From waste to wealth, circular economic models go beyond the ‘take-make-dispose’ principle to ensure more sustainable supply chains and products that have a second life.
The traditional economy is built on the idea of “take, make, dispose”. It’s linear, economically inefficient and unsustainable. But in a circular economy, companies look to take end-of-life products and push them back into the economy as a resource.
It’s a circular economic model that aims to keep resources in use for as long as possible, to extract the maximum value from them while in use, and to recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of their service life.
“So you’re continually using these resources and not using the planet’s finite resources,” explains Kirstie McIntyre, Global Director for HP Inc.’s social and environmental responsibility operations.
McIntyre is also a founding member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a global organization focused on promoting the concept of a circular economy.
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“There are some big challenges in sustainability. There are challenges now, and they will be more acute in the future,” McIntyre says. “It also means companies need to question and innovate in fundamental ways. This isn’t just about a little bit of recycling.”
Circular economy theory questions how we can maintain a thriving economy within the limits of the planet, taking both resource depletion and climate change into account.
“When you work in sustainability, it can be quite depressing. There are plenty of smart people doing space exploration; Elon Musk is one of them. But I don’t think we can afford to wait for Elon Musk to find another planet for us to pull resources from, I think we’ve got to get on with this now, ourselves,” adds McIntyre.
HP’s framework revolves around doing more with less. It’s about moving away from simply recycling and into a functional circular economy. And it’s more than eco-printing for a “forest-friendly” future where more trees are planted than are cut down to enable printing operations.
“There are big sustainability issues in front of us. We have a large responsibility because we’re leaders in our industry. It’s about ensuring our products, where possible, have a second life. When that’s not possible, they’re taken apart so we can use the components,” says McIntyre.
Innovations that matter are innovations that have a positive impact. HP is just one of many companies working towards the idea of a circular economy; in 2018, trans-national consumer goods company Unilever revealed that its sustainable brands grew 46% faster than the rest of the business, delivering 70% of its sales growth.
Caroline Laurie is the Head of Sustainability at Kingfisher. In a digital-first world where transparency and provenance are becoming increasingly prevalent, Laurie believes that businesses can actually benefit from becoming more sustainable.
“Sustainability drives you to think differently about your business. Customers’ expectations of big business are getting higher, yet their trust in big business is getting lower. You’ll very rarely find consumers making a choice between two products. But what they want to know is that you’ve made that choice for them. It is often about range editing. Customers want to trust in brands to do the right thing,” explains Laurie.
In other words, sustainability done right brings consumer trust, and with it business, commercial, social, and environmental benefits.
“None of us can solve these issues on our own in isolation. This is about complete value chain re-engineering. This isn’t about philanthropy anymore, it’s about real commercial sense,” ends Laurie.
The war on plastic straws
Coffee shops are turning to glass and paper as alternative sipping options, with some restaurants even offering tubes of pasta as an alternative, more sustainable solution to the traditional plastic drinking straw. There’s a war on plastic straws, and it is the start of both companies and consumers becoming more conscious of the use, reuse, recyclability and disposal of plastics… but is our focus wrong?
“Customers rarely understand the relative environmental impact of different types of materials,” says Andrew Smith, the CEO and co-founder of Yuppiechef, the kitchen-focused e-commerce website.
“They believe plastic is bad and paper is good, but this is not always true. Plastic is often recyclable and can have very little environmental impact.”
Moving away from single-use plastic – and applying the principles of the circular economy – the New Plastics Economy initiative was formed towards the end of 2018 with the over-arching goal that plastics never become waste. The organization believes that instead they should re-enter the economy as part of products made from recycled plastic material wherever possible.
Technology has a massive role to play in creating a greener supply chain. For many, this means the use of artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and digital twins. A ‘digital twin’ is a 1:1 digital copy of a product, process or service, used to provide deep technical training on a device or service without requiring a physical representation of said device or service. According to research and advisory company Gartner, 50% of large industrial companies will use digital twins by 2021.
