The concept of a ‘circular economy’ is gaining attention as a way for society to increase prosperity, reduce consumption and minimize the creation of waste – especially for plastics – which have proven to be exceedingly difficult for producers and consumers to manage responsibly.
This growing emphasis on circularity is a thoughtful and necessary response to the traditional linear “take, make, dispose” model that starts with resource extraction and ends with waste. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, considered to be at the forefront of the promoting the circularity agenda, defines the circular economy as ”an economic and industrial system that is restorative and regenerative by design, and which aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all time”.
It sounds good, and in our opinion, it makes total sense. These concepts, however, aren’t really new. Groups like the Recycling Council of BC (RCBC), Recycling Council of Ontario (RCO) and the Municipal Collaboration for Sustainable Procurement (MCSP) and many others have long promoted business practices and procurement programs that emphasize resource efficiency, leasing rather than owning and ‘buying recycled’. What’s new is the language. Terms like circular economy and circular procurement are helping bring more awareness and clarity to concepts like closed-loop systems and eco-efficiency – and that’s definitely a good thing. We still need many more organizations using their procurement and buying power to send signals to the marketplace and stimulate massive changes in our supply chains and systems. In fact, we need more circular economies. We always have and the call to action is greater than ever.
So it was timely that Reeve Consulting was able to recently gather with over 100 buyers, suppliers, sustainability managers, waste reduction coordinators, innovation managers and other sustainable procurement stakeholders in Toronto, Ontario to attend Canada’s first ever Circular Procurement Summit hosted by RCO. It was a really first-class event both in terms of content and the quality of the speakers and presentations and also by the fact that over 50 stakeholders spent nearly three days discussing concepts, showcasing examples and connecting around common challenges. Kudos to RCO for pulling this off!
Experts like Cuno Van Geet and Mervyn Jones from Europe highlighted an impressive array of policies, programs and examples of circular procurement, including the well-known and inspiring program at the Schiphol airport, who has entered into a collaboration for the new lighting in the terminal buildings at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. The light as a service means that Schiphol pays for the light it uses, while its supplier Philips remains the owner of all fixtures and installations. Philips and its partner Cofely will be jointly responsible for the performance and durability of the system and ultimately its re-use and recycling at end of life. By using energy-efficient LED lamps, a 50% reduction in electricity consumption will be achieved over conventional lighting systems.
Whether you call it sustainable procurement – as we tend to at Reeve Consulting, responsible procurement as our friends do at ECPAR or circular procurement, there’s consensus that whatever it’s called, it’s really about incorporating relevant specifications and criteria into the planning and procurement process so that we get off that tired and failed ‘take, make, waste’ economic model that has brought us into conflict with the earth’s natural limits.
Public institutions in Canada spend over $200 billion dollars annually on good and services. Sustainable procurement is one of the biggest levers we have to shift to a more circular economy. Let’s not let terminology get in the way of smart procurement. Let’s get on with doing the doing!