Making the Circular Economy Work
Hosted by Tevi, this online session brought together sustainability professionals and businesses that successfully contribute to a circular economy (CE) transition in Cornwall, Scotland and the Netherlands and aimed to reconcile best practice approaches. The event involved the presentation of three programmes aiming to promote the transition to CE through business support, stakeholder engagement and grant funding in Cornwall, Scotland and the Netherlands, as well as key business case studies representing each country. The event concluded with an interactive Q&A session moderated by Tevi and Steffen Boehm, Professor in Organisation and Sustainability at the University of Exeter Business School. This session was an official side event of the World Circular Economy Forum Online hosted by The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra (Finland).
Tevi is an ERDF-funded programme supporting Cornish SMEs to grow whist contributing to Cornwall’s environmental growth priorities and circular economy transition. Tevi currently supports over 350 enterprises through bespoke consultancy services, challenge networks and a grant scheme. The programme’s circular economy aspects are led primarily by the University of Exeter’s Business School. Tevi is delivered by the University of Exeter in partnership with Cornwall Wildlife Trust, Cornwall Council and Cornwall Development Company.
Through collaboration with Circle Economy Amsterdam, Tevi has developed a Circular assessment tool and a Circular Job Monitor report for Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly to gain insight into the areas of the circular economy where businesses excel, as well as areas where improvements can still be made. Click here to find out more.
Our first cast study was Boost Innovations Ltd, founded by Sam Jackman to create sustainable products made from recycled materials, produced using a circular system, to boost mood and confidence. Boost’s first product is breast forms made from recycled materials that are designed for women who have undergone a mastectomy. The design creates breathable, comfortable, lightweight and beautiful forms that challenge the idea that breast forms should imitate natural skin. Working with Tevi, Boost used our circular assessment tool to understand their successes in transitioning towards circular economy and areas where improvement could be made. Subsequently, Boost has worked to make their product production more circular by recycling their production waste material into silicone chips that can then be used to make new products. Boost also utilise these recycled chips for the rapid development of prototypes for external clients and to facilitate future R&D innovation. This case study is an excellent example of generating increased circularity through pre-purposing waste and increasing the value of unused material.
We then heard from Laura Blair, from Zero Waste Scotland a programme funded by the Scottish Government and by European Structural Funds Programme that encourages the responsible use of products and resources, accelerates Scotland’s transition to CE and assists with projects combating climate change. The programme offers a wide range of services including business support – one-to-one expert consultancy to find new growth opportunities for SMEs, investment funding – investing £18 million in grants to SMEs creating a more circular economy, business support network – collaborating and building good practice to transition to a CE in Scotland, and CE innovation workshops – inspiring CE thinking to develop and refine ideas.
Zero Waste Scotland has funded and run many successful campaigns to improve sustainability and systems circularity. The work of Zero Waste Scotland in transforming attitudes to food waste has resulted in a 7% reduction in food waste and over 80% of Scottish households can now access food waste recycling services. Additionally, consultancy efforts to increase resource efficiency by reducing energy and water consumption has seen savings of over £200 million by avoiding 1 million tonnes of carbon emissions between 2013-2017. The progress Zero Waste Scotland has made to deliver CE in Scotland was recognised when they were jointly awarded the World Economic Forum: Circulars Award 2017 for Cities and Governments.
Up next was Vaso Makri from Circular Tayside, an ERDF-funded support programme delivered collaboratively by Zero Waste Scotland, Dundee and Angus Chamber of Commerce and Perthshire Chamber of Commerce. Circular Tayside aims to assist local businesses and SMEs to transition towards CE and provides access to the services provided by Zero Waste Scotland. The programme was launched in 2018 after a report commissioned by Zero Waste Scotland identified £404 million of financial potential for Tayside businesses adopting CE practices, particularly in the manufacturing, construction and agricultural sectors. Circular Tayside’s mission is to raise awareness of CE business opportunities, facilitate collaboration to tackle the sustainability challenges facing local businesses and provide support to enable enterprises capitalise on local projects
Circular Tayside has also created an ambassador scheme – Circular Tayside Ambassadors – to showcase the successes of local businesses and organisations in creating innovative products and business models through business support and/or Zero Waste Scotland Funding. The ambassadors tell their story and help communicate the benefits of transitioning to CE. As of 2019, there are over 40 ambassadors from academia, local authority, local organisations and businesses. Circular Tayside facilitates quarterly meetings to discuss progress to CE in Tayside and to develop future strategy.
One business that has benefitted greatly from the support provided by Circular Tayside is the Kinross Wooden Products company. John Ross, Operations Director at Kinross presented on the company’s progress in developing a CE furniture remanufacturing service by designing and creating high quality, sustainable working environments from surplus or certified sustainable materials. They repurpose waste or excess public-sector furniture into useful wooden products. Such products include bespoke furniture for office fit outs, storage solutions, garden studios and other bespoke products. In comparison to purchasing new products, this process reduces waste, carbon usage, is more cost-effective and is a more circular system. By 2019, the company has recycled over 20,000 products, diverting over 600 tonnes to landfill and reusing over 93% of materials.
