The world is changing — but what change comes about, is largely up to all of us.
Here’s what we know for sure: the global population is predicted to grow to a total of 8.5 billion by 2030. By that time, 3 billion more people will have additional purchasing power and become part of the middle-class, increasing their demand for products and services.
All of this will put enormous pressure on the earth’s natural systems. Already, resource extraction and processing account for half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and over 90 per cent of biodiversity loss and water stress.
Industries and governments need to work together to generate supply in an environmentally sustainable way. To do this, stakeholders across the public, private and non-profit sectors are exploring the concept of a circular economy.
What goes around...
What if our products, businesses and our way of life ensured the finite resources available keep circulating, while we manage our use of the renewable ones to ensure we don’t further deplete them? By keeping materials in continuous, closed-loop life cycles, ecological systems can be regenerated and restored. Not only does this create economic, natural and social capital over the long term, there are direct benefits for businesses.
By some estimates, the global economic gains from material savings could total $1 trillion (Dh3.67 trillion) per year by 2025.
Artificial intelligence, big data and the Internet of Things can play an increasingly important role in driving and “dematerialising” our economies, establishing innovative models that move everyone toward a sustainable future. This way, the concept of growth can be decoupled from the consumption of finite resources.
As our economies are built around a culture of disposable products and single-use convenience, a staggering amount of material ends up in landfills, waterways and oceans. And the technology sector is a major contributor to the problem.
Every year, 50 million tonnes of e-waste are generated and has become the fastest growing waste stream today. And while many people make a sincere effort to dispose of their devices responsibly, only about 20 per cent of e-waste is formally recycled. The rest wind up in landfills or may be informally recycled, with potential to adversely affect the environment and human health.
But through a circular economy framework, companies can make a difference by designing products to be easily recycled, manufacturing with recycled content, and working with customers to take back products at the end of their lives. For example, Dell manufactures more than 125 different products that include “closed-loop” plastics recovered from properly recycled electronics.
A collaboration mindset
The concept of sharing is also central to a circular economy — the sharing of ideas, resources, best practices and processes. While it’s still necessary to stay competitive, there’s a shift in priorities towards models that deliver mutual benefits for companies, society and the environment. One way that organisations can work together to advance the circular economy, is to ensure out-of-use technology is being brought back into the supply chain.
In offices everywhere, technology is being updated, leaving their predecessors sitting unused. It is critical that these materials get recycled and put back into the supply chain to be used to make new products. There are endless opportunities for companies to work with each other and non-profit to create change.
We are seeing governments in the GCC taking steps towards a circular economy trend. The UAE is aiming to have the world’s lowest carbon footprint by 2050 and the UAE government has kicked off its“Scale 360 initiative in partnership with the World Economic Forum which aims to implement technology innovations that lead to a circular economy.
We have everything we need to transition to a circular economy — but time is of the essence. While large-scale change is necessary, there are several ways to start taking action today:
• Identify opportunities to create immediate change in your supply chain, manufacturing processes or product design — what unsustainable materials are you using most, and what are the viable alternatives?
• Assess which alternatives provide the most value both in terms of business costs and the broader environmental impact. There are many options, but you can’t compromise on the quality or durability of your product.
• Look at companies with a similar product or use case and borrow key learning from them. You can even embrace a collaboration mindset, locking arms with your former competitors — your entire sector might just follow your lead.
• Consider new business models that help your customers manage the use of your products in a more sustainable way. Can you offer it as a service? Can you build responsible take-back options?
• Always be cautious of unintended consequences, as alternatives can come with trade-offs that have negative, unforeseen effects elsewhere in the ecosphere.
The future we’re looking forward to may seem far off, but if we’re going to achieve a circular economy globally, we need to act now — and we need to act together.
— Haidi Nossair is Marketing Director — MERAT at Dell Technologies.