How go­ing cir­cu­lar can help pro­tect our planet

Yorkshire Post - Business - - BUSINESS / VOICES - Dr Sarah Hick­ing­bot­tom CEO Bio­vale

Ask any York­shire busi­ness and they will agree that we live in a time of chal­lenge and change. Brexit is around the cor­ner and a Lo­cal In­dus­trial Strat­egy is be­ing drawn up which must re­spond to four grand chal­lenges (sus­tain­able growth, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, an age­ing pop­u­la­tion and trans­port). The ques­tion is how best can we re­spond to these changes?

At a re­cent work­shop, hosted by the York, North York­shire East Rid­ing En­ter­prise Part­ner­ship, I spoke along with speak­ers from academia, the pub­lic sec­tor and busi­ness. Over the course of the day we set out a rad­i­cal am­bi­tion for change. I say rad­i­cal be­cause this is noth­ing short of a com­plete sys­tems over­haul.

A vi­sion for those of us liv­ing and work­ing in YNYER to build a new type of econ­omy – a cir­cu­lar econ­omy. If you’re won­der­ing what that means, so was I. It turns out it just means mak­ing the most of ev­ery­thing we have, sim­i­lar to a ‘waste not, want not’ ethos.

To­day we live in a lin­ear econ­omy. We take vir­gin raw ma­te­ri­als to make food or prod­ucts, con­sume them and throw them away in favour of buy­ing new. In con­trast, a cir­cu­lar econ­omy makes use of the ma­te­ri­als and re­sources at ev­ery mo­ment of that prod­uct’s in­dus­trial man­u­fac­ture, re­tail jour­ney, house­hold con­sump­tion and how we throw it away. Ev­ery­thing has a value to some­body. The ques­tion is how to un­lock it.

Too com­pli­cated? I ar­gue we have lit­tle choice. Waste plas­tic is smoth­er­ing our oceans as we are now des­per­ately aware of thanks to David At­ten­bor­ough’s amaz­ing Blue Planet. A cou­ple of weeks ago the world’s sci­en­tists gave us 12 years to stop cli­mate change catas­tro­phe. 12 years. Not even long enough for our chil­dren to grow.

Even our soil is dy­ing yet we still waste around a third of the food we pro­duce. I know this is doom and gloom, but it stresses how ur­gently we need to do things dif­fer­ently.

So why not start right here in York­shire? We live in a re­gion with an out­stand­ing com­bi­na­tion of a thriv­ing bio-based in­dus­try, world-class science and won­der­fully di­verse agri­cul­ture. These three things make us one of the best places in the world to ask the ques­tions needed to build a cir­cu­lar econ­omy. E.g. how can we avoid food waste? How can we make use­ful things from the food waste we can’t avoid? Or how can we re­place fos­sil fu­els with re­new­able feed­stocks? Stop throw­ing plas­tics into the sea?

At the LEP work­shop, we heard from some York­shire busi­nesses who are lead­ing the way. For ex­am­ple, Fera Science pro­vides re­search and ex­per­tise to sup­port farm­ing and food busi­nesses to be sus­tain­able us­ing the most up-to­date in­no­va­tion. Or there’s Drax.

Their power sta­tion is switch­ing from burn­ing coal to biomass in Europe’s largest de­car­bon­i­sa­tion project. They are look­ing at cap­tur­ing car­bon diox­ide with a young spin-out com­pany from Leeds Uni­ver­sity.

And while it’s easy to fo­cus on larger com­pa­nies, our cir­cu­lar econ­omy will be built from the grass­roots up by small and mi­cro busi­nesses who make up the ma­jor­ity of our busi­ness. At the work­shop, we saw even small com­pa­nies ben­e­fit from adopt­ing cir­cu­lar ap­proaches.

The LEP, who put on the work­shop, are play­ing a huge role in mak­ing our cir­cu­lar econ­omy a re­al­ity at scale. I was re­ally struck by what Katie Thomas, the LEP’s cir­cu­lar econ­omy lead, said: “As a unit of change, LEPs are small enough to un­der­stand the nu­ances of lo­cal economies and stake­holder needs, yet large enough to con­nect pub­lic, pri­vate and other sec­tor or­gan­i­sa­tions, to build mo­men­tum, cre­ate cir­cu­lar sys­tems and de­liver im­pact.” My own or­gan­i­sa­tion, Bio­Vale, is ded­i­cated to build­ing a cir­cu­lar econ­omy us­ing re­new­able feed­stocks such as food waste and plants.

We sup­port the in­no­va­tion that can make this hap­pen and we do this by bring­ing the re­gion’s busi­nesses, sci­en­tists and farm­ers to­gether to swap ideas, hear about new tech­nolo­gies, ac­cess ex­per­tise and build new part­ner­ships. We also help con­nect the re­gion to overseas in­vest­ment and other use­ful cir­cu­lar econ­omy con­tacts across the wider UK and world.

To make rad­i­cal change, we need rad­i­cal col­lab­o­ra­tion.

We need to share knowl­edge, skills and re­sources; to cre­ate new re­search part­ner­ships; and to build cir­cu­lar sup­ply chains. Bio­Vale, the York, North York­shire and East Rid­ing LEP and oth­ers will be cru­cial in sup­port­ing such col­lab­o­ra­tions, so please use us.

We ended our work­shop by sign­ing a pledge. We each pledged to adopt changes to make our own or­gan­i­sa­tions, busi­nesses and com­mu­ni­ties cir­cu­lar.

To ask our­selves how we can achieve eco­nomic growth that is eco­nom­i­cally and en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able. Per­haps your com­pany can do the same?

Talk­ing of which, if you are in­ter­ested in join­ing us in build­ing a ‘cir­cu­lar’ York­shire and the de­vel­op­ment of an ac­tion plan, con­tact Katie Thomas at katie. thomas@busi­nessin­spired­growth.com

If you’d like to know more about Bio­Vale and how we can help your busi­ness, con­tact info@bio­vale.org or take a look at www.bio­vale.org

PIC­TURE: SI­MON HULME

PLAY­ING A PART:Drax power sta­tion’s switch from burn­ing coal to biomass is Europe’s largest de­car­bon­i­sa­tion project.

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