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EEF says manufacturers unaware of benefits of the circular economy

‘Very few’ producers are aware of the concept of the circular economy, according to the manufacturers’ organisation EEF.

Susanne Baker, EEF’s climate and environment policy adviser, claimed there was widespread unfamiliarity of the concept when she spoke at a meeting to consider the RSA’s ‘The Great Recovery’ project, which looks at design as a key aspect of the circular economy and resource efficiency.

However, some manufacturers were already engaged in the general concept, including Xerox, Rolls-Royce and Caterpillar, to their financial benefit.

“We have recently collaborated with the Institute for Environmental Management Assessment and asked manufacturers about circularity. We haven’t had a full analysis of the data but initial cuts suggest that very few manufacturers are familiar with the concept,” she said.

Sophie Thomas, co-director for design for the RSA who launched the project’s six month review at the meeting, said there were four key design models (see diagram): longevity, service, reuse in manufacture and materials recovery.

The report also recommends four actions to boost the circular economy:

  • skilling up the design industry
  • new business approaches
  • cross-curricular learning and networking
  • driving policy to encourage packaging design for recoverability

For Baker, collaboration and creating policy to incentivise reluctant manufacturers were priorities. She said some businesses found circular models of working a challenging prospect, and were risk-averse in the current economic climate.

Steve Lee, the chief executive of the CIWM, told the meeting that industry should work with designers to regain value from materials at their end-of-life and form a mutual understanding of how products could be designed better with recovery in mind.

Chris Pook, deputy director, green economy for the Business department (BIS), welcomed the RSA’s report and said that the circular and sustainable economy had “very sound business drivers which are pushing towards a more efficient economy… and essentially a more secure business environment.”

He said the Business secretary Vince Cable was preparing an industrial strategy with input from industry to address barriers to growth. He said in some cases it was appropriate for Government to act “when it has the levers” and sometimes it was appropriate for change to come from industry.

The ongoing WEEE consultation was an example where Government could help industry “unblock growth in the sector” or fund innovation technology, Pook said.

Two significant reports from McKinsey, commissioned by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, have highlighted the financial benefits of moving towards a circular economy, MRW has reported.

The 2012 report looked at the value of the circular economy to the durable goods sector, such as mobile phones and white goods, and found potential savings of $360bn (£240bn) and up to $630bn in an advanced scenario. The second report, published earlier this year, found the circular economy was worth $700bn in savings for consumer goods sectors, such as textiles, food, beverages, and the packaging they come in.

  • MRW recently reported that designers of products used across society had been urged to work with those involved in the life cycle of the materials to help the drive towards a circular economy.

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