Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Emerging stronger by rethinking processes to achieve the circularity dream

Accelerating eco-consciousness is key to creating circularity

Published: Nov 25, 2022 05:16:57 PM IST
Updated: Nov 28, 2022 01:01:15 PM IST

Emerging stronger by rethinking processes to achieve the circularity dreamDevyani Rajya Laxmi Rana, Vice President, Public Affairs, Communications, and Sustainability for India and Southwest Asia, The Coca-Cola Company

Over the past decade, there has been a remarkable rise in the understanding and adoption of ESG (Environment, Social, and Governance) practices, and rightfully so. For businesses worldwide, it is imperative to make market-based commitments and policies to attain a circular economy. It is a big pursuit, but not impossible. In an organization, various stakeholders across levels should understand the importance of circularity and take the necessary steps to achieve it.

Following the steppingstones laid by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) – an initiative established with a dream of creating a circular economy by eliminating waste and pollution, circulate products and materials; India Inc. is increasingly embracing this concept to tackle the crisis of persistent resource inequity. On a global scale, the efforts of EMF have been exemplary in recalibrating products, services, and the way businesses work in line with the three principles of the circular economy – eliminate, innovate, and circulate.

It cannot be emphasized enough that it takes a systematic approach towards achieving a circular, regenerative economy and at the core of it is managing waste and pollution. Today we stand at a point where each organization’s ESG goals and initiatives must be anchored by its true purpose and vision – and be at the core of their growth strategy. There is no better tomorrow unless we start now, to achieve the dream of a circular economy. But how?

Investing the right way
If we look at the world and analyze the major contributors of carbon emission – resource extraction, land-use changes, processing of materials, and manufactured goods will top the charts. The solution for minimizing the impact from consumption and waste lies only in a circular economy. Since in most developing countries division of labour in manufacturing, consumption and disposal are still distributed unequally, it creates an informal economy. Low quality, inferior tech processes in repair and remanufacture creates hazardous environmental opportunities. If these laborers lack the finance to improve operations and machinery, recovering resources to achieve a circular economy will remain marginal. It is a perfect opportunity for major businesses to accelerate laborers to a circular economy with funds that will not only recognize their efforts but will also create a platform for up-skilling.    

Reduce need for finite material
Nations worldwide must adopt the concept of ‘reuse’ and make it an everyday practice of their business ecosystem. Existing infrastructure in terms of advanced technologies and proximity to diverse demographics should be leveraged to promote different types and ways of reuse and refill schemes. When we talk about waste, at the top of our head we think plastic. Maybe a crucial one, but plastic is not the only waste we should curb to achieve circularity goals. Plastic, e-waste, Li-ion battery waste, water, agriculture, food are the various facets to waste generators globally. Some key things to keep in mind while looking at recycling various waste

  • According to estimates, while is still in the nascent stages, Li-ion battery recycling in India could be worth over a billion dollars in a decade.
  • While not a new concept, the need to expand water recycling capacity has led to renewed thoughts around water management which are gradually going into effect, particularly in water-stressed urban areas
  • A most promising initiative for businesses will be to convert agricultural waste into energy which could further be used to power decentralized rural grids.
  • Waste plastic, which is resource intensive in manufacturing, has only recently gained recognition as a scalable raw material for a multitude of applications which has resulted in the birth of a new industry space.
  • As per the Food Waste Index Report 2021, a staggering 50 kg of food is thrown away per person every year in Indian homes, most of which reaches landfills.
Consumer education and awareness
Simple and clear communication addressing society should inculcate behavioral change and help increase the volume and quality of waste collected for recycling. In order to realize the maximum potential of the circular economy’s inner layers, consumer perception and behavior toward circular products and services must change. Choosing sustainable products must become the new standard. Some of the important factors in triggering change at a personal level solely depend on the individual’s values and perceptions of the environment. So, for all kinds of initiatives, all roads lead to consumer engagement. This consumer trend towards sustainability is growing across geographies, including developed and developing markets.

Implementing rules and adhering to regulations
Innovations, especially the ones that bring a seismic shift in a system, aren't necessarily enough to bring about a change. Government authorities also need to act on this; the most effective way to do it is to legislate change. Bold government leadership will play an integral part in the acceleration towards a circular economy, both in forms of legislation and incentives. Some issues keep dominating the problem. A circular economy should essentially start at a regional level and work its way bottom up because it substitutes manpower for energy. The present focus on taxing labour and subsidizing energy is, therefore, a major barrier. To start at a regional level, governments should aim at making SMEs shift to the circular economy. This can only be achieved by providing proper education to students and giving them an economic and technological background in these activities.

No measures are great enough when it comes to giving back to nature. We have a global pursuit to meaningfully advance recycling, which is still in the early stages after all these years. Ultimately the goal is straightforward – to tackle climate change and reduce our environmental impact to achieve a better-shared future - to make a difference in people's lives, communities, and our planet by doing business the right way.

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