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Resource-ful ways to talk circular economy

At the recent Resource event, the UK’s biggest circular economy showcase, in London, I found myself, not for the first time, representing Zero Waste Scotland on an ‘international’ panel.

Iain Gulland - Chief Executive, Zero Waste Scotland | 23 Mar 15

I was delighted to sit alongside former Danish Minister for the Environment Ida Auken and Guido Braam, Executive Director, of Circle Economy based in the Netherlands, to compare and contrast what was happening in our respective countries and take audience questions on what needs to happen to push the circular economy further forward.

From my ‘international’ perspective, it occurred to me a few things are worth pointing out. 

Firstly, Scotland’s position on the Circular Economy is now well-known and is the envy of many other countries particularly in Europe.  This is both in terms of having a  clearly set agenda, which benefits from the broad body of support that’s needed for any issue to truly catch fire; and from the clear direction given to Zero Waste Scotland and its partners to drive forward actions to make the circular economy a reality. As well as recognising the benefits, and the challenges associated with a shift to more circular thinking we, in Scotland, are also willing to be innovative: we now have a Centre of Remanufacturing, and are funding key projects such as re-use hubs and have dedicated support to help businesses develop circular economy practices.

Secondly, and crucially, we are very aware that Scotland has not written the book on developing the circular economy, and to make further progress, we need to listen and learn the stories of what’s being done in other countries across the world. We need to hear from the politicians, policy makers and practitioners as well as the business on the ground. While we know we have unique strengths here in Scotland, our desire and ability to move to a stronger, more sustainable economy is not unique and there are lessons across Europe and beyond, will help us take that forward.

Since becoming a Scottish-headquartered organisation last year, we’ve taken part in events including Green Week in Brussels, and the European Resources Forum in Berlin, which focused on resource efficiency, as well as reached out to many other EU players in the field of the circular economy. Just this week, members of my team were sharing insights with key players in Norway’s wool and textiles industries, with the hope of bringing learnings back to our indigenous industries.  We look forward to contributing to more key international information-sharing sessions. 

Though in London, what impressed me about the Resource conference was that it was more ‘European’ than simply UK, with many of Europe’s foremost thinkers and speakers on this issue attending. This was indeed the place to be to network and share ideas. As well as the session with Ida and Guido, there were discussions with colleagues from France, Belgium, Hungary, Finland, and Luxembourg. On our Zero Waste Scotland’s stand, we took the chance to showcase our Circular Economy Business Models

– real examples of successful SMEs operating in a circular way, right here in Scotland. This attracted the attention of none other than Mike Barry of Marks and Spencer’s Plan A, who said he was delighted to see us putting these real business examples front and centre – and urged us to carry on doing so.

That’s my vision for the future – business examples which speak for themselves about the benefits of doing business in a circular way.  I’m firmly of the belief that showing that it’s possible on the ground, and that businesses in Scotland can be successful at it, is the best way to mainstream the circular economy and accelerate its impact.  Zero Waste Scotland will be continuing to focus in on this in coming months, and members of the team are, in fact, attending one of the biggest business events in Scotland, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) forum today to do just that.  

After my time in London showcasing our work at the Resource event, I’m feeling very Resource-ful!  Especially as I know my team are busy supporting, growing and promoting real businesses as I write this.

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