As our good ship Irene is delayed leaving port I decided to return to London briefly for a couple of workshops.
First up I attended a breakfast meeting on ‘How to make Community Energy the Driving Force of the Low Carbon Economy’ at Host Universal (an ethical communications consultancy) in Soho organised with the Trillion fund. I was greeted by freshly baked bread, coffee and veggie sausage sandwiches. Now this is how I like to do business.
The meeting brought together a range of experts to discuss how we create conditions for community energy projects to thrive. This was my first opportunity to test a new identity. We had a quick roundtable of introductions including one word to define yourself. I described myself as an environmental entrepreneur along with my current projects which include New Dawn Traders, The November Project and Climate Rush. Description in one word? MissChief. Ooooh this new world of self creation…
The thrust of the meeting centered around the barriers and enablers to creation of community energy. The session was highly animated and inspiring. We scribbled on walls and mapped the issues in a big giant spiders web of ideas. Key ideas that sparked my imagination were around ’Vicinity economics’ – the less you pay, the closer you are to the source and ‘Ricardos rule’ on Capitalism and value of trade. An example of Vicinity economics in practice is the new venture Sustaination, a networking site for linking up local food producers with local buyers. Ricardo discusses free trade, the importance of specialism and ideas around value of exchange and value in use.
“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”
George Bernard Shaw
All key brain food for my adventures as a New Dawn Trader exploring what humanistic trade and value means in the 21st Century faced with dwindling fossil fuel supplies.
My next port of call was the Cisco offices out east. One of the last activities before I left my post in the civil service was to arrange a catalyst workshop on the ‘Circular economy‘. My co-conspirators of this venture were the great folks at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The aim of the game was to discuss the narrative of the circular economy and reimagining business.
A range of great speakers were lined to inspire and shape the debate around barriers and enablers for the circular economy. Basically what is stopping us from being resourceful and designing out waste. And what can be done to help adapt to rising prices for energy and resources and create new businesses managing our waste, delivering value and maintaining productivity.
The speakers included sustainability leaders from BT, Cisco, B&Q, Dessso, Worn Again with a range of people from across the civil service including Defra, BIS, DECC, FCO, TSB and others.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation recently published a report on the hidden value in waste, the opportunity from transition to Circular economy (as opposed to a linear cradle to grave economy). It argues that a subset of the EU manufacturing sector could realise net materials cost savings worth up to $ 630 billion p.a. towards 2025—stimulating economic activity in the areas of product development, remanufacturing and refurbishment. The UK economy could save up to $ 1.1 billion (€ 850 million, € 850 million) annually—and could reduce yearly greenhouse gas emissions by up to 7.4 million tonnes—by keeping food waste out of British landfills. These estimates are based on careful analysis by McKinsey, a consultancy firm. EMF aren’t alone in thinking that tackling sustainability and adapting our businesses to cradle to cradle thinking would create significant savings and boost productivity; Janez Potočnik, from European Commission has warned that we urgently need to stop wasting resources if we are to remain competitive.
I was stunned by a some incredible facts today. Apparently BT has over £50 billion worth of copper across its network and that a significant problem for them is copper theft with the annual costs to BT and wider supply chain costing £770 million. For BT the resource issue is the main driver for adapting to circular economy business models.
Cisco discussed how at present only 2% of the IT industry is applying circular economic thinking. Cisco are committed to going circular but again they cannot operate in isolation. They need to work with other partners to realise the change. The challenge for IT is that its obessed with New. New gadgets come out all the time and IT equipment is continually being updated with advances in technology and processing power. We need to design better for intelligent use of resources. Care for end of life equipment is needed if value is to be maintained. There is much obsolete equipment gathering dust that could be re-purposed. Its not good enough to just store or ship to developing countries to mange the problem. Much equipment could be re-commerced.
B&Q outlined their projects with Bioregional (One Planet home) on designing products for retrofitting of homes for energy savings. A classic Victorian terrace was retrofitted to achieve 70% energy savings based on existing available technologies. While using less is less bad it still won’t solve the problem. We must go further. B&Q also showcased their ideas for redesigning stores as community hubs; as spaces for collaborative consumption with workshops space and skills workshops. A great idea.
Turn too, an architecture firm from the Netherlands, discussed projects building energy harvesting buildings including the WOOPA building in Lyon. Turn too reckon that we don’t have an energy problem; we ultimately have a resource problem. I agree. There is plenty of energy but what we lack is the diversity of sustainable modes of harvesting that energy. We need to get investing the technologies. It is totally possible to build buildings that not only don’t require energy to run but actually can harvest and share energy if designed well. We discussed the range of models available in to circular economic thinking including ’Performance models’, ‘Deposit models’, ’Decomposition models’ and along with moving beyond the current ‘Ownership’ based economic models currently the status quo in the linear economy.
Worn Again discussed their collaborations with Virgin and Eurostar upcycling staff uniforms. Worn again are currently networking businesses to build a depolymerisation plant in the UK to boost UK based manufacturing and reprocessing of textiles. This is super important as polymer prices are rising rapidly. At present only 5% of corporate clothing is recycled. There is a massive opportunity for improving this. And corporate clothing is a good place to start as it has little 2nd life value (unless of course you love going out in your uniform after work!). The throw away economy is dying. Time to get on board for a new paradigm.
In the fringe sessions I got chatting to Joss from EMF. We discussed fishing net recycling project where fishing nets have been recycled to create polymer that has been recreated in Swimwear. This is a collaboration between a leading italian polymer company and CETMAR (Marine Research Institute in Vigo, Spain - Econyl project). I really like the idea of bikinis made from recycled fishing nets. Maybe in an awesome tortoiseshell print. I love turtles. Don’t want them snared in ghost fishing lines. Simple.
At one point there was a tense moment where the challenge of where the responsibility of acting lies; government or business. Business pushed out the question to the audience of what should be done. And the response was ‘I push it back to you’. Then again the retort of ‘well what is government going to do’.
Let us not play planetary ping pong. At the end of the day we all have to act and collaborate to solve these issues. No ‘one’ sector can solve this problem (See this ace video on collaborative ’pull’ economy by John Seely Brown). Leadership is sorely needed. Might be worth reading this Dr Seuss inspired story which ends on this thought…
‘Dear reader, they never did know who to blame
But they knew, in the end, that they all lost the game
So it’s your turn, it seems, to contribute a line
To the yarn of our climate in gradual decline
Unless someone like you writes an end to the tale
In which science and good sense at last come to prevail
We’ll stay locked in this slugfest for eons to come
And nothing will ever, ever get done.’
Yes the system is complex. Yes the issues are disconnected and thinking is silo’d. Yes it is damn hard coordinating the actors. But it has to be done. With 2/3rd of the rare earths in our mobiles (and all the other stuff we have come to rely on) already on the scarce list and if we want to stay connected we have to create new ways of making, creating, reusing, designing. I love being mobile. I just don’t want it to cost the earth.
Great work is going on. But it is all very niche, still alternative. How do we catalyze change to make this mainstream?
Has to increase in scale. It needs to happen fast. The message is clear.
We have exactly enough time. It starts now.
Opportunity is available for everyone – all you have to do is grab it!
Tomorrow I’m back on Irene. My top task is to test my onboard bread making abilities and write the recipe notes for crew. Energy security takes on a whole new meaning when you are at sea for 4-6 weeks.
I’m am grateful for Gloria Charles and Seema Patel for sponsoring my provisions. Thanks for the sea biscuits my lovelies. xx
Dreaming of our renewable future