Their work with Circular Tayside has led to the identification of new opportunities to add value to waste materials and increase the lifecycle of wooden products, as well as resulting in recognition for their work in sustainability and circularity. The company won the 2019 Perthshire Chamber of Commerce Business Star Awards in the Contribution to Sustainability category.
Kinross Wooden Products Company is currently looking at the impacts of COVID-19 on their remanufacturing service. John believes that the transition to remote, home-based working will result in tonnes of waste wooden products and as such is investigating the ways in which such excess can be transformed into innovative products to create a CE around the waste. One key idea is the creation of small desks for homes to provide workers with a place to work.
The final CE programme featured in this event was Circle Economy – a programme based in the Netherlands that is focused on “making the circular economy work”. Circle Economy encourage collective action through the promotion of circularity, extensive research and the creation of viable circular business models. The Netherlands is globally recognised as world leaders in sustainability and aim to become 100% circular by 2100! Currently only 8.6% of systems worldwide are circular.
Simone Gager demonstrated Circle Economy’s work to promote sustainable living and circular economy practices and their mission to accelerate the practical and scalable implementation of the circular economy. Circle Economy are an impact organisation that connect the global community to foster positive change and work with businesses, cities and governments to identify opportunities to transition to CE. Circle Economy are currently focused on six key programmes: Cities, Finance, Textiles, Built Environment, Jobs & Skills, Design & Brands. They have four main impact areas: Circle Scan, Circle Academy, Circle Research and Circle Community.
Circle Scan is a tool used to measure the circularity of a city, area or business to create a shared vision to build effective strategy and result in successful implementation. The tool works in four stages: first undergoing socio-economic analysis to understand value chains and map key stakeholders, secondly analysing material flow to determine waste cycles, thirdly to generate circular strategies and fourthly to formulate effective action plans. Circle Academy involves regular interactive workshops and stakeholder engagement events to discuss sustainability challenges, showcase innovative circular systems and identify potential solutions. The Circle Research aspect of the organisation focuses on conducting pilot project to test ideas and solutions – over 100 pilot projects have been run in Amsterdam within the last 3 years! Additionally, the organisation produces reports and publications promoting circular practices, identifying ‘circular gaps’ and generating action agendas based on industry insight reports. Finally, the Circle Community is an active group of businesses and organisations with a shared ambition to make the circular economy a reality. Members are innovators who promote the benefits of a circular economy and want to develop scalable, practical solutions to make the concept a reality.
Puck Middelkoop representing Baby Exchangerie, illustrated how the business provides a service to recycle and recirculate high quality baby products. Their service includes a simple subscription model to lease high quality products, that will be delivered to your door and returned once used where they are cleaned, checked, and refurbished if needed before being leased out again. This innovative system reduces waste in a currently highly wasteful area – baby clothes and products are only required for a very short amount of time before the child outgrows the product – by reusing and recirculating such products Baby Exchangerie create a cost-effective, sustainable and circular solution. Additionally, their system allows suppliers to extend the lifetime of their products and improve their own sustainability. In fact, the lease model has resulted in supplier investing in R&D to keep their products in circulation for longer. In creating this innovative system, Baby Exchangerie has developed a platform for other businesses to transform their supply chain towards a CE.
Finally, we heard from Steffen Boehm, Professor in Organisation and Sustainability at the University of Exeter. Professor Boehm presented on the various challenges facing the transition to CE along with the extensive benefits the transition would confer. He argued that social, economic, and environmental symbiosis is key and that without a deep consideration of the interconnected impacts of systems on a global scale, the transition will not occur. In order to transition to a circular economy at a regional scale a wide-scale redesign of circular flows is required to enable effective collaboration between businesses and service providers. Steffen identified the key areas required for circular redesign, including public procurement, integrated waste/resource flow systems, integrated and expanded public transport, regional value circulation, and new social infrastructure.
At the end of the event, Tevi facilitated a Q&A session between attendees and the guest speakers. The key topic discussed was the challenge of developing circular systems in rural locations. Both Laura from Zero Waste Scotland and Vaso from Circular Tayside expressed that operating on the periphery presents issues of access, collaborative engagement and logistics – high prices due to transportation and technological innovation. However, John from Kinross Wooden Product Services argued that it was the benefits from operating in a rural setting that enabled him to succeed due to lower operational costs and reduced rent costs. He added that with COVID-19, many people now seek rural living and are moving out of cities. Whereas Simon from Circle Economy claimed that urban and central locations can foster more rapid change due to ease of access and regular collaboration. Sam from Boost Innovation added that her rural location with low overheads has enabled her to work in an agile way to quickly deliver prototype products. She believes that it can be difficult to find companies with sustainable supply chains that are low cost and able to operate quickly, so her small consultancy fits a gap in the market. Whilst this discussion made it clear that there is balance between the costs and benefits of working in both rural and urban settings, circularity is needed across all businesses and thus must be adopted in both.
As always, a huge thanks you to our speakers for their time supporting this event, and to the audience for their enthusiasm engaging with the speakers through the event and with their questions. Tevi has many more upcoming webinars exploring the key economic and environmental challenges facing Cornwall and our transition to a circular economy.
You can watch the full webinar here: