The circular economy: opportunities for businesses and the planet as a whole
Sir David Attenborough and the Blue Planet team recently brought the problem of plastic waste to the forefront of our minds with their latest BBC one series. It made us more aware of the impacts we’re having on the blue planet that we live on. We’re becoming more conscious of the problems our ‘make, use once and dispose’ lifestyle is causing. And you don’t need to look far to see this. From plastic waste along our coastlines and roadsides to old kitchen appliances, clothes and furniture fly tipped on street corners.
Dame Ellen McArthur is a world renowned sailor, brought into the spotlight when she became the fastest woman to sail around the world single handed. Since then, her curiosity and fierce determination has brought her to an even greater challenge: the preservation of the blue planet. Her mission is to build an economy that continually uses and replaces things rather than continually uses them up. The Foundation have called this the circular economy and it’s the basis upon which the Ellen MacArthur Foundation was created in 2010.
One person’s trash…
Some brilliant new products and schemes have been created since Blue Planet aired. Entrepreneurs have created reusable and ‘fold up-able’ coffee cups and Sadiq Khan announced plans to install new drinking fountains across the capital. In terms of keeping materials within a circular economic cycle, rather than disposing of them after use, technology could play a large part in how we solve the problems we’ve created.
One of the great things the internet has brought us is the ability to share. Nowadays, once you grow out of your coat or grow bored of your bedroom furniture – you can sell these on Ebay, Gumtree or Depop. When you’re not in your city apartment or your country cottage in the Highlands enough, you can rent them on Airbnb. Established companies like Zipcar mean that we don’t all need to own and drive cars every day – only occasionally when public transport doesn’t suffice. This has become known as the sharing economy and this is what Borrow a Boat is built upon.
What is a circular economy?
A continuous flow of goods and services. Looking beyond the current ‘throw away and replace’ approach, discussions about building a new, circular economy have begun. Whereas our current economic approach is an extractive and linear model, a circular economy aims to keep products and material in use within the cycle. This decoupling of economic activity from consumption of finite resources redefines growth and focuses on positive society-wide benefits. It’s like the ‘circle of life’ we see in nature (and Disney’s Lion King!). The concept is the same when applied within a circular economy – once products have been created and used, they won’t be disposed of. They will simply move to another stage of the circle in a similar or entirely new form.
So how can our waste build capital (rather than reduce it)? The model distinguishes between technical and biological cycles. Applying it to biological cycles, means using and disposing of food and biologically-based materials (such as food, cotton or wood) in a way that facilitates them being fed back into the system is easy. For example through processes like composting and anaerobic digestion. These cycles regenerate living systems, such as soil, which provide renewable resources for the economy. Applying it to technical cycles on the other hand, requires some re-thinking. Products need to be manufactured in a way that facilitates recovery and restoration of them, their components, and materials through strategies like reuse, repair, remanufacture or where those aren’t feasible – recycling.
What if we never own our technologies? Instead we licensed them from the manufacturers. This has become more common in the automotive industry in recent years. Although mainly for affordability purposes, people are choosing to lease their car rather than buying one outright, straightaway. This could work well in the the circular economy model. If products come back to their makers, their technical materials can be reused or their biological parts could increase agricultural value. A circular economy rather than a linear model. It’s about keeping energy and resources within the cycle, maximising our gain from them and minimising waste. With creativity and innovation, we can re-think and re-design our economy and lifestyles to be more sustainable.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is a charity registered in the UK that aims to inspire a generation to re-think, re-design & build a positive future through the framework of a circular economy. And just like the Blue Planet series, it’s paving the way for innovative business ideas and products but even more than that it’s paving the way for a whole new approach to our economy. One that is good for both us and the blue planet. Dame Ellen, we salute you. Watch this video or read about the EMF to see why Ellen is even more brilliant than we thought she was back in 2005.
On a similar boat….
Overall, boat ownership is in decline. The average boat owner age is rising, which means that fewer of the younger generation are getting out on the water. And amongst those fortunate enough to own a boat, due to limited time and other commitments, they don’t always get to use them as frequently as they would like to. We want to change this. We believe that everyone should be able to get out on the water.
Borrow a Boat’s mission is to open up boating and make it more accessible and easier for everyone. This means better value charters, straightforward booking and – yep you guessed it – borrowing. We simultaneously want to help boat owners reduce the cost of boat ownership, by giving them the platform to list and charter their boats whilst also making boating accessible to all. If you want to explore the blue parts of the planet more, see what Borrow a Boat has to offer.
Borrow a Boat are mad about the blue bits of our planet; we never want to stop exploring them and we think everyone should get to see them. That’s why we’re embraced the sharing economy to become the world’s first ‘Airbnb’ equivalent for the boating world. Find out how Borrow a Boat works and about the process of borrowing a boat on our website today.