How the circular economy can make a difference to the environment and your business
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As a renewable energy specialist, it was incumbent on Everun to examine what we can do to reduce waste in all that we do. Our journey began almost three years ago and it has been transformative for ourselves as well as our customers.
Even when you're thinking about energy in its purest form, you can't just create it. Energy is moved from one place to another, for Everun it’s important that we look at the whole journey of our assets, parts and waste. Our customers want to know that not only are we asking them to do their bit in the fight against climate change but that we are doing our bit too. We must also look inward when talking about sustainability.
What we do with and how we dispose of our wind turbines is a good example. It’s important that when we decommission turbines, we communicate that effectively with our customers and wider community. In one example we took the blades off the turbine, stress tested them for strength and then created bridges with them. It’s important to us to reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfill from our work.
In some ways this epitomises the circular economy’s principle of valuing waste. For us it's not just the transaction of creating renewable energy, it's about being sustainable throughout that process, and continuing to be sustainable within ourselves.
While a lot of what a business does comes from the directors and senior managers sustainability can often be something that employees can drive, as the populace as a whole becomes more aware of the demands to reduce waste. I see it within Everun and its simple things. We have a fancy coffee machine, but a staff member suggested that we take the coffee groundings and put them into the food caddies and then we allow members of our staff to take them and use them for adding nutrients to their soil and grass.
That initiative didn’t come from me, our leadership team, it came from someone internally who wanted that change to happen, and we supported them to implement it. It’s vital to bring your staff along on your journey of sustainability.
I think that’s what's happening throughout industry and throughout businesses. There are a specific number of people who are looking at sustainability from the top level down, as part of the ESG reporting. For example, they might be looking at our suppliers and asking what are they doing to help with carbon offset, they could be asking whether our suppliers have embraced renewable energy and find out how they are contributing to the circular economy.
Meanwhile, our staff on the ground can support the wider vision by doing things that are small changes for little impact such as recycling the coffee grounds and separating their general waste for recycling.
As we approach Northern Ireland’s 2030 zero net targets, companies articulating what they are doing to offset carbon by recycling, remanufacturing or repurposing items from their production will be a key question being asked in the boardrooms.
For businesses to successfully and confidently support the ambitious climate change targets we all must embrace what the circular economy represents. It is defined as the ‘model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible. In this way, the life cycle of products is extended. In practice, it implies reducing waste to a minimum.’
No one could disagree with those principles. And they are principles that can reduce costs and create employment, when applied. Another example of where Everun does this is when we decommission a turbine we take the magnets from the gearboxes and sell them onto another company who will repurpose them in their manufacturing.
Where we can take the nose cones off the turbine and use them in children's playgrounds turning them into climbing frames. We take the nacelle, which is the bit that is housing all the gear box elements and we turn those into garden rooms, or we can turn them into single dwellings. Within these processes there is remanufacturing, sales, commissioning, promotion, painting and much more. In many cases this creates reemployment or additional employment.
The process of embracing sustainability and the circular economy can be easier for some companies than others. This is why we are proud to be sponsors of the All Ireland Sustainability Awards later this year. This is a great opportunity for businesses who don’t quite know how they can contribute to see some fantastic case studies. And for businesses who are working hard at putting climate change on their priority list it’s the place to be recognised and congratulated for your work.
Adopting a circular economy model won’t be easy for all companies, for example, if you’re in an industry that is a high energy user, and high pollutant, and all of a sudden you're whipping the handbrake up and saying, ‘we’re going to do this’, it feels like cracking a nut with a sledgehammer. It’s important to take time, really consider your sustainability strategy and ensure you have a robust plan of action and buy in at every level within the business.
For Everun it was a no brainer. We are a renewables company installing wind turbines, solar PV, EV chargers and smart motors. It was important to us to show our clients we can walk the walk. For those who are finding it difficult or for those who are having problems getting leadership buy in, it’s a challenge that can be overcome with the right mindset, partners and resources. Partnerships have been very important to Everun, for example, we partnered with International Synergies who helped connect with the company that bought the magnets from us.
All businesses can start small in their journey to net zero. Look at your waste, packaging and other key elements of the business and ask what small changes can be made that will have a longer term impact. One small thing Everun did was switch from small orders to larger bulk orders so that we can reduce the carbon impact on shipping and packaging.
The circular economy is not just words, or papers from COP, policies from Europe, or our own Net Zero targets. It is common sense actions that will make a difference to your business.