Learn about the Circular Economy at ValueX this month

The circular economy as a concept has many attractions. Few people can be unaware of the environmental challenges the world faces, as Extinction Rebellion hits the headlines with London demonstrations, and Greta Thunberg becomes a globally-known leader by warning of the dangers of climate change. The ideas that surround the circular economy seem to offer potential solutions to the problems, to some extent anyway.

Circular systems employ reuse, sharing, repair, refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling to create a closed-loop system for materials, minimising the use of resource inputs and the creation of waste, pollution and carbon emissions. Instead of throwing things away when they have been used, creating waste that must somehow be handled, the item becomes part of the next round of creating more products. Hence we hear people talking about “cradle-to-cradle” thinking and strategies rather than the old “cradle-to-grave.”

The drivers for this are already coming from customers and consumers. Most people aren’t out on the streets with Extinction Rebellion, but millions more people year by year are becoming more aware of and worried about the implications of disposable packaging materials, the “wear-it-once” culture in fashion, or the implications of our love for exotic holidays. Equally, governments are becoming more active in regulating to address some of the issues of waste, pollution and carbon use.

So it’s important that procurement professionals understand these issues. It’s no longer enough to consider purely the contract for the supply of the items we’re buying, and maybe the ongoing support or service we require from suppliers. We need to think about the end-of-life question and opportunities for circular systems thinking.

In some industries, it is relatively easy to see how the principles can be applied. Putting more emphasis on repairing and re-using furniture for instance, rather than just throwing old items on the scrap heap. But consumer goods packaging is an example of a much trickier issue. First of all, the consumer has to be educated in terms of what they do with that used Mars Bar wrapper or Coke bottle, or persuaded to buy staple foods from bulk bins in shops rather than in handy packages.

Then, there are challenges in terms of collection, separation and handling of the waste materials, even if they are basically re-cyclable. The economics of the system must be considered, including the cost of the circular approach, both financially and in terms of carbon use. It may be that the circular process is more “expensive” in both senses than new manufacturing, for instance.

The SAP Ariba ValueX event on October 30th in London features what should be a very interesting panel discussion with some experts in this field. Tifenn Dano-Kwan, CMO of SAP Ariba / SAP Fieldglass will chair, and the insight will come from Peter Maddox, Kevin Vyse, Kesah Trowell, and Stephen Jamieson. Maddox is a director at WRAP, the charity that has become a global expert in the sustainable use of materials, particularly in the food and drink plastics and textiles markets. He’s been at WRAP for over 10 years, is a chemist by trade, and in 2015, he established the Resource London partnership with the London Waste and Recycling Board.

He really knows his stuff; as does Vyse, who was a top packaging person at Marks and Spencer and is well known in the packaging industry as an expert on recycling and related issues. Trowell is Group Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at Dixons Carphone and her career is littered with achievements and awards in the CSR field. Jamieson is Head of Sustainable Business Innovation for SAP, and is involved in some of the really interesting initiatives the firm is driving in that field, such as the “Plastics Cloud” technology solution announced recently.

So it’s a guarantee that everyone will learn something about these topics from this discussion, given the knowledge and experience on display. So if you are free on the 30th, this panel is just one of the agenda items that makes the ValueX event in London well worth attending. (It’s free to practitioners too).

Spend Matters will of course be there, as will our good friend and ex-MD Peter Smith, who is involved in another exciting “sustainable procurement” initiative that he will be announcing during the event. If you can’t make it, look out for more information on that to come!

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