Jason Ried is the Founder and Managing Director of Fuzzy Logic, an innovative software development company based in South Africa’s Western Cape province that has created digital twins of large machinery for mines and automotive and healthcare companies.
“Using augmented reality solutions on mobile devices or headsets (like Microsoft HoloLens), we allow users to ‘see’ a digital representation of the machinery they’re being trained on as if it was really there,” explains Ried.
“Users can get a sense of the scale and design without needing the real thing in front of them. They are able to assemble and disassemble the machine as many times as required to fully learn its intricacies, while each action is digitally tracked and stored, allowing management to understand how well each user performed.”
From a sustainability point of view, there are major benefits in the creation and use of ‘digital twins’ in business: not only do digital twins save time and money, they enhance learning by increasing the quality of training and retained knowledge.
Once digital twins are integrated into business workflows, companies like Fuzzy Logic can further enhance productivity by overlaying digital data onto physical objects.
“Users might, for instance, see steps to repair a part, while info like current temperature and pressure display alongside the machine, updating in real time as users interact with it. This strengthens the link between digital and physical objects,” he says.
Ultimately, the concept of a circular economy is about doing more, with less. Gartner’s Managing Vice President, Steven Steutermann, says it best:
“The goal is to deliver customer value with minimal waste,” Steutermann says. “For such a system to be efficient, it must be automated, and this is where the previous factors come into play. Using technologies such as digital twins and AI in an automated fashion enables the supply chain to execute against circular economy principles by acting on its own and ultimately becoming its own ecosystem.”
‘AI Is A Powerful Tool’
Research forecasts that by 2025, machines will perform more current work tasks than humans. Murat Sonmez, member of the managing board, and Head of the Centre for the WEF Fourth Industrial Revolution Network, expands on the role humans might play.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is at the center of the current economic frontier. In reality, is Africa prepared for such changes?
Moving quickly and being agile are key principles of success in the 4IR. Any country can succeed if they take on this mindset. A few years ago, Rwanda saw the opportunities drones, a 4IR technology, brought to their country.
They helped save over 800 lives by delivering blood to remote villages. To scale this, the government worked with the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) drones’ team to create the world’s first agile airspace regulation. Now, we see countries in Africa and around the world looking to the Rwandan model.
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What feasible solutions can artificial intelligence (AI) offer in terms of forecasting natural disasters, droughts food security on the African continent?
AI can help predict diseases, increase agriculture yields and help first responders. It is a powerful tool for governments and businesses, but it needs a lot of data to be effective.
For AI to be all that it can be, countries and companies need to work together to build frameworks for better management and protection of our data and ensure that it is shared and not stored in silos. Data is the oxygen of the (4IR). If countries do not leverage data and have their policies in place, they will be left behind.
There is a growing concern that the 4IR will strip people of jobs, of which there is already a shortage. How true is this?
The world is going through a workplace revolution that will bring a seismic shift in the way humans work alongside machines and algorithms.
Latest research from the WEF forecasts that by 2025, machines will perform more current work tasks than humans, compared to 71% being performed by humans today.
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The rapid evolution of machines and algorithms in the workplace could create 133 million new roles in place of 75 million that will be displaced between now and 2022.
Consumers have real concerns around the potential harm technology can cause in areas such as privacy, misinformation, surveillance, job loss, environmental damage and increased inequality. What ethical precautions are being considered in the robotics space?
Now more than ever, it is important to incorporate ethics into the design, deployment and use of emerging technology. Innovating in the 4IR requires addressing concerns around privacy and data ownership, while attracting the skills and forward-looking thinkers of the future.
There are big challenges and bigger opportunities ahead. We have seen many companies and countries create ethical and human rights-based frameworks. What’s important is they are co-designed with members of both communities along with academia, civil society and start-ups.
