World Environment Day 2018

On World Environment Day 2018, Gudrun Cartwright, Environment Director at Business in the Community reflects on how businesses can take simple actions to start creating commercial, social and wider economic value.
Momentum is building behind the drive towards a sustainable future. It is hugely encouraging that there is such a strong call to action to protect our oceans by tackling plastic pollution. 
We are working with a huge variety of organisations and people to combat plastic pollution and pave the way to healthy oceans for current and future generations.  For example, we are working with the Mayor of Greater Manchester and his team to help think through how the city can deliver on its commitment to go plastic free.  We are also supporting Wrap with the Plastic Pact, a comprehensive roadmap to transform the way the UK makes, uses and disposes of plastic packaging.
Our Royal Founding Patron, HRH The Prince of Wales, has been seeking to improve the health of our environment for years. However, current calls to action could be better. More engaging, more exciting and more fun.  We are working to transform the way we think about the environment – from encouraging people and businesses to be less bad  and reduce their impact, to using our big shared challenges as catalysts to create new commercial, social and economic value. To begin with a positive vision of where we could end up and build to it, rather than a negative one we need to move away from.  
Tackling plastic pollution is important and rightly has a lot of attention. But the issues are both wider and deeper. The challenges are systemic. We need to think holistically and act collaboratively to turn the tide. 
There are huge opportunities for business and if they step up and take the lead and society could reap the benefits alongside them. Our recent report Resource Productivity and the Circular Economy: Opportunities for the Circular Economy noted that if circular economy measures were taken at scale, the UK could generate an extra £10bn pa. Create 200,000 jobs and increase resource productivity by 3% per annum, leading to a 7% uplift in GDP by 2030, with an improvement in balance of trade of 1-2%. As we exit the EU, these are powerful opportunities that could strengthen our position on the global stage and help to build resilient prosperity for UK PLC. 
Our report makes four key recommendations to realise them
  • Collaboration to redesign products and services and build circular value chains
  • Building strong networks and information sharing communities
  • Creating bold and smart policy initiatives and innovating with fiscal incentives
  • Educating leaders and investing in the skills needed for the circular economy
Reflecting on progress since BITC brought together our Circular Economy Taskforce two years ago, it is clear that significant progress has been made to start translating ideas into practical action that is creating real business benefits.  From Veolia generating 25% of revenues from circular economy activities; to Anglian Water producing enough energy from a single poo to power a light bulb for 15 minutes.  From Amey saving Staffordshire County Council a £1m liability by recycling tar-bound planings – a hazardous waste that costs £140 per tonne to dispose of; to Interface’s ‘Re-entry’ programme, that is keeping 4,795 metric tonnes of carpet waste from going to landfill globally.  From PwC saving £25m and generated £500k additional revenues by reusing or recycling 90% of their waste; to Recycling Lives’ Prison Academies that have reoffending rates of 6% compared to the national average of 67% and saves society an average of £100k per prisoner who goes through their programme. The evidence that the Circular Economy is starting to move from theory to practice is building.
Our report shows this doesn’t need to be hard. There are many simple actions that business can take to start creating commercial, social and wider economic value, individually and together. If we can focus our energies on these recommendations and shamelessly steal the great ideas from the case studies, then many simple actions will add up to a whole new way of delivering an economy that works for business, society and the environment we depend on.