By Paul Klymenko, CEO of Planet Ark
The current global Covid-19 pandemic has presented us with one of the greatest collective challenges in recent memory. However, in every challenge lies opportunity.
Recently, I was approached by Channel 9 News to provide comment from my home on a story they were undertaking. The story was about the amazing images of the improvement in our natural environment we’ve seen emerge as humanity has collectively retreated indoors due to the impact of Covid-19. Clear canals in Venice, the Himalayas visible from India, air pollution dramatically reduced in China and Los Angeles – all made possible by the drastic reduction in our activities.
Unfortunately, technical difficulties prevented us from getting more than a couple of seconds of footage to the studio in time for broadcast. What I wanted to get across during that interview was the same thing I discussed with my sister after she had sent me many of these same images days earlier: this is a taste of the world we could all have – with quality air and water that we and our fellow species can thrive on.
Indeed, this time offers us the opportunity to not only observe a thriving natural world without us, but to reflect on how we can transform our society to ensure the natural world can thrive with us. At Planet Ark, we believe that vision is achievable, but it will require taking our current carbon-intensive, linear economy and turning it on its head.
Our vision is for a carbon-neutral and circular economy. The former should be relatively self-explanatory by now. The scientific community has made a clear, evidence-based argument for the need to rapidly decrease our carbon emissions to allow us to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Governments, companies, and individuals around the world are now taking action on that advice – albeit with varying levels of commitment.
Some of Planet Ark’s key activities in helping achieve carbon neutrality include promoting the development of large-scale urban rooftop solar power stations through Planet Ark Power, as well as the use of sustainably sourced mass timber in construction via our Make it Wood programme. Combined, these initiatives can play a major role in mitigating and sequestering carbon emissions. We believe this is crucial not only in the context of climate change but also in aiding the transition towards a circular economy, as fossil fuels are ultimately a finite resource.
It’s that latter part of Planet Ark’s vision that remains as yet under-explored: the circular economy. Our current economic model is mostly linear: take, make, dispose. We extract materials, use these to manufacture a product, then at the end of that product’s useful life we bury it in landfill or, even worse, it ends up polluting our land, rivers and oceans.
In the economy of nature there is no such thing as waste – everything is recycled. Yet, our human economy creates vast amounts of waste. In Australia alone, the most recent National Waste Report revealed we produce over 67 million tonnes of waste annually, equivalent to around 2.5 tonnes of waste per person (roughly the weight of two family-sized cars!)
The circular economy is an innovative model for rethinking our approach to how we provide for our needs, based on the cyclical patterns found in nature which provides us our existence. It is about designing out waste and pollution, creating new ownership models and innovative systems to recover materials and keep them in circulation as long as possible. All these approaches will help develop a prosperity that is both restorative and regenerative by design. On a planet with finite resources and a growing population, this isn’t a choice but a necessity.
It’s also why Planet Ark will launch the National Circular Economy Hub (NCEH) later this year, a project which received grant funding from the Australian government. The NCEH will act as a platform in Australia that inspires and facilitates the networking, collaboration and leadership necessary for our transition to a circular economy.
The circular movement is already picking up pace in Australia. Recently, the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) released its Our Packaging Future report. This strategic framework outlines how the Australian packaging industry will deliver the ambitious 2025 National Packaging Targets, merging data and insights from over 200 contributors, including Planet Ark.
The report outlines clear strategies to move away from our current take, make and waste approach, particularly in plastic packaging, towards full circularity. But another interesting aspect of the report’s release was how it was covered in the media, with a clear nod to the circular economy concept in the heading and throughout the article.
A cursory glance at our media monitors reveals mentions of the phrase “circular economy” in Australian print and online news in the first quarter of 2020 have almost tripled compared to the same period last year. That’s despite the media having a couple of other big issues on their mind to start 2020.
This shows me Australia is ready. A carbon-neutral, circular economy can help us ensure the incredible images we’ve recently seen of nature thriving aren’t only visible when most of us are staying indoors. We can live in balance with the natural world, and that's what we must work towards. What a wonderful world this will be.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn.