One of the keynote speakers at the upcoming Waste 2023 Conference at Coffs Harbour will be Planet Ark CEO Rebecca Gilling, whose topic will be A Carbon Neutral Circular Economy for Australia: Connecting the Dots. Getting to carbon neutrality is no easy task, but utilising the organisation’s three main planks, she thinks Australia can get there. Those three planks are carbon neutrality, circular economy and connecting people with nature.
“If we are going to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, about 55 per cent of those emissions can be dealt with by converting to renewable energy,” she said. “The remaining 45 per cent will be around how we use products and materials, as well as food and land. And we believe that it’s vitally important that people maintain that connection with nature, so that they understand what it is that we’re trying to protect.”
One of the issues to getting companies onboard are the costs involved. When mandated to look towards a circular economy, companies have to comply. But what about voluntary adherence?
“We did a research project surveying a number of businesses,” said Gilling. “Most said that they thought that the circular economy was going to be important to their business sometime in the near future. We know that businesses are focused on net zero emissions and that’s driven partly by a need to reduce costs with increasing costs of fossil fuels to their businesses. But it’s also being driven by consumers and shareholders who are demanding these sorts of changes.
“You talk about the costs to business, and that’s certainly one of the barriers that is perceived by business. But what we know from experience abroad is that the circular economy is a cost saving to business because it directs energies further up the waste hierarchy, to avoid, reduce and reuse ahead of recycling and waste to landfill.”
Gilling said lack of collaboration is an issue. During a visit to Australia last year, former Dutch Environment Minister Jacqueline Cramer noted that businesses in Australia were less willing to collaborate than their European counterparts.
“That is going to be one of the challenges moving forward,” she said. Gilling pointed out that it’s also for individual businesses to look across their value chain and see how they can work not just to make their own business more sustainable but connect with a value chain to avoid loss lost value. According to Gilling, this is because every time there is waste in a system, there is lost value. That’s the point at which stakeholders need to recognise they’re losing value and ask how can they capture that value and keep it back in the supply chain.
Moving forward, Gilling would like to see more procurement from entities. Whether that is at council/state government level, or businesses, she doesn’t care. There is demand from the public, but governments need a push.
“Government procurement is a great place to start. And certainly, we’re hearing the right noises from government about their own procurement policies,” she said. “It’s also about education – for businesses, government, and consumers to look for products that contain recycled content because that’s how you close the loop.
“It’s happening. As we’ve seen in roads, for example where they contain soft plastics and textiles and various other things. They’re a low value use, but at least it’s replacing virgin material, which is important.”
Gilling will be speaking on Tuesday 9th May.