A multi-stakeholder approach will result in a more holistic set of guidelines and principles that can be adopted in many different industries and geographies.
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What changes need to take place for the African continent to be on par with global developments, and are there tangible goals set?
The 4IR provides governments the opportunity to be global leaders in shaping the next 20 to 30 years of science and technology. It is important they create an environment where companies can innovate.
The other tenet is to be open to working across borders and learning from each other. The global health industry has access to mountains of data on rare diseases, but it is trapped within countries and sometimes even within the hospital walls.
If we can build trust and find innovative ways to share the data while protecting privacy, we can employ tools like AI to help us cure disease faster. Countries and companies need to have the right governance frameworks and mechanisms in place for these breakthroughs to happen. It is possible to do these things now, but we need to work together to make it happen.
Businesses At The Heart Of A Greener Future
With every day that passes by it becomes more apparent that the Earth is deteriorating and time is running out to save it. Scientists have estimated that we have less than a decade to save the planet before it is irreversibly damaged, mainly due to climate change.
Businesses claim the largest percentage of global emissions (at approximately 70% since 1988, according to The Guardian) which is an alarming statistic, especially in a time when the planet’s well-being is being compromised.
Many large business corporations are hastily coming on board with operating sustainably by transforming their practices and placing business ethics at the forefront of their priorities.
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Last week, a round table discussion was held at the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel, Sandton hosted by Environmental Resources Management (ERM) – the world’s largest sustainability consulting firm. Their aim was to discuss how imperative it is for African businesses to get on board with sustainability.
“We have been talking about how to be sustainable for a long time but now it is time for us to do sustainability,” says Thapelo Letete, Technical Director of ERM.
An engaging and thought-provoking panel discussion ensued with representatives from ERM and mining companies, Anglo American and Gold Fields. They emphasized the importance of sustainability being recognized by investors, especially in mining and oil companies that rely solely on Earth’s natural resources.
Civil society has a colossal role to play in ensuring the sustainability of businesses. Due to the law of supply and demand in production, consumers are being urged to be mindful of their buying habits and to make sustainable decisions. These are as simple as minimizing the utilization of plastic straws by replacing them with metal or paper straws and reusable shopping bags and by recycling selected items.
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“Research suggests that socially and environmentally responsible practices have the potential to garner more positive consumer perceptions of (businesses), as well as increases in profitability,” according to an entry in Sage Journals published in May.
The advancement of science, artificial intelligence and the rapid growth of the technological industry make it an undeniable fact that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is underway. Many businesses across the globe seem to be well prepared for this change. However, businesses in Africa seem to be vulnerable.
“It is difficult to say that all businesses in Africa are prepared for it. It is not a country specific thing but it does vary across corporations. There will be businesses that are well prepared and businesses that are not so well prepared,” says Keryn James, CEO of ERM.
A large part of sustainability also relies on empowerment and equality. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of female-owned businesses who contribute a large amount of money towards their respective countries’ GDPs. However, most of these businesses struggle with the issue of scaling.
“Women sometimes underestimate their ability and they don’t necessarily have the confidence that they should have about the value that their businesses present. Women often take less risks than men,” says James.
“The issue of scaling is one that we see globally. One of the issues are access to funding to support in the investment and growth of their businesses.”
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Going forward, the availability of mentorship programmes and skills development opportunities for women, especially black women in business should be encouraged.
According to a study done by the UN Women’s organization, an average of 3 out of 7 women score higher in performance when they are placed in senior managerial positions. Additionally, if more women work, the more countries can exponentially maximise their economic growth.
Women will be empowered when given the correct skills and opportunities to be able to run their own businesses independently which would ultimately lead to the scaling of female-owned businesses in Africa and sustainable development.
The Nedbank Capital Sustainable Business Awards aim to recognize the efforts of businesses that operate sustainably and to encourage other corporations who intend to adopt more sustainable strategies into their practices. Initiatives such as these prove that business value also depends on how sustainable they are.
