actively tackling and reducing waste at source.

The panel session felt positive, the reaction from the audience and the follow-up conversations buoyed me for the journey back to London. So, I remain positive that change is coming, from all directions – I dare say I will venture to RWM in a few years, and hopefully there will be more than simply a change in words to witness.

Photo Credit: Ross Findon Unsplash

Is it all about the money?

Not a midlife crisis…

Heading all too swiftly into my mid-forties I find myself surrounded by peers who are starting to reflect on the world, their life and what they are here for.  Perhaps in earlier years this would have simply be described as having a midlife crisis, but I think what we are witnessing is a cultural change, manifested in many different ways.

When I was growing up nearly every ‘dad’ birthday card was aimed at the couch potato, men who just drank beer, watched football and looked for the TV remote control.  These days, men of a certain age aren’t resigned to a life on the sofa – they’re often to be found lycra clad and out on their bikes, triathalon training or at the very least buying the January edition of Men’s Health.  And of course, it’s not just the blokes who are searching for something more fulfilling…

I speak myself as a yoga bending, veg juicing, meditating, purpose-searcher, albeit with a penchant for a glass of red and a curry. Us ‘mid-lifers’ are all at different levels of this process: there are still sofa dwellers, but this is a different world from the one in which I grew up. Many of us are seeing midlife as an opportunity to discover more about ourselves and our world?


Business finds its soul

I think this human evolutionary change is being mirrored in the business environment. There are companies out there that have successfully reached their social, environmental and economic sweet spot and this is benefiting their team, their environment and the community around them.

I look at such organisations and what I see are companies that love what they are doing, that have happy staff, that have not only found themselves, but they like themselves and they look good.  They have a sense of purpose and it’s certainly not all about the money. They are building a better business.


Next steps to a better business

There are many ways in which you can seek to improve your business/get your business off the couch and into the cycle lane: Think about how you can reduce the negative aspects of your operations, perhaps reducing your environmental impact in some way or providing staff with more flexible working conditions.

Or you can step it up a gear, recognising that business purpose can sit beyond profit. So much more can be delivered with a broader vision: can you take a view of how your company can work to deliver much more value and still achieve profits and growth?

It will take some innovative thinking and a commitment to a wider purpose, but real positive benefits for customers, staff and your wider community can be achieved, alongside even more sustainable profit.

There may always be someone overtaking you in the cycle lane, or achieving impossible human contortions in the yoga studio, but you shouldn’t be put off taking part. In improving your business, just like improving your lifestyle, it is a journey, it is your choice to take part, something is always better than nothing.

Your midlife ‘crisis’ is an opportunity to take on some changes, to take the next steps.

I would love to hear from any connections about how their organisations have shifted focus to deliver much wider value, please share your ideas and successes. – Building Better Business.

Going Circular

– What advice would you give?

As the circular economy grows in momentum, or certainly the volume of content written about it does, I’m calling for those of you impatient for change – like I am – to share your thoughts on what advice you would give a circular start-up business.

Continue reading Going Circular