When I was introduced the term, my friend did tell me it does carry its literal meaning of thinking in circles! More about how we could power a circular economy. In recent times this concept of a circular approach has gathered momentum as an attractive and viable way of generating economic growth and prosperity for people and planet. They are advocating a circular economy that is restorative and regenerative by design, and aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times. A concept that distinguishes between technical and biological cycles, the circular economy is a continuous, positive development cycle. It preserves and enhances natural capital, optimises resource yields, and minimises system risks by managing finite stocks and renewable flows. A circular economy works effectively at every scale.
Imagine a world where nothing is wasted and resources are endlessly re-purposed.
From bamboo coffee cups to recycled paint, more companies are championing the idea of a circular economy in which discarded raw materials and products are repeatedly reused, producing no waste or pollution.
According to the United Nations, by 2050 we could need three times more resources than we currently use, due to population growth and unabated consumerism. Specifically, the US National Intelligence Council has stated that globally we will need 35 percent more food, 40 percent more water and 50 percent more energy by 2030 alone.
And the potential benefits of applying circular principles to domestic economies and businesses are mammoth. The European Commission states that it could bring an estimated net saving of £523 billion to European businesses. In London, net benefits of a least £7 billion per annum along with 12,000 new jobs could be obtained by 2036 by applying circular activities across a variety of sectors according to The London Waste and Recycling Board.
Big companies such as Apple, Unilever, Renault and Google are already taken action to embrace circular solutions. In the fashion world, H&M aims to become 100 percent circular, helped by its in-store garment-collection program and polyester fashion line made from reprocessed PET bottles. Since adopting a circular mindset, professional services firm PwC has saved almost £25 million by cutting paper and energy consumption through measures such as using cooking fat from its canteens and other kitchens to fuel its offices and remanufacturing office furniture where possible. Its cut-throat examination of numerous waste streams helped it achieve zero-waste-to-landfill status in 2012.
Can the same circular principles work for buildings? The UK building sector utilises over 400 million tonnes of material a year and generates a third of all our waste which comes at great cost, not only to the planet but also to our pockets. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Durable, re-usable components that can be easily put together, taken apart and accessed for repair or replacement can make all the difference. This allows us to adapt to society’s ever-changing needs by extending the life and value of our buildings.
Elsewhere, companies are turning waste into building materials. Lendlease is a supporter of Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), a material made from wood chips, normally considered scrap. CLT has a low ecological footprint and is faster and less labour-intensive to construct than conventional materials so much so, that the first 10-storey apartment building made with CLT took five skilled workers just 10 weeks to build. Lendlease is using CLT to erect the tallest and largest engineered timber office building by gross floor area in the world in Brisbane, Australia.
As circular thinking catches on, the need to move towards a new model is no longer in doubt nor are the potential economic opportunities. The choice is simple, modernize or die. Continue to reduce, re-use, re-adapt and recycle. The possibilities are endless.