It is clear that the prioritization of sustainability and accountability in businesses is the only way forward in the midst of this global crisis. With a combination of will and the rigorous work that African businesses have put into sustainability initiatives and strategies, it is easier to be optimistic about our planet’s wellbeing.
Ex-Google Staffer Says After Split With Chief Legal Officer David Drummond: ‘Hell Does Not Begin To Capture My Life’
Former Google employee Jennifer Blakely has written a scathing blog post with allegations about how her affair with chief legal officer David Drummond unfolded.
A former member of Google’s legal team who says she had a child with the company’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, has written a scathing blog post about the way that their relationship unfolded within the search engine giant, including that he issued “terrifying threats” to take custody of their child after initially refusing to pay child support.
In a Medium post, Jennifer Blakely says that she was inspired to detail her experience after an explosive New York Times story last fall put a spotlight on how the company shielded top executives from harassment claims and sparked massive employee protests.
“Looking back, I see how standards that I was willing to indulge early on became institutionalized behavior as Google’s world prominence grew and its executives grew more powerful,” Blakely writes.
“Women that I worked with at Google who have spoken to me since the New York Times article have told me how offended they were by the blatant womanizing and philandering that became common practice among some (but certainly not all) executives, starting at the very top.”
While her relationship with the married Drummond was included in the Times story and first reported byThe Information in November 2017, this is the first time Blakely has written about the experience herself.
Drummond is one of several current and former Google executives who has reportedly had relationships with employees or extramarital affairs, including Eric Schmidt, Sergey Brin, and Andy Rubin.
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Blakely alleges that after their relationship ended, Drummond had another relationship with a subordinate, which is against Google’s workplace policy. He is still employed by Google and made more than $47 million last year.
Blakely says that she started working in Google’s legal department under Drummond in 2001 and that after he told her that he was estranged from his wife, they began a relationship in 2004. She says the two had a child together in 2007 and that Google’s human resources department then told her that one of them had to leave the department.
She moved to sales, an area where she had no experience, and subsequently struggled with her work. Blakely alleges that after she ultimately left the company at Drummond’s urging in 2008, but that while they were living together in Palo Alto, he broke off their relationship via text message.
“‘Hell’ does not begin to capture my life since that day,” she writes. “I’ve spent the last 11 years taking on one of the most powerful, ruthless lawyers in the world. From that fateful night forward, David did things exclusively on his terms.”
She alleges that Drummond initially refused to see their son or pay child support, and then fought against her in a custody battle. While she says they ultimately reached a settlement and he began paying child support, she writes that “months or years” would go by when he wouldn’t see their son. In 2014, Drummond allegedly showed her an article about Eric Schmidt’s reported history of extramarital affairs during an argument, implying that the executive’s position granted him impunity.
“His ‘personal life’ (which apparently didn’t include his son) was off limits and since I was no longer his ‘personal life’ it was time for me to shut up, fall in line and stop bothering him with the nuisances or demands of raising a child,” Blakely writes.
Blakely’s story is the latest in a string of public posts from former Google employees highlighting issues with the company’s culture and policies (or their lack of enforcement).
One of the women who helped organize last fall’s protests, Claire Stapelton, recently wrote about her experience with retaliation, another employee detailed the disappointing way the company’s human resources department dealt with her harassment reports, and former senior engineer Liz Fong-Jones posted about “grave concerns” with the company’s decision making in general.
The outspokenness of Google employees exemplifies — and has helped spur — a broader activism in the tech sector that has seen workers speaking out against their employer’s internal policies and business decisions.
Blakely’s post also taps into the larger #MeToo movement which has drawn attention to sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace across industries.
“Until truth is willing to speak to power and is heard, there’s not going to be the sea change necessary to bring equality to the workplace,” she writes.
Neither Google nor Drummond immediately responded to a request for comment.
This story is developing.
-Jillian D’Onfro; Forbes
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