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What’s the story?

Quite often I get questioned about remarks I’ve made at a conference or industry event. 

Iain Gulland | 6 Oct 15

Sometimes this happens while I’m on stage, as at last week’s CIWM Northern Ireland conference in Belfast, where CIWM President John Quinn invited me to expand on part of my presentation to the high-profile RWM event in Birmingham last month.

The remarks I made were about the many challenges I see ahead for the resource management industry in terms of adapting to the progressing circular economy.

My view is that the sector needs to develop a different relationship both up and down its supply chain  - not simply concentrating on who they sell their materials to, but focusing just as much on who or where they are collecting the materials from. Resource management businesses have a real opportunity to drive the circular economy forward, if they can make the vital connection between those that are finished with the product or material, and those who want to repurpose the products and materials for continual use.

Returning from Belfast I found myself in the company of Kresse Wesling, of Elvis & Kresse; a visionary entrepreneur who is upcycling old London Fire Brigade hoses into expensive bags and belts. Her company’s sights are now trained on other ‘waste’ materials which they can repurpose into designer must-haves. To Kresse, ‘provenance’ is everything. Customers, she says, want to know where the materials have come from and the ‘story’ of the item is as important, as the desire to do the right thing for the environment. This is someone who fully understands and exploits the value in the connection between her clients – both those she sources from, and the ones she sells on to. 

Kresse’s company therefore ensures they have a close relationship with the producer of the materials for their products, and works with them to ensure they maximise the quality and supply of the goods, as well as involving them in the onward offer to the consumer. For example, the London Firefighters’ benevolent fund benefits from half of the profits of the Kresse and Elvis products.

This is the circular economy in action. Step-by-step it’s about re-inventing transactions which were in the past simply about handling waste, but instead are now about creating a new supply chain partner, as valuable as the one which delivers brand new firehoses to the front line.

For the resource industry, which has for most of its history worked in the shadows, or as SITA’s David Palmer Jones once said, operated “behind the garages”, this is a real challenge to provide bespoke and visible services to industry and commerce which showcase the provenance that the emerging circular economy businesses are looking for.

For Scotland, provenance, or our story, is a big selling point for our food and drink industry, both at home and abroad. This a sector that passed the £14bn barrier for the first time just last month, showing the commercial payoff for harnessing a story that is meaningful to clients and consumers. We may need to think a little differently, but unlocking the story behind our materials could be a key to unlocking the success story for the circular economy.

Iain Gulland will welcome speakers and delegates at the Scottish Resources Conference 2015, which takes place in Glasgow www.scottish-resources.com. The two-day event is organised jointly by The Chartered Institute of Waste Management (CIWM) and Zero Waste Scotland, and both days see a strong line-up of sessions and workshops, as well as the annual Scottish Resources Awards.

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