THE BLOG

Celebrating Champions of the Circular Economy

22/01/2016 12:32 GMT | Updated 21/01/2017 10:12 GMT

There was broad consensus that the climate targets agreed in Paris were a historic success and a huge step forward in the move to cut emissions and limit global warming. But after the euphoria comes the inevitable questions: how will this actually be delivered? Who is responsible? How much will it cost? And, for the private sector, can we continue to grow?

In answer to this last question, I have long held the belief that growth can continue in a resource-constrained world, a world where we are all committed to reducing emissions. But it will be a different kind of growth, and the private sector will have to transform and innovate and challenge.

On Tuesday night in Davos, the second Circular Awards celebrated exactly this transformation, innovation and challenge. The Awards recognise individuals and organisations driving new, circular business models that realise the value of re-use, recycling and reinvention to create sustainable growth.

It was an honour to present the People's Choice Circular Economy Award. In the autumn of 2015, more than 7,300 individual votes were cast, for the most inspiring advocate of the circular economy.

The award went to Canon, which was the first company to implement a closed loop recycling system for printer cartridges in 1992. The global toner recycling programme has now been extended to 24 countries. Between 1990 and 2014, Canon collected and recycled 344,000 tonnes of cartridges, saving over 502,000 tonnes of CO2 and reducing the need for new raw materials by 232,000 tonnes.

Equally inspiring was the runner up, Netherlands-based Van Hulley, which turns your favourite worn out shirt into personalised boxer shorts, leading to environmental savings of more than 2.2 million litres of water, 139 kg pesticides, and almost 2800 kg of CO2. Production is carried out by women with no qualifications but who are eager to get a job. Van Hulley supports them through schooling and provides work experience opportunities. My first old shirt will be on the way to them this weekend.

Brewing is a many thousand year old craft, but it can also be a natural champion of a circular business model.

Whether you are small, craft brewer working in small batches or a multinational with access to major efficiencies of scale, the principles are similar. At SABMiller about 99% of spent grain from our breweries is reused by farmers for animal feed or for renewable energy, and this year our breweries reused or recycled nearly 89.6% of their general waste. Meanwhile, biogas from water treatment plants can be captured and used to fuel the brewery.

We are able to reuse and recycle a significant proportion of our by-products: 53.4% of our beer is sold in returnable bottles or kegs. And smaller breweries have championed the resurgence in popularity of the growler (refillable half-gallon bottles).

Being part of the Circulars judging panel has been, once again, an inspiring and insightful process. The quality of entries shows that businesses are seeing the significant value that a circular approach presents, and seizing upon that opportunity. And the quantity of entries demonstrates that more and more individuals and companies - small and large - are putting ideas into action.