No such thing as waste, only resources in the wrong place
To celebrate Circular Economy Week, ClearlySo’s Jon Wright reflects on the circular economy and the innovative and impactful businesses that are helping us drive towards a more sustainable future.
In 2005, when Dame Ellen MacArthur was breaking the world record for sailing single-handedly around the world, she began to think of the limited resources she had on board. She had everything she needed, but once they were gone, they were gone. She began to reflect upon the similarities to this with the natural world. She retired from professional sailing – a passion she held from the age of four – and set up the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a global thought leader for the Circular Economy.
The circular economy is based on three principles:
- Design out waste and pollution
- Keep products and materials in use
- Regenerate natural systems
It is one which moves away from the traditional linear model of take, make, dispose, to a circular model of regenerate, repurpose, reuse. Accenture estimates that today’s business practices will contribute to a global gap of eight billion tons between the supply and demand of natural resources by 2030, equivalent to the total amount of waste produced by North America in 2014.
Moving to a new system is not only of fundamental importance, but it makes good business sense too. A 2017 report published by SystemIQ and the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, identified ten attractive circular innovation and investment priorities that could unlock a market worth an estimated €320 billion by 2025 with modest policy reform or action by industry. The report focuses on the mobility, food and built environment value chains, which together represent 60% of consumer expenditure and 80% of resource use.
Food is a hugely impactful industry, highly inefficient and ripe for disruption:
- The Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations quantified the global carbon footprint of food waste – around 4.4 GtCO2 per year. If food waste were a country, this would make it the third largest emitter of Co2 in the world.
- A recent World Economic Forum article highlighted that one third of the grains that we grow feeds the livestock that we eat – enough to feed an additional 4 billion people. Furthermore, 25 per cent of all the meat produced is not consumed.
- According to the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition nearly half of all the fruit and vegetables produced globally are lost or wasted yet 3 billion people today have poor or inadequate diets.
At ClearlySo, we love circular businesses and food waste is a strong theme, especially amongst family offices. Over the last year we have completed capital raises for Oddbox (sells wonky veg that’s cast aside by retailers), Piñatex (sustainable leather alternative made with waste from the pineapple industry) and a Series A funding round for bio-bean (converts spent coffee grounds into sustainable biofuels and high-value biochemicals).
Bio-bean is one of the best examples of a circular, high-impact business that I have come across. Bio-bean believes that there is no such thing as waste, only resources in the wrong place and while it might be hard to envisage such an idealistic world, it is true that waste does not exist in nature. Considering life on our planet has been around for 3.5 billion years and modern humans only the last 300,000 years or so, nature has had longer to evolve and figure out solutions to these challenges.
Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies. Did you know, for example, that the Japanese bullet train was modelled on the kingfisher? Alternatively, consider an orange which has a protective layer that leaves no toxic residue and can easily be composted, providing fertiliser for plant growth. Companies such as TIPA are observing this method of waste processing to come up with viable solutions for compostable plastics. TIPA envisages a world where flexible packaging has the same end-of-life as organic matter, without compromising the durability, transparency and shelf life consumers and brands have come to expect.
With Circular Economy Week underway, it is an important time to reflect on how we use waste and our limited resources, and celebrate the innovative and impactful businesses that are helping us drive towards a more sustainable future!
Here at ClearlySo we speak to 1,800 enterprises and funds every year and share the 30 – 40 most impactful, commercial and ready to invest opportunities with our unparalleled network of 2100+ institutional and 750+ individual investors.
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