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Wednesday 04 November, 2015

Rethinking Business: My resource scarcity rollercoaster ride

On 15th October, we hosted the second roundtable in our ‘Rethinking Business’ event series, in partnership with the Financial Times. The event brought together business leaders, NGOs and think tanks to discuss the issue of resource scarcity.  Here, Ben Kellard, Head of Sustainable Business at Forum for the Future, explores how businesses can take their initiatives to scale. 

I was really pleased to be invited to frame a roundtable discussion on resource scarcity hosted by Coca-Cola Enterprises and the FT. I knew there’d be some great people from organisations like WWF, M&S, ZipCar and Lego, to name but a few – what I wasn’t expecting was the rollercoaster ride that I got! 

First, the sharp descent. I blame myself for this, as I opened the evening with some key facts, including the following:

Just as I thought my knuckles couldn’t get any whiter, my fellow guests spelt out some more naked realities:

  • Often, recycled plastics are more expensive than their virgin counterparts;

  • Only about 5% of waste is recycled in the UK and we throw away 10,000 garments to landfill every ten minutes;

  • Many companies are seeking to sell to the three billion new middle class consumers we are expecting by 2050.  ‘Where will the materials come from?’ I wondered.

So we found ourselves looking at the ground rushing up at us, in the form of this enormous gap between these recognised trends and current market systems which are seemingly locked into the ‘take, make, waste’ business model. 

As we looked for exits, we found none in the shape of the often confused consumer or legislators.  

Luckily, things took an upward turn as we started to explore good practice and with it, grounds for optimism. We talked about the imminent EU legislation designed to “transform Europe into a more competitive resource-efficient economy”. Could this provide a simple and consistent level playing field and even be adopted by other regions?   

We heard about disruptive new business models, like Zipcar. Then there was the opportunity to educate investors and finance colleagues on how the circular economy secures value creation. We heard about how long-term security of supply in highly competitive and volatile global supply chains can be achieved by collaborating with suppliers over the long-term.   

There is also a new type of plastic made from organic waste.   

What emerged was something we recognise from our partners, that there are some thoughtful and innovative local initiatives that face systemic challenges like reaching economies of scale. The challenge now is to take them to scale. In response, Forum for the Future has developed the ‘Scaling up Framework’ which sets out eight strategies that businesses can use to take their initiatives to scale. This enables businesses to find innovative ways to go beyond their frontiers to create more sustainable value chains- or networks – as we think of them. This needs a systemic approach; one in which a business must find new partners, trial new business models and learn fast.  It’s what we at Forum call ‘the big shift to a sustainable future’.   

The circular economy presents a $4.5tn opportunity, potentially enabled with the promise of bold EU legislation, but it’s something no one organisation can do alone.  To harness this opportunity organisations need to find creative new ways to work together.  I’ve been encouraged by organisations that are enabling this to happen.  Take the great guidance from the Ellen McArthur Foundation and the innovative collaborations coming out of their CE100’ programme, for example Renault convening value chain partners to develop, pilot and validate circular value propositions. Then there is the terrific work being done by WRAP with the UK plastic waste industry. 

So as I left the conversation, like stepping off a rollercoaster, I felt giddy and rattled but ultimately exhilarated and optimistic about the potential to scale up great progress – and the shared recognition of the need to do so.

Ben Kellard

Head of Sustainable Business, Forum for the Future

As Head of the Sustainable Business Team, Mr Kellard helps leading companies go further and faster.  He does this by helping them to develop sustainability strategies and successfully implement them. Mr Kellard also manages Forum for the Future’s O2 and Unilever partnerships.He also leads Forum’s thinking on how businesses can embed sustainability across the organisation. 

Since studying Politics and then Philosophy at Edinburgh his interest has always been the role that influential organisations can play in helping people to thrive and secure a future for us all. Mr Kellard trained as an Organisation Development consultant at Ashridge Business School where he worked across many sectors, working with clients such as Novartis and the NHS on leadership, strategy and change projects. 

He then worked as an internal consultant at HBOS at a time of unprecedented change. This included working with Directors and their teams to support their change programmes. He also ran an innovative in-house master’s degree, based on live strategic issues. 

Mr Kellard is also a Chartered member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

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