Lean2Sustain Blog

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A Circular Economy – A Paradigm too far ?

For as long as I can remember we have lived in a boom-bust economy.  Our GDP linked to global  markets – at the mercy of the next world economy to come on stream wanting to develop infrastructure and create commercial growth as far as the money lasts.  We gear up to meet demand, and then fall into recession when the bubble bursts, creating hardship and casualties for those caught up in fallout.  These boom bust cycles create a linear sine wave and we have continued along this road since the industrial revolution.  With increasing consumerism, the product life of fashions and trends plus the built in obsolescence of electrical and other goods provides a short term GDP focus on end markets.  All too soon products become discarded creating an increasing waste stream paid for by the householder through taxation.  As consumers we are trapped onto the treadmill of buying the latest trend, only to pay for its disposal sooner rather than later.    “If we keep  doing what we’ve always done, we’ll keep on getting what we’ve always got” or words to that effect.

Arguably the environmental impact of the boom to bust scenario means that the environment fares better when we are in recession mode.  Having to be increasingly creative with less means we become more imaginative and inventive.  We also use less resources and utilities, and therefore create less waste for disposal.

So how do we break away from the feast or famine circus?   What if there was an alternative to being duped into buying a product, only to find that we don’t need it anymore, and have to pay again to dispose of it?

There is a revolution on the horizon, that of a ‘circular economy’ which concentrates effort on maintaining the resources and energy within the lifecycle of the products created.  Instead of developing   products for sale, that have a shelf life of “x” years that are not designed for repair, manufacturers start to build in product longevity whilst considering life cycle, which in turn challenges the boom / bust scenario.  By designing products that are of a robust quality, able to be repaired, adjusted, modified and made fit for our purposes during use where the components become re-manufactured back into the process, the shelf life becomes infinity.  Great we all hail, but the really neat thing is that some of these pioneer companies are considering hiring their products as a service. The manufacturer no longer designs products for sale to the consumer, but instead they sell the use of that product, taking responsibility for its lifetime. What if we no longer purchased, used, outgrew and disposed of goods, but instead bought into the use of a home laundry service, or a supply of bikes for our children that grew with them?   This may sound far fetched but companies like Isla bikes have started to introduce such schemes. A British Standard has just been launched providing guidance to organisations around how to apply holistic thinking to product design.

With the economic benefit of the circular economy being estimated at 18 trillion Euros in Europe, and the creation of 200,000 new jobs in the UK by 2030*, the opportunity for decoupling our ties with linear resource use and the associated environmental impact are immense.

Breaking out of the boom bust will  not be an easy option, but what an opportunity to challenge the current paradigm and introduce a new circular era.

*World Economic Forum 2017 Register of Global Risks of Highest Concern for Doing Business.

Rubber (Plastic) Roads

 

If you hear the words rubber roads a number of things come to mind. As a amateur racing driver, I think potentially more “grip”. There is a new phenomena taking place. The concept of recycled plastic containers and bottles being combed from our seas and waste dumps, to be converted and substituted for the bitumen that binds our road asphalt. India has been doing it since 2002, and the Netherlands is now actively pursuing it. We have also done some pilots in the UK. This is a brilliant example of recycling. Plastic materials have very long bio-degradation times, and it can take 450 years for a plastic bottle to fully degrade. Anything that can take plastic away from is a real is a real positive. Furthermore, by removing them from the sea and rivers we can further protect fragile marine life. Plastics have a high calorific value, and waste plastic has been considered as an alternative for fossil fuels, but of course this would increase COx. Re-utilising is also a powerful way to reduce landfill, and head to the UK goal of zero landfill by 2020. It also fits in with the framework of the new 6R sustainability system that goes beyond reduce, reuse, recycle to recover, redesign, and re-manufacture.

These are now being pioneered in the UK, and an enterprising company in Scotland has developed the plastic pellet blend that will bind the aggregate. The roads are are pothole free and more hard-wearing, which is solving 2 problems in one. Potholes are a massive issue on UK roads, and these plastic repairs are more robust. This is where Lean thinking is definitely helping sustainability. If you want to know more about this concept, and how we may be able to help you, please download the paper “Delivering Sustainable Value”  from our site. Please also contact us on change@lean2sustain.com if you wish to know more.

 

 

 

 

First Hydrogen Train Tested

 

The first Hydrogen Train has been successfully tested in Germany. Another major step on the journey to “zero” emissions. Still a lot to be done to make these commercially viable, but we keep edging closer. Passenger trials are set to start in 2018. It is pleasing to see that fuel cell technology has not been abandoned, and with design development and “lean” thinking the trains will become even more effective /efficient.

Scorched Earth

 

The term “Scorched Earth” has been used widely as a military term for removing potentially useful things away from a withdrawing or advancing enemy in the field of battle. However, I would also like to use this as a metaphor for just destroying anything rapidly, without a great deal of thought. If we take stock of the new US administration and its view on environmental policy we could liken it to a scorched earth policy. There was a detailed report last week from the Carbon Trust, which detailed the rapid shift in US policy and its potential impact on the US and the world. The list of environmental reversals is endless, including allowing coal waste to be dumped into rivers, which is the opposite of the way the developed world is going. As an example, China is actively trying to reduce its dependency on coal by 2020. The UK has also launched its “zero landfill”  policy by 2020 Although the President has put himself under huge pressure to deliver on his election policies, he must think beyond the short term, and not turn the technological clock back. Investing in “Space” with greater budgets for NASA is a good thing, but the majority of sustainable innovation is either driven by a distinct need (famine or war) or adversity (lack of physical resources). As pressure grows on the worlds resources, we need to use what we have efficiently and wisely. The parallels between the environment and manufacturing are clear. Within industry, we have been using “Lean” thinking to eliminate process waste and improve efficiency. It is clear we need to do the same with the environment, and use long term thinking to sustain improved performance. Taking the short term decision, i.e. ignoring pollution will give no long term performance gains and arguably nothing tangible in the short term either, with the exception of possibly cash flow. Winding the technological and sustainability clock back, for even 3 or 4 years, will in reality turn it back by 20 years or more due to the lost opportunity and lack of momentum.

In short, and away from any political affiliations, a scorched earth type approach makes no business sense in the medium to long term, and will certainly not edify those who deploy it. It will not provide a winning position. Encouraging the world to think “Lean” is the only tangible way forward.  We need to get everyone to act as “Waste Hunters” and “Waste Destroyers”, not “Earth Destroyers”.


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