Businesses have the chance to build back circular

A circular approach to ways of working post-COVID-19 by Guy Grainger, EMEA CEO at JLL

Many people have been saying that once we are through the COVID-19 pandemic many things will change and we will enter a new world. However, things don’t change by themselves – we must consciously decide to change them. It requires us, the people, to take action.

I spoke to the chief executive officer of a multinational organisation recently who said: “Don’t be surprised if more things stay the same than actually change.” He was referring to the fact human beings revert to familiarity. We fear change. But to go back to where we were before would ignore the opportunity of a lifetime. We have the chance to build back better, but it’s up to us to go out there and build it.

The concept of resources

For many, this lockdown has heightened our senses about our environments. Whether that be the planet we all live on, or the immediate area around us – the room you’re home-working from, the view you’re normally too busy to see, or the birds singing in the background of a conference call. It has also brought to our attention the concept of resources, and the other side to that coin – waste. The start of this crisis was characterised by panic buying and empty supermarket shelves, and even now a highlight of the week is sourcing food for your next meal. The closure of most shops also challenged the notion that most of what we buy is essential. I’d like to think we’ve become more aware of what we throw away and whether we can better use what we already have. If vegetables past their best can be turned into soup and old T-shirts into facemasks, what else can we do? 

These are the main principles of a circular model. Re-use, repurpose and recycle in order to reduce waste. Let’s use these personal experiences to go back to work prioritising circular principles, and embed them into our professional lives.

Before this crisis, it was almost a daily occurrence for major companies or even countries to set commitments for net zero carbon goals. These still need to be met. Earlier this year, broadcaster Sky set out its ambitious plans to be net zero carbon by 2030, with clear direction on how it will change its business operations and even create new TV programmes to help raise awareness. The company I work for, JLL, was just one of more than 30 companies which during lockdown had their science-based target for reducing carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement to limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees of pre-industrial levels approved by the Science Based Targets initiative. Work by the environmental charity the Ellen MacArthur Foundation identified that 45% of these carbon reduction targets can be met through a circular economy.

A circular approach need not be costly and time consuming, but just requires careful planning and strategic vision. Leasing, rather than purchasing, goods frees up capital that can be better used elsewhere and re-selling and repurposing end of life products should ultimately reduce costs across all industries. And let’s not forget that designing materials for re-use reduces dependency on raw materials, so we are less susceptible to disruption in international supply chains – so we can also build back with more resilience.

Rebuild economies around the world

But we can’t make bricks without straw. Policy makers must ensure the right stimuli are in place to encourage a greener economy in the future and growth targets with sustainability requirements. With business leaders joining non-governmental organisations, think tanks and opposition political parties calling for the UK government to build back greener, it’s worth noting that the circular economy is at the heart of the EU’s European Green Deal, and will represent half its effort to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

So, as we consider how to rebuild economies around the world and ensure that we build back better, let’s build back circular.

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