Getting Smarter, Going Circular: Maximising the opportunities of digital technology, innovation and collaboration

by | Jun 2, 2017 | Cir­cu­lar eco­nomy

At last month’s ‘Found­a­tions for Innov­a­tion’ con­fer­ence organ­ised by North­ern Ireland’s Loc­al Gov­ern­ment Asso­ci­ation, I presen­ted Peterborough’s Cir­cu­lar Eco­nomy approach. The Future Peter­bor­ough team was invited to share our unique approach to imple­ment cir­cu­lar eco­nomy prin­ciples at a city scale, with loc­al author­it­ies across Ire­land. The con­fer­ence included a diverse range of speak­ers, aim­ing to explore the oppor­tun­it­ies of digit­al tech­no­logy, innov­a­tion and col­lab­or­a­tion and how coun­cils can har­ness these. The Cir­cu­lar Peter­bor­ough approach def­in­itely embraces these three levers!

Digit­al tech­no­logy, innov­a­tion and col­lab­or­a­tion are very much at the centre of cir­cu­lar eco­nomy pro­jects in Peter­bor­ough, which include:

-       The innov­at­ive online resource shar­ing plat­form for organ­isa­tions in the city (Share Peter­bor­ough) is a unique digit­al tool to facil­it­ate col­lab­or­a­tion between loc­al busi­nesses, com­munity groups and schools to make the most of the resources we have loc­ally and min­im­ise waste.

-        Allia’s new Innov­a­tion Lab provides an excit­ing maker space for entre­pren­eurs to test their ideas with­in a state-of-the-art facil­ity, which received fund­ing from the European Region­al Devel­op­ment Fund and Future Peter­bor­ough (formerly Peter­bor­ough DNA).

-       The recently estab­lished Cir­cu­lar City Cham­pi­ons scheme which brings togeth­er a dynam­ic group of organ­isa­tions pas­sion­ate about driv­ing the cir­cu­lar eco­nomy agenda for­ward.

In the ‘Get­ting smart, going cir­cu­lar’ ses­sion, I was joined by Mar­tin Doher­ty from Bel­fast City Coun­cil who dis­cussed how Bel­fast are work­ing towards devel­op­ing a cir­cu­lar eco­nomy loc­ally. High­lights from the pan­el dis­cus­sion, chaired by Andrew Cas­sells from Mid Ulster Dis­trict Coun­cil, included the import­ance of mov­ing away from a purely waste man­age­ment per­spect­ive when con­sid­er­ing the cir­cu­lar eco­nomy. When we think about a cir­cu­lar eco­nomy, waste is often at the fore­front of most people’s minds! How­ever, if we are think­ing about stuff that is deemed as ‘waste’ and how to man­age it, we have already missed out on some valu­able cir­cu­lar eco­nomy oppor­tun­it­ies. The cir­cu­lar eco­nomy aims to design out waste, so we need to go back and rethink how products, ser­vices, busi­ness mod­els and sys­tems are designed. In Peter­bor­ough, we apply this think­ing by using our 7 Rs – our prac­tic­al steps towards cre­at­ing a Cir­cu­lar City. These include Rethink; Redesign; Repur­pose, Reuse and Share; Repair; Reman­u­fac­ture; Recycle and Recov­er.

At the city level, the cir­cu­lar eco­nomy should cer­tainly stretch fur­ther than waste man­age­ment and con­sider how silos across the city can be broken down in order to rethink how resources are used and redesign sys­tems to ensure resources can remain cir­cu­lat­ing in the eco­nomy for as long as pos­sible. This requires think­ing at a stra­tegic level and enga­ging with a range of dif­fer­ent stake­hold­er to co-cre­ate innov­at­ive solu­tions.

Whil­st the speak­ers dis­cussed the oppor­tun­it­ies avail­able to those involved in devel­op­ing cir­cu­lar eco­nom­ies, ques­tions from the audi­ence focused on how to encour­age a beha­vi­our change in cit­izens so they can play a role in cre­at­ing a more cir­cu­lar eco­nomy. In my opin­ion, this needs to be a mix­ture of tar­geted cam­paigns to pro­mote a mind­set shift away from throwaway cul­ture, and top down poli­cy change to facil­it­ate wider changes. Key to this, is chan­ging how we value resources. As con­sumers, a fun­da­ment­al change is needed in how we value the products we use, food we pur­chase and even the pack­aging we dis­card. This change is needed to ensure that we make the most of what we have and take appro­pri­ate action when we have ‘fin­ished’ using the resource, wheth­er that be using items for longer, going to the effort of repair­ing a broken house­hold appli­ance rather than buy­ing a new one, tak­ing your old clothes to a char­ity shop, or recyc­ling your old phone.

One chal­lenge raised dur­ing the con­fer­ence related to how iPads and iPhones destined for land­fill could be repur­posed and reused. A del­eg­ate ques­tioned wheth­er we could give these to those that need them. Although this was not imme­di­ately recog­nised as a cir­cu­lar eco­nomy ini­ti­at­ive, it is a great example of one that could have a massive impact on people in cit­ies.

Using tech­no­logy, innov­a­tion and col­lab­or­a­tion, loc­al author­it­ies can cer­tainly drive the cir­cu­lar eco­nomy agenda for­ward and cre­ate cit­ies in which we make the most of the resources that are avail­able loc­ally.

To find out more about the Found­a­tions for Innov­a­tion con­fer­ence, take a look at the Con­fer­ence Report.

Katie Thomas,

Cir­cu­lar Eco­nomy Pro­ject Officer