You say to-may-toes and I say to-mah-toes. The Dutch say resource and the British say waste. The words we choose are important markers for our underlying intentions, values and views of the world. Landfill was banned in the Netherlands in 1995 and the Dutch have been at the forefront of new approaches to resource efficiency. It’s time to stop using the word waste and think about the resources we are using and how we can keep using the same resources over and over again, for our businesses and for our planet. This is just one of the ways that value extends beyond ourselves and our own company.

One of our many global challenges for business is how to thrive and create value in a world of finite resources. Nearly a third of profit warnings issued by FTSE 350 companies in 2011 were attributed to rising resource prices. Here are some stats to bring home the importance of this. 98% of the resources that flow into the economy become waste within only 6 months. The UK alone produced about 290 million tonnes of waste a year.

Waste on beach

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that the EU could save at least £220bn a year if we were to design products in a way that reduced and standardized the resources used to make them. This model of a circular economy is a major shift from the old take, make, waste linear business model to one of lease the resources, make the product, recover the resource and then remake it. They have calculated that if washing machine manufacturers were to lease high-quality machines, capable of more cycles, rather than selling low-quality ones, they could create significant savings for themselves, consumers and the planet. Replacing a washing machine capable of 2,000 wash cycles with a 10,000 cycle model results in 180kg less steel, a reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions of more than 2.5 tonnes and a fall in the cost per cycle to the consumer from 17 pence to 8 pence.

This goes way beyond sustainable or eco design where the use of a recycled material would be enough. Making this happen requires complex co-created design with all stakeholders involved in the lifecycle of a product including capturing and recirculating materials.

As you’ll probably know by now – we passionately believe that value is not simply a transaction. It’s not something you push to your customer – rather it’s part of a system and process. Value is contextual and co-created with customers and therefore we all have responsibility for it.

In the UK the RSA and the Technology Strategy Board have just launched a programme called The Great Recovery which seeks to fill the knowledge and innovation gaps associated with designing for a circular-economy model. They would like to hear from anyone with expertise in manufacturing, design education, waste or sustainability. Contact Sophie Thomas, sophie.thomas@rsa.org.uk

As a final thought, while we’re examining the concept of waste, resource and responsibility, I thought I’d share a little story with you. I went on a training course some years ago that was held in an eco centre and a sign stuck to the toilet lid said “Where is away?” This simple idea conveyed all sorts of things to me including that it is my responsibility where things end up and that life is full of circular systems with feedback loops. This idea stayed with me more than anything else I learned on the course.

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About Cindy
Cindy Barnes is a business and psychology consultant. Her background is in product and service innovation, business development and leadership. She is founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Futurecurve who are value solution architects and builders. Futurecurve helps companies navigate from a product ‘push’ focus to a true customer ‘pull’ focus, enabling them to out-perform their peers by delivering genuine value to customers. Customers include global corporations, governmental organisations, start-ups and not-for-profits.

Her career has spanned engineering, heading R&D for part of Panavision, running automotive component factories for Smith Industries and leading marketing and business development for Capgemini.  She has created, developed and sold many leading edge products and solutions.