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Source: Auckland Council

The decisions that businesses make and the companies that individuals choose to support can have a positive impact on the planet. And, as Elly Strang writes, the way forward may rely on us going in circles.

This story first appeared in the March edition of OurAuckland, available to read online and delivered to homes across the region.

Everyone knows that spending more money than you earn is unsustainable. The more you spend, the bigger your debt becomes. And a similar rule applies to the planet. We’re currently using too many natural resources, and we’re now in environmental debt.

The Global Footprint Network says that if we continue at our current rates of production and consumption, we would need the equivalent of two Earths for resources and waste absorption by 2030. Currently, we are using the equivalent of 1.7 planets – and sending too many of those resources to the landfill once we’re finished with them. Unsurprisingly, we’re now dealing with serious issues like climate change, excess waste, habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity.

But a consensus is emerging that one way to counteract years of irresponsible production and consumption and start to address these environmental issues is by embracing an approach called the circular economy.

As the name suggests, the circular economy follows a cyclical model and aims to design waste and pollution out of the process by keeping products and materials in use. It also aims to regenerate natural systems, rather than harm them.

Only nine per cent of the global economy is circular at present, but Auckland is one of the cities making moves towards this model. Auckland Council’s goal is to reach zero waste by 2040 through its Waste Management and Minimisation Plan. This helps educate people on circular initiatives like composting food waste and reusing items.

The average Auckland household sends 160kg of rubbish to landfill every year and 65 per cent of it could be avoided through composting or re-use. A 2018 study by Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) found that switching to circular economy solutions such as better waste management could make Auckland $6 to $8 billion better off and reduce our carbon emissions by 2030. ATEED general manager of economic development Pam Ford says both businesses and individuals can be part of the solution by changing their practices and voting with their wallets.

“In the last 18 months, we’ve seen an exponential rise and awareness in all things to do with sustainability,” Ford says.

“The opportunity [with the circular economy] for companies and communities is that they save money and reduce carbon emissions. More and more companies see it as an imperative, as it’s essential for them to remain competitive and respond to consumer demand.”

Some examples of Auckland businesses already offering circular solutions include Cityhop, a car-sharing service, Again Again, a coffee-cup lending system that eliminates single-use waste, and Designer Wardrobe, a clothing rental service.

ATEED and Auckland company Circularity are also helping a range of businesses gain the skills, tools and information to create radical changes through a new programme called XLabs, where around 20 Auckland companies work with experts to solve business problems using circular design principles. Participants include Fletcher Building, The Warehouse Group, Foodstuffs North Island, Haka Tourism Group and clothing retailer Ruby.

Ruby general manager Emily Miller-Sharma says sustainability is crucial when it comes to addressing consumer concerns around production. The business has already taken steps towards being more sustainable prior to XLabs and recently designed a dress that will not go on sale at any of its stores, but is available to rent through Designer Wardrobe, increasing its reusability.

“What we need to be thinking about is building that into the design process,” she says.

“That’s more complicated. How do we, as a small company in a small country, explore genuine circular design? … Collaborating with different companies in XLabs, I think we will progress in a much more holistic way rather than just us looking for clothing industry solutions.”

Help is at hand

As well as supporting companies that are actively trying to move towards a circular model, Aucklanders can also change their own behaviour. One resource the Auckland Council provides is Live Lightly, which gives practical advice on how to have less impact on the planet at work, at school and at home.

For advice on composting, for example, it directs users to free introductory courses run by Auckland Council and the Compost Collective. Auckland Council chief sustainability officer Alec Tang says a great place to start is to change your mindset and think about how waste can be avoided in the first place.

“Start off thinking about what you consume and the decisions you’re making,” Tang says.

“We need to be asking some tough questions about how we value stuff. What do we need to own, what could we share and also, where does our stuff go?”

Helen Deuchar, a 21-year-old public health advisor from West Auckland, found her mindset shifted after learning about the extent of manmade damage on the environment.

“I was a student at Auckland University last year and I remember having a lecture about climate change and it honestly scared me,” Deuchar says.

“I really wanted to protect the earth for my future tamariki (children) and future mokopuna (grandchildren), and their mokopuna.”

While she initially felt powerless, she’s now making small and steady changes to live more sustainably, like learning to sew, crochet and upcycle objects, buying low-waste alternatives such as shampoo and conditioner bars, learning to compost and growing vegetables. She also collects food scraps from her mum’s house to add to her compost.

Her advice to others looking to make a change towards more circular practices is to reflect on what is achievable for them and start small.

“Please don’t get too overwhelmed – realise that everyone is at their own stage in their own journey,” Deuchar says.

“Think about what you can do, why you want to change and what’s realistic to change at this time.”

Head to livelightly.nz for more tips on how to reduce your impact and to calculate your carbon footprint.

MIL OSI