It was a fabulous balmy evening when I found myself talking with a very earnest engineer about the mysterious world of the supply chain of wooden pallets – perhaps not notable other than to state the obvious – we sustainability geeks tend to stick together on matters like this. The event and the venue on the other hand made this conversation very interesting indeed. We were perched on a balcony overlooking the Olympic Park in a building constructed in just eight weeks – all fine, providing you don’t sneeze or lean on anything! In fact, we were enjoying the ambience of Cisco House and we were there to join in the first networking event for the Circular Economy.
‘The Circular Economy’ at face value sounds like some kind of dubious merry-go-round involving strange job-creation programmes and maybe a giant swap-meet. But far from some weird ponzie scheme, the concept has legs. In fact, it was recently given prominence by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation whose profound report by the same name highlights the value to the UK Economy of making sure resources are truly optimised from the first time they are used (cradle) to the time they are re-used (grave-cradle) in some other guise. Rather than the old outdated model of resources in and waste out, the Circular Economy starts from the premise that failing to see resources as in some form of permanent state of use/re-use is an enormous missed economic opportunity and one which the UK is in danger of missing. It’s like losing one’s glasses – each time you do it and you go out and buy a new pair, you kick yourself for spending money on something you already have (particularly when you find the old pair behind the sofa). If economies stopped spending money on replacing the things they already had, and instead spent more on getting better value from them, we would be far better positioned for a resource-scarce future.
And it was the Ellen MacArthur Foundation who hosted the networking event – enjoining their partners Cisco in an unabashed pitch for this new, sustainable vision for world economies. Cisco have in their quite extraordinary temporary building, a viewing experience of the future. Apart from coming out wailing faintly ‘I’ve been Ciscoed’, I was somewhat amazed by the extent to which ICT knowledge companies and their partners are seeing the future as one which is so fundamentally different to the place we inhabit today. The power is there to be tapped of entities manufacturing products and delivering technology, infrastructure, and innovation to re-engineer our economies for far better outcomes for the planet and for our communities. Lofty ideals are fantastic, but as it all comes back to tin-tacks in the end – let’s hope the building gets the same circular treatment as the economy when it’s time to pack it all in!
And so, it was no mistake that we were enjoying the view of the stage for the newest, hottest show in town. With the Olympic Park nearly complete, and the focus now on the big show, it is easy to forget that once the sharabang has left town, the green, the social, the technical and the financial infrastructure which remains is the skeleton for London’s Circular Economy. It is perhaps a heavy responsibility falling on the shoulders of the London Legacy Development Company and all of East London’s entrepreneurs, communities and partners, but what an enormous opportunity! Here’s to one more turn around the room!