David Evans discusses the Circular Economy, a topic he’s keen to hear more about at the upcoming Urbanity Conference in October 2019.

If we live in a consumer-driven society, it all has to be new and shiny, doesn’t it?

Amidst growing global climate strikes leading up to the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, it is now more timely than ever to take action towards emissions reduction.

The Circular Economy

From the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, an organisation focussed on the circular economy.

The Circular Economy redesigns our economy as an infinite loop of resources and energy. Instead of the current linear system—sourcing raw materials, using a lot of energy to make something, and then a consumer eventually sending the end product to a landfill—materials could be used in a closed cycle.

A new report “Completing the Picture: How the Circular Economy tackles Climate Change“, found that if the world shifted to renewable energy, that would only account for 55% of our current emissions. The balance can mostly be attributed to making and using food, clothes, cars, buildings, and other products.

To meet the climate goal of zero emissions by 2050, all of those things also need to change.

“We’ve been focused almost exclusively on renewable energy and efficiency, which are obviously essential, but it’s clear that we can’t meet the objectives unless we actually tackle production and consumption as part of the equation,” says Andrew Morlet, chief executive of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The Completing the Picture Report examined what would happen if the steel, plastic, aluminium, cement, and food industries adopted the circular approach. The report calculated that it would reduce 9.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2050; as much as eliminating all of the current emissions from transportation.

Diagram explaining the Linear, Recycling & Circular Economy models.
The Linear, Recycling & Circular Economy models.

According to Morlet, from major corporations to startups, more companies are embracing the circular economy. As the connection to climate change becomes better understood, that approach will likely accelerate.

Green business is good business

Morlet argues that a circular approach is also good business. “There’s a tremendous amount of value in rethinking products and services and then capturing that extraordinary amount of waste that exists,” he says. “For the energy and climate issue, not only is it able to contribute 45% of the solution space, but it also represents a new form of economic value to companies.”

So, what if we explore the idea of efficiency, no just for its own sake. What if we radically review how production and consumption take place within our urban environment; imagine that built forms, legislation and incentives were all directed to minimising energy, recycling and upgrading what we already have, rather than throwing out and starting again.

What if we consider the idea of recycling the use of energy, not objects?

Circular design for sustainable communities

“The world’s cities occupy just 3 per cent of the Earth’s land, but account for 60-80 per cent of energy consumption and 75 per cent of carbon emissions.” United Nations Sustainable Development Goals #11.

So, what if we could apply this circular approach to our built environment?

The first principle of the circular economy is design:

“Waste and pollution are not accidents, but the consequences of decisions made at the design stage, where around 80% of environmental impacts are determined. By changing our mindset to view waste as a design flaw and harnessing new materials and technologies, we can ensure that waste and pollution are not created in the first place.”

What if we could challenge ourselves, and challenge our clients, to design out waste, to design out pollution, to keep more materials in use (and reuse), what an exciting development future we could generate.

David Evans is attending the Urbanity Conference is an initiative of the The Urban Developer and is being held Wednesday-Thursday 23-24 October.