Go­ing full cir­cle for the planet

The Phnom Penh Post - - OPINION -

THE busi­ness case for mak­ing our econ­omy more sus­tain­able is clear. Glob­ally, tran­si­tion­ing to a cir­cu­lar econ­omy – where ma­te­ri­als are reused, re-man­u­fac­tured or re­cy­cled-could sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce car­bon emis­sions and de­liver over $1 tril­lion in ma­te­rial cost sav­ings by 2025. The ben­e­fits for Asia and the Pa­cific would be huge. But to make this hap­pen, the re­gion needs to rec­on­cile its need for eco­nomic growth with its am­bi­tion for sus­tain­able busi­ness.

To­day, the way we con­sume is waste­ful. We ex­tract re­sources, use them to pro­duce goods and ser­vices, of­ten waste­fully, and then sell and dis­card them. How­ever, re­sources can only stretch so far. By 2050, the global pop­u­la­tion will reach 10 bil­lion. In the next decade, 2.5 bil­lion new mid­dle-class con­sumers will en­ter the fray. If we are to meet their de­mands and pro­tect the planet, we must dis­con­nect pros­per­ity and well­be­ing from in­ef­fi­cient re­source use and ex­trac­tion. And cre­ate a cir­cu­lar econ­omy, mak­ing the shift to ex­tend­ing prod­uct life­times, reusing and re­cy­cling in or­der to turn waste into wealth.

These im­per­a­tives un­der­pin the 5th Green In­dus­try Con­fer­ence held in Bangkok this week, hosted by the United Na­tions In­dus­trial De­vel­op­ment Or­ga­ni­za­tion (Unido) in part­ner­ship with the United Na­tions Eco­nomic and So­cial Com­mis­sion for Asia and the Pa­cific (Unescap) and the Royal Thai gov­ern­ment. High-level pol­i­cy­mak­ers, cap­tains of in­dus­try and sci­en­tists gath­ered to dis­cuss so­lu­tions on how to en­gi­neer waste and pol­lu­tion out of our econ­omy, keep prod­ucts and ma­te­ri­als in use for longer and re­gen­er­ate the nat­u­ral sys­tem in which we live.

The goal is to em­bed sus­tain­abil­ity into in­dus­tries which we de­pend on for our jobs, pros­per­ity and well-be­ing. Ac­tion in Asia and the Pa­cific could make a ma­jor dif­fer­ence. Sixty per cent of the world’s fast-mov­ing con­sumer goods are man­u­fac­tured in the re­gion. Five Asia-Pa­cific coun­tries ac­count for over half of the plas­tic in the world’s oceans. The re­gion’s ma­te­rial foot­print per unit of Gross Do­mes­tic Prod­uct is twice the world av­er­age and the amount of solid waste gen­er­ated by Asian cities is ex­pected to dou­ble by 2025.

If com­pa­nies could build cir­cu­lar sup­ply chains to re­duce ma­te­rial use and in­crease the rate of re­use, re­pair, re­man­u­fac­ture and re­cy­cling – pow- ered by re­new­able en­ergy – the value of ma­te­ri­als could be max­imised.

This would cush­ion busi­nesses, man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­tries in par­tic­u­lar, from the volatil­ity of com­mod­ity prices by de­cou­pling pro­duc­tion from fi­nite sup­plies of pri­mary re­sources. This is in­creas­ingly im­por­tant as many el­e­ments vi­tal for in­dus­trial pro­duc­tion could be­come scarce in the com­ing decades.

With these goals in mind, the United Na­tions is work­ing with gov­ern­ments and busi­nesses to sup­port in­no­va­tion and up­grade pro­duc­tion tech­nolo­gies to use less ma­te­ri­als, en­ergy and water. Unido is en­gaged across in­dus­trial sec­tors, from food pro­duc­tion to tex­tiles, from au­to­mo­tive to con­struc­tion. Over the past 25 years, its net­work of Re­source Ef­fi­cient and Cleaner Pro­duc­tion Cen­tres has helped thou­sands of busi­nesses to “green” their pro­cesses and their prod­ucts. The Global Clean­tech ini­tia­tive has sup­ported en­trepreneurs to pro­duce greener build­ing ma­te­ri­als. In­dus­trial re­new­able en­ergy use is be­ing ac­cel­er­ated by the Global Net­work of Sus­tain­able En­ergy Cen­tres. New busi­ness mod­els such as chem­i­cal leas­ing help re­duce chem­i­cal emis­sions. And the cre­ation of eco-in­dus­trial parks has con­trib­uted to the sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment of our towns and cities.

In Asia and the Pa­cific, the UN is in­ten­si­fy­ing its ef­forts to re­duc­ing and ban­ning sin­gle use plas­tics. The Plat­form for Ac­cel­er­at­ing the Cir­cu­lar Econ­omy is im­ple­ment­ing pro­grammes to re­duce plas­tics con­sump­tion, ma­rine lit­ter and elec­tron­ics waste, and en­cour­age sus­tain­able pro­cure­ment prac­tices. Unescap is iden­ti­fy­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in Asian cities to re­turn plas­tic re­sources into the pro­duc­tion cy­cle by link­ing waste pick­ers in the in­for­mal econ­omy with lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to re­cover plas­tic waste and re­duce pol­lu­tion.

The 5th Green In­dus­try Con­fer­ence is an op­por­tu­nity to give scale to these ef­forts. The gap be­tween our am­bi­tion for sus­tain­abil­ity and many busi­ness prac­tices is sig­nif­i­cant. So it’s es­sen­tial for best prac­tice to be shared, com­mon ap­proaches co­or­di­nated, and suc­cess sto­ries repli­cated. We need to learn from each other’s busi­nesses to in­no­vate, sharpen our rules and in­crease con­sumer aware­ness. Let’s step up our ef­forts to build a cir­cu­lar econ­omy in Asia and the Pa­cific.

AFP

A worker dis­as­sem­bles an air con­di­tioner at the Tokyo Eco Re­cy­cle com­pany in Tokyo last year. Elec­tronic waste is ris­ing sharply across Asia, ac­cord­ing to a UN study.

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