Article by GECA
A common misconception is that the circular economy is a synonym for a waste reduction strategy. However, it is far more radical than that. Talking about the circular economy only through a lens of waste reduction is like discussing the complexity of ecosystems exclusively in terms of decomposition. A truly circular economy impacts the entire structure we operate in, from design, manufacturing and consumer demand to broader social and environmental issues such as greenhouse gas emission reduction.
The circular economy is a transformational framework that forces organisations and individuals to rethink how they work and live in this global community and on this planet. A crucial part of moving away from the traditional linear approach of extract, manufacture, use and discard is keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible. A circular economy adopts a regenerative system that embraces maintaining, repairing, reusing, refurbishing, and recycling.
When we design products, services or buildings using regenerative principles, we aim to move beyond ‘sustainability’ and contribute a net positive impact on our natural systems. Arup describes this as designing “to improve societal resilience, restore planetary health and regenerate ecological systems.”
According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development: “The goal is to retain the value of the circulating resources, products, parts and materials by creating a system with innovative business models that allow for renewability, long life, optimal (re)use, refurbishment, remanufacturing, recycling and biodegradation. By applying these principles, organisations can collaborate to design out waste, increase resource productivity and maintain resource use within planetary boundaries.”
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s glossary created in collaboration with IKEA, a circular economy is: “A systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution. It is based on three principles, driven by design: eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials (at their highest value), and regenerate nature. It is underpinned by a transition to renewable energy and materials. Transitioning to a circular economy entails decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources. This represents a systemic shift that builds long-term resilience, generates business and economic opportunities, and provides environmental and societal benefits.”
Australia’s policy landscape
Thankfully, things are starting to shift. Australia’s National Waste Policy, released in 2018, specifically calls for a shift from governments, industries, businesses and the public away from ‘take, make, use and dispose’ to a more circular approach where we maintain the value of resources for as long as possible.
In 2019, CSIRO developed a Circular Economy Roadmap, which focuses on four materials that are common waste streams in Australia, plastics, tyres (automotive and mining), glass and paper. The roadmap identifies circular opportunities across supply chains focusing on innovation and industry collaboration.
And in 2020, the Australian Government committed $190 million to a new Recycling Modernisation Fund (RMF) that will generate $600 million of recycling investment and drive a billion-dollar transformation of Australia’s waste and recycling capacity. State governments have also clarified that business as usual is no longer an option by publishing circular economy policies, statements and resource recovery strategies.
These policy examples reflect a global movement toward circular economy thinking. Individuals are increasingly becoming aware of the social and environmental impact products and services have. From where the materials come from, how we use them, to where they end up.
According to the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology in Sydney, “By adopting the ‘take-make-recreate’ approach of the circular economy, Australia can go from being a global leader in primary resource production to being a leader in generating value through resource productivity.
At GECA, we know that embracing the transition to a circular economy is a significant step toward achieving our vision of a better future for all. Whether through creating or purchasing products or services, joining the circular economy is crucial to show authentic leadership in sustainability.
How environmental labels can provide circular solutions
Trust and transparency are integral factors in creating lasting behaviour change. The best marketing an organisation can do is to prove its commitment to positive social and environmental impacts. Unfortunately, some businesses continue to make self-declared incorrect, misleading, and sometimes entirely false claims, which is a breach under Australian Consumer Law.
Often known as ‘greenwashing’, this practice makes it difficult for consumers to choose genuinely sustainable products and services. Greenwashing has led to increased consumer scepticism and doubt whenever an organisation makes sustainability claims about their company, products or services, including those related to a circular economy.
This can lead to a loss of legitimacy and reputation in the marketplace. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) have prioritised greenwashing as a significant compliance priority.
“As consumers become more environmentally conscious, businesses need to be honest and transparent when making environmental or sustainability claims so consumers are not being misled,” ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said.
The term ‘environmental labelling’ refers to a voluntary method of environmental performance certification that provides information about a product or service’s overall sustainability benefits. The purpose of voluntary labelling is the communication of verifiable and accurate information. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has created global principles and procedures for environmental labelling. ISO is an independent, non-governmental international organisation with a membership of 165 national standards bodies. They recognise three different types of environmental labelling:
- Type 1 – Lifecycle Ecolabels (ISO 14024)
- Type 2 – Environmental Claims (ISO 14021)
- Type 3 – Environmental Product Declarations (ISO 14025)
By providing all three types of environmental labelling, GECA gives consumers, suppliers and procurement teams confidence and transparency when choosing products and services.
At GECA, we’ve developed our rigorous lifecycle ecolabel standards, following ISO 14024 principles, which our Assurance Providers independently assess. Lifecycle ecolabels are globally recognised as the most robust and credible form of environmental labelling by the United Nations. They look at multiple impacts across a product or service’s entire lifecycle, from the extraction of raw materials to the end of its life. GECA is the only Australian member of the Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN), the leading network of the world’s most credible and robust ecolabels.
We currently have 27 standards based on lifecycle thinking ranging from furniture and paint to steel and cement, personal care and cleaning products, waste collection services and much more. Our lifecycle ecolabel standards are recognised by the Infrastructure Sustainability Council’s (ISC) IS Ratings Scheme, with many also contributing to the International WELL Building Institute’s (IWBI) WELL Building Standard and NABERS. Over half of our standards contribute towards buildings and fitouts achieving Green Building Council of Australia’s (GBCA) Green Star credits.
Contact GECA to discover how to integrate trust and transparency into your organisation, products and services – www.geca.eco