One of the key drivers for an economy that is sustainable is the concept of building a ‘circular’ economy which aims to reduce waste and ensure that materials are used as efficiently as possible. Every year, Ireland uses over 100 million tonnes of materials, and too much of the waste from this often ends up in landfill or an incinerator after only a short period of use. Being more circular involves getting the most from products by using them as fully as possible; by sharing items with others to re-use where possible; and by increasing our levels of recycling to at least recover the value of the materials used to make these products. For businesses, the circular economy reduces costs, improves the raw material supply chain and offers opportunities such as new business models and markets. For individuals, the circular economy offers a sustainable lifestyle with reduced environmental impact and lower household bills.
Fully adopting a circular economy will require significant shifts in our consumption habits and in our production & distribution systems. Some of these changes will be technological innovations such as the introduction of bio-based plastics; and some will be about developing new businesses to allow consumers shared access to products; and some will simply be behaviour changes as we move to a new way of thinking on the use and disposal of the materials around us.
In Ireland, the National Waste Prevention Programme works with others to drive Ireland’s Circular Economy . It supports behavioural change and sustainable choices through targeted funding programmes and sharing best practices across six priority areas: Food Waste; Construction & Demolition; Plastics; Agriculture; Resources & Raw Materials; and Local Waste Prevention.
United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
September 2015 saw the globally significant intergovernmental meeting convened by the UN to agree a plan of action for People, Planet & Prosperity. Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals with 169 targets were agreed. This plan envisages a world in which nations can enjoy inclusive and sustainable economic growth, with decent work for all, and where consumption and production patterns, as well as the use of all natural resources, are sustainable. In 2018, a National Implementation Plan was published outlining a whole-of-government approach to implement the 17 goals.
Green Public Procurement
Green Public Procurement (GPP) is a process where public and semi-public bodies meet their needs for goods and services by choosing solutions that have a reduced impact on the environment throughout their life-cycle. It also uses the huge purchasing power of government to prompt suppliers to develop greener products and services, that are then in turn available across the entire economy. GPP sees environmental criteria being used to select suppliers - alongside cost and other factors. The EPA produced GPP guidance to assist purchasers in pursuing this approach and it is identified as a priority at EU level under the circular economy.
Corporate social responsibility
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a concept which captures actions by companies to employ voluntary approaches to integrate social and environmental concerns into their mainstream business operations. CSR goes beyond compliance with legislative requirements and involves commitment by companies to carry out their business in an ethical and responsible way. It is a voluntary concept, which is led by enterprise and is supported by government through strategic direction, facilitative policy making and networking platforms.
CSR is well-established in Ireland, ranging from large-scale international corporate programmes to company sponsorships of local events and groups. The breadth of activity in Ireland is recognised through programmes such as the Chambers Ireland’s annual CSR Awards, which includes an ‘environment’ category – sponsored by EPA.
From 2018, EU law requires companies to include statements in their annual reports to disclose information on how they manage social and environmental challenges. This helps investors, consumers, policy makers and others to evaluate the non-financial performance of large companies and encourages these companies to develop a responsible approach to business. The legislation currently applies to large companies with more than 500 employees and covers approximately 6,000 businesses across the EU. The European Commission has published guidelines to help companies preparing to disclose environmental and social information.
There are a number of organisations that promote and enable companies to report on their environmental impacts. CDP is an international, not-for-profit organisation providing a global platform for disclosing and ranking carbon emissions. The EPA supports the CDP Ireland Network which works with 80 members from across a range of sectors to report carbon emissions and promote sustainable business.