Three years ago I was impressed by Veolia’s imagining of the house of 2050 and the changes we can expect in terms of resource efficiency in our everyday domestic lives. Now the company has considered sustainability in the business sector.
In 2013, the ideas included reusing shower water, microbes eating food waste as soon as it is created in the kitchen and pneumatic networks taking away our rubbish.
Veolia’s latest report looks at how specific industrial sectors can adapt to become truly sustainable by 2050. It was launched at an event in London with striking ‘exhibits’ including plastic from processed human sewage (which I’d seen before) and platinum rings made from extracts of recycled medicine (which I’d not – very impressive).
The report’s main conclusion is that the manufacturing, pharmaceutical and food industries fail to mine £4bn in wasted resources. One of the contributors, Steve Evans, director of research in industrial sustainability at Cambridge University, argued that a further £6bn was lost by businesses not considering the wider sustainability of their activities.
Big numbers indeed. Estelle Brachlianoff, Veolia’s boss in the UK, said some enlightened chief executives were already addressing the challenges, and Evans felt there were a few exemplar operations in every industrial sector. He praised Veolia for covering 99% of the issues in its concise report.
A question I raised was the need for political drivers because, while best practice from these early adopters will trickle down, it needs to be a faster flow.
That is where governments must lead, and we have seen how the Dutch and Scottish Governments embed the circular economy in their policies. Too often ministers of most nations inhabit the short term and, to some extent, that is the consequence of democracy where our leaders are re-elected every five years. It will take leadership with real vision to embrace such long-term goals.
As Defra prepares to unveil its 25-year plan for the environment, it is too much to hope for radical policies such as taxing the use – and abuse – of materials rather than human resources. But it can shine lights: in being a powerful influencer of business that it can really make its mark.
Part of that is embracing excellent reports such as Veolia’s to raise the issues and highlight best practice examples from the likes of BMW, 3M and Fujitsu, which shared the event platform.