Bradford businesses supporting the circular economy

Circular Yorkshire

By Dave Baldwin

She dreamed of being sailor as a young girl and saved her school lunch money to buy her first boat. Dame Ellen MacArthur made sailing history in 2005 when she set the solo speed record for circumnavigating the world. During the 71-day, 27,000-mile voyage, the yachtswoman experienced a powerful realisation, one that would change the course of her life.

In an interview with The Guardian, she recalled: “I remember quite poignantly writing in the log on the boat; ‘What I have got on the boat is everything’. It really struck me that you save everything, everything you have, because you know it’s finite, you know there isn’t any more. What you have on that boat is it, your entire world.”

Dame Ellen added: “The basis of my thinking was completely around resources. It was around the pure fact – stemming from what I had learned on the boat – that resources are finite. The more I learned, I just saw this as the greatest challenge I had ever come across. If we are using these resources in a very linear fashion we are going to use them up at some stage, and no one knows exactly when.”

With this acute awareness of the limitations of the widespread linear approach to resources, she launched the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to develop a sustainable alternative known as the circular economy, based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems.

The University of Bradford has worked closely with Dame Ellen since the launch of her foundation nearly a decade ago. The foundation helps businesses and organisations to accelerate the transition to a more regenerative economic model and has published a series of seminal studies on the business case for the circular economy, winning accolades from the World Economic Forum and helping to shape government policy.

In partnership with the foundation and businesses including B&Q, BT, Cisco, Renault and National Grid, the university introduced the world’s first circular economy MBA in 2011, equipping students and their sponsoring bodies with the skills to use resources and energy more effectively, reuse products and materials and deliver increased profits. The foundation recognised Bradford’s world-leading expertise in the field with Pioneer University status, a big deal for the institution and our region.

November is Circular Yorkshire month, a new campaign to increase understanding of circular economy principles and business benefits. With Bradford’s extensive knowledge and experience of this new economic model, we are proud to support the initiative. Find out more by searching for #CircularYorkshire online.

Our business community leads the way in many areas of environmental performance, according to the latest Leeds City Region Business Survey. The survey of 2,000-plus companies across the region revealed that Bradford businesses are more likely to operate schemes to save energy, water and waste. They will tend to use environmentally friendly technologies and have formal environmental accreditations. And they will probably have taken action to clean up their supply chains. Economists say businesses undertaking at least one of these actions are more likely to report stronger growth in turnover and employment. A win-win, in other words.

Given the strength of the advanced manufacturing sector in Bradford, I am not surprised at our strong showing in this survey. Manufacturers are resourceful by nature and typically have a global outlook. They also have a business imperative; a growing number of their OEM customers have mandated environmentally friendly practices in supply chains, largely driven by regulatory and consumer demands. 

One of Bradford’s largest private employers, Yorkshire Water, sees Bradford as ideal for its circular economy developments. Liz Barber, Yorkshire Water CEO, said: “The masterplan for our 32-acre site at Esholt should see it become a real beacon for sustainable development. It will retain the existing treatment works which already generates much of its own power and other developments will bring in sustainable housing and new industries which can also make use of the heat and grey water generated from the works.” This column turns full circle and returns to Dame Ellen for the close. This inspirational woman has strong links with Bradford. Her mother and grandmother were born in the city, which virtually makes her one of our own. We are enormously proud of the work she is doing and urge businesses to embrace the principles of the circular economy if they have not already done so. The circular economy supports economic growth, builds community resilience and addresses climate change, three of the most important challenges of our time.