I heard about the Great Recovery project from project manager Lucy Chamberlin at an East Midlands RSA conference in Nottingham this weekend. I had no idea about the RSA, just saw the conference advertised somewhere, liked the sound of it – The Power To Create – and went along for a bit of random networking. The place was packed and I only recognised one person there, so as I sat waiting for it to get started my first thought was, “Who are these people and why are they here?”. After a couple of speakers and a bit of Q&A it became clearer: a mix of educators and entrepreneurs, with shared interests in innovation and social issues. Progressives with business brains.
The Great Recovery project focuses on raising awareness for this group and I think that gives it great potential. It’s an insider campaign, working collaboratively to develop and share knowledge about potential innovation in society’s relationship with waste: thinking about how decisions about design, marketing and manufacturing affect the amount and type of waste produced through the lifecycle of a product, looking at how we deal with waste now and what more we – companies, government and public – can do to reuse and recycle. And it’s done with industry and decision-makers. They’re really practical in their approach – see their videos about designers and manufacturers getting hands-on with waste products and learning about waste processing issues at https://www.youtube.com/user/greatrecovery.
Once anyone pays attention to the problem of design without thought to waste, the semi-circular economy, it becomes pretty obvious that this makes no sense. The consumer pays for the design, manufacture, distribution and retail of the product, the taxpayer and the environment pay for them to throw it away when it’s used up or they’re bored of it. It’s a BIG problem and something should be done, and that should include campaigning, because it can’t be done without public pressure and behaviour change. But campaigners have to seize the opportunity to work with insider projects like this: industry aren’t monsters, they’re mostly ordinary Jo’s and Joe’s who would like things to be better (yes OK, a few of them are monsters).
One of the challenges of this problem is its international nature. The RSA and others in the UK have a good opportunity to work with industry and politicians here, but they’re limited because of the globalisation of trade in both consumer products and waste products. Ultimately the solution has to be global. I wonder whether the Ethical Trading Initiative (http://www.ethicaltrade.org/) is a good model to follow, starting with an insider approach to collaboration between companies, people and NGOs, identifying issues that require new business processes, or behaviour change, or policy change, and able to work on these across borders. The ETI is a pretty well sustained initiative, let’s have the same thing for waste. Are you listening Apple, Greenpeace, Samsung, Friends of the Earth, Volkswagen (!), Oxfam, Ikea, Christian Aid...?