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Recognising excellence in the circular economy

The concept of the circular economy is gathering momentum in the UK, as the country endeavours to improve its approach to sustainability and resource efficiency. Organisations that strive to achieve these admirable aims can now receive the recognition they deserve thanks to a brand new category within the Annual Awards for Excellence in Recycling and Waste Management.

Iona Smith, Events Director at the Environment Media Group, the awards’ organiser, considers who may make worthy winners, and provides advice for organisations planning to enter.

There is no denying that the circular economy is currently a hot topic. As a nation we are working towards creating a resource-efficient, low-carbon environment that will allow the UK to achieve sustainable growth. The goal of the circular economy is to encourage a restorative approach to industry and society – but how can it do this? The answer is, by harnessing the continued value of materials and products once they have seemingly reached the end of their useful life, and re-introducing them back into the ‘loop’.

In many respects, the circular economy is not an entirely new concept. It draws upon several principles, such as ‘cradle to cradle’, for example, which was a phrase first coined by Swiss architect Walter R Stahel in the 1970s. This earlier work also highlighted the job creation, economic competitiveness, resource savings and waste prevention benefits of this intelligent approach to sustainable development. However, it is in more recent times that the campaign for a circular economy – publicly fronted by sailing legend Ellen Macarthur – has really gathered pace.

There is still significant progress to be made, but advice-led reports, media debates and awareness-raising campaigns are all helping to fuel the momentum.

As the UK looks to further improve its commitment to the circular economy, now seems a perfect time to acknowledge the significant efforts that have already been made, especially by the often unsung heroes in the UK’s resource agenda.

Numerous environmental awards already exist to give businesses, local authorities and individual waste champions a well-earned ‘pat on the back’. However, as yet, there is little recognition for the organisations that go above and beyond the traditional approach to waste prevention, material reuse and recycling, and in fact play a crucial role in achieving a circular economy.

As part of its annual Awards for Excellence campaign, Environment Media Group has launched a new category for 2014, aptly named ‘Circular Economy Success’. This is designed to reward a business that has recycled or recovered material for further use within a circular approach; developed a ‘whole loop’ system; or devised a completely circular product. In other words, it provides product designers, manufacturers, waste management specialists and consultants, with a well-earned time to shine.

Judges will be looking for an organisation that is bringing credibility to the circular economy. This is about being fully committed to achieving real results, not just jumping on the band wagon.

We are encouraging businesses to look inwardly at their approach to production, even if they think there is nothing particularly ‘award-worthy’ about what they do. Depending on your area of specialism, we recommend you consider factors such as product design, how you source materials and reuse existing resources, how your production line functions, your approach to quality control, any waste minimisation strategies and your engagement with the wider supply chain.

Then assess the consequential benefits of these factors. What demonstrable difference has your knowledge, innovation and respect for resources made to the wider industry, and what potential impact has this had – or could this have – on the UK economy?

Perhaps you’ve liaised with other key supply chain stakeholders to achieve further efficiencies within the wider loop. Has the way you make things minimised the need for any new materials to enter the chain?

Or, maybe your business has helped to revolutionise what can and will happen to a product, after use. Has this helped to shift the mindset of others, so that ‘precycling’ appears much higher on the agenda, than recycling?

And have you sacrificed some of your profit margin, so that the wider economy can achieve environmental gain? Or, have you witnessed more commercial successes as a result of your circular thinking?

These are just some of the questions to consider. Entries can only be 500 words in length, with supporting material, so candidates should not mistakenly believe that weeks of work will be involved to compile a submission. However, every word should be carefully thought through, to ensure that a true representation is given. Entrants have to assume the judges know nothing about their business, so the ‘who, what, where, why, when and how’ elements of evidence are essential pieces of the submission jigsaw.

This new category has been introduced because the efforts that businesses are going to in order to progress the circular economy model have received scant acknowledgement up until now. Not only do these efforts deserve credit, we also hope that the success stories highlighted will inspire many more companies to commit to the future success of our circular economy.

The deadline for entries is midday 13th March 2014. For the full list of criteria and entry guidelines, plus details of other award categories, please visit http://www.awardsforexcellence.co.uk.

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