Without doubt, the largest challenge facing the global community is climate change. Whilst it may not feel as immediate as the recent Covid pandemic, its impacts are and will become more disruptive and destructive.
To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, our actions, however small, must be taken by each individual, organisation, community and governing body. Together we can make a significant difference. The iiE webinars on Transport, Energy and Future Green Business Trends are packed with inspirational content to help your organisation plan its next low carbon action. Listen in and take notes.
Climate change’s siblings – resource depletion and waste – are also threats with which we must grapple. Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources in a given year exceeds what the Earth can regenerate in that same year. In 2000, it fell in late September. In 2021, it fell on July 29. This has happened during a period when the world has been increasingly cognisant of the fact that we have been over-consuming resources. A reinvention of how we do things is required.
Let’s imagine what a resource balanced world could look like.
It is a world where everyone understands that nearly all resources are in increasingly short supply and that the impact of global consumption over the past 50 years is threatening the biodiversity in our own gardens as much as far-away rainforests. The ‘make do’ mentality drives an understanding that any product should be bought to last, that clean drinking water is a luxury, and that the natural environment is a place for all to enjoy and appreciate. Raw material costs properly reflect their full environmental and social impact and producers design their products to minimise waste during production and so they can easily recycled at the end of their lives. In many cases, business models have been reinvented so that ownership remains with the producer, not the consumer; the ‘lease, repair and return’ approach has replaced that of ‘consume and dispose’. Cleverly devised market mechanisms incentivise minimal use of packaging which is all environmentally considerate (being repeatedly recyclable or dissolvable), if circular delivery and purchasing systems have not eliminated its use entirely.
It is a world where all materials are appropriately valued by consumers – no-one considers wasting them or allows them to litter our landscapes or oceans; many single use items have become a thing of the past. Environmentally ‘good’ behaviours are rewarded and all consumers make informed choices about the social and environmental impact of the products they buy. Guided by the clear and comprehensive instructions on each product label, consumers also understand what to do with each product and packaging once they’ve finished with them and are able to carry out the instruction as each home and business is be served by the same reuse and recycling service.
The sector responsible for the collection, refurbishment, reuse, reprocessing and remanufacturing of goods is an economic powerhouse – creating economic activity and employment opportunities in the areas that need them most. Reprocessed materials and goods are sold into neighbouring markets, shortening supply chains, reducing logistical risk and transport related carbon emissions.
And there is no more food waste. Further innovation in distribution and allocation systems ensure that the 10 million tonnes of food and drink that were being wasted annually post UK farm gate are redistributed to those that need them most. It means that some plates are not quite so full, but fewer people go hungry.
Innovation in resource use efficiency is supported through public sector funding; technological developments and lessons learned are shared within the global community to help all to achieve the same aim.
A pipe dream or a step back in time? There are probably elements of both in what is written above, but the content is primarily based on the UK’s Waste And Resources Strategy, published in 2018. It describes what should become increasingly evident in the coming years – the Circular Economy. Take a look at our webinars on waste, water and bio-diversity to find out more about it.
The Covid pandemic has demonstrated that our community at large can adapt to overcome an unexpected challenge, and demonstrate resourcefulness and innovation in the process. It is now time to use that initiative again to create a world in which man and nature can comfortably co-exist.
Camilla Sherwin is a Sustainability Consultant on the iiE team with strong knowledge and experience in the area of resource efficiency.
She has worked for London Remade, an early flagship for the circular economy which used the development of the capital’s recycling activity as a vehicle for developing economic development and regeneration.
In her spare time she volunteers to deliver home energy efficiency, sustainable transport and waste reduction projects in her local town and has previous experience of delivering programmes in the Humanitarian Aid and Arts sectors. She recently completed the Business Sustainability Management Course at the Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership and is driven to inspire people on what they can do to make a real difference when met with challenges.