You can’t try from the sideline

9th November 2017 Posted by

I’m a rugby enthusiast and coach a youth team in my spare time. Very often, I find myself reminding zealous parents and spectators that the youngsters playing a game are still learning. Naturally, judging their performance and skills and expecting results worthy of a national team is not constructive nor supportive to relatively inexperienced players. At the end of the day, we need to keep them on the ‘field of play’ eager and committed to learn.

Shouldn’t we have the same approach to companies playing in the ‘field of business’, who are learning how to apply the circular economy to their organisation, their supply chain and their customers?

In the waste and resource sector, many of us are investing in new systems, services and technologies that allow us to further our journey to circularity. Often, we’re moving in areas where the rules of business within a circular economy are still being defined. It gets tricky, as we are not a care-free young rugby player, but a large organisation with responsibilities to our employees, our customers and our investors to make the transition from linear to circular in a way that is financially viable and sustainable. Many of us in the sector realised some time ago that massive changes were necessary to secure our futures and our transitions have been ongoing for many years.

What was our transition like?

It started with our vision statement in 2009, when we proclaimed that ‘we want to live in a society where there is no more waste’. Back then, our vision, was remarked by some as a suicide note, but to us it was a clear statement of our ambition. We then started the transition to new business models and offering new services, investing in innovation, research and development to help feed those new technologies and services and the financing of the change. We started with our first blueprint which clearly defined the first stage of that transition.

In 2015-16 we adopted our second blueprint which would deliver the next stage of that transition. So far we have invested over £2 billion in that change and expect to continue the investment in new assets but also in new services and partnerships which will help us make the necessary changes. 

What have we achieved? 

We are diverting the majority of our customers’ waste away from landfill. From 80 per cent to 10 per cent of waste being sent to landfill, achieved in just eight years. We have built new facilities including compositing, anaerobic digestion, energy-from-waste plants, recycling and transfer stations. We invested many years ago in on-board weighing systems which generates the necessary data for us and our customers to underpin waste prevention and lean thinking.

We have adopted lean and 5S systems in most of our operating and support functions to eradicate wasted time and effort in our own activities. With our parent company, we have invested in innovative resource conservation technologies like MDF fibre recovery, in the internet of things through R&D and innovation in smart bin equipment to robotic recycling. We have invested in companies like TerraCycle and Rubicon to help us learn new business models and approaches. We continue to work with our customers, innovators and others to deliver the knowledge and business understanding that help us and them to achieve more sustainable and circular businesses.

So, we are on the field of play, investing heavily in a financially viable transition, in new learning, new partners and new technologies.

We have and will make mistakes as we innovate, but we have succeeded in many areas and will continue to change as we transition our business. For those who are standing on the sidelines, who critique our progress, our necessary transitional investments or any others areas where we are learning, we invite you to join us on the pitch. Experience the successes and failures and in doing so we hope you will learn to respect the work we are doing to change and will constructively join us in designing and delivering the future changes.


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