This month in the Environment Journal Podcast series I chat to Carmen Vallache, who is the Project and Communications Manager for Climate Change at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation was set up over 10 years ago by Dame Ellen MacArthur, a well known and respected adventurer who sailed around the world single-handed.
Its purpose is to develop and promote the idea of a circular economy. The Foundation works with and seeks to inspire business, academia, policymakers and institutions to mobilise systems solutions on a global scale.
The circular economy also has direct relevance to climate change, as explained in the Foundation’s report ‘Completing the Picture: how the circular economy tackles climate change.’
The circular economy is one of the areas that I had been wanting to include in the Podcast series, due to these clear overlaps with climate change.
The Foundation says in its paper that the ‘greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change are a product of our ‘take-make waste’ extractive economy, which relies on fossil fuels and does not manage resources for the long term.’
Interestingly, it says that only 55% of emissions are addressed by the transition to clean energy and improvements in energy efficiency but the remaining 45% of emissions come from producing the cars, clothes, food and other products we use in our everyday lives.
The circular economy, therefore, completes the picture of emissions reduction by transforming the way we make and use products.
The three major principles of the circular economy are: design out waste and pollution; keep products and materials in use; and regenerate natural systems to sequester carbon in soil and products.
To illustrate the principles, Carmen explores a number of examples. These included the built environment, food, commercial and industrial processes and mobility.
Take the built environment as an example. Here, we should be designing buildings with better energy efficiency and lower energy use in the first place, eliminating waste from the construction process, reusing building materials where possible and using less key products with a high carbon composition, such as concrete.
There can be no doubt the circular economy would help in the move to decarbonisation if its principles were followed.
However, there might be broad agreement on improvements to the built environment.
Another example is shared mobility where the overlap of climate change challenges and the circular economy are also clear to see but where the difficulty in getting the changes accepted are perhaps greater.
The concept is easy: there are too many cars on the roads, causing pollution, congestion, accidents and requiring extensive road maintenance.
Everyone wants a car, even though average European cars spend 92% of the time not being used i.e parked somewhere, despite being insured, taxed, fuelled up and available.
This is because a car can be a status symbol, a prized possession, something that provides pleasure and offers freedom to the lucky owner. But the current system of everyone having a car is simply not sustainable on so many different levels. Carmen proffers the circular economy solution which is shared mobility.
Instead of us all owning a car, we pay to use a car when we need one. This takes the concept of the car club to new heights: all cars are EVs and likely in the future to be autonomous too (i.e it drives itself to your door). You pay simply for the time you use the car. No capital 3 costs, no maintenance costs, tax, insurance or fuel.
It is difficult not to ask ‘what’s not to like’ about this – but will the great British public really give up their cars?
In the Environment Journal podcasts, we have often focussed on what individuals need to do to change their ways, so perhaps this is the culmination of that process.
Photo by Will Francis