The Big Picture – so what are we thinking?
The topic of Sustainable Manufacturing requires that we think about the life-cycle of items produced and the systems we design for their production and use. We all understand the need to directly address the reduction, reuse and recycling of all resources along a production supply chain and need to address the industrial energy efficiency improvements required of the production system. Leaning a system focuses our attention on continuous improvements needed to ensure that the value of a resource is kept at its highest level for the longest period. Optimizing the systems at play engages all efficiencies ultimately designing out wastes so that circularity (a Circular Economic model of production) is achieved. One production stream’s waste becomes either its own or another production stream’s resource. This approach also requires us to look fundamentally at the designing of any product and asking the beginning question: Why is it needed – for what purpose?
If we delve into the understanding of why and what we are producing and what quantities of resources are required for the number of people wanting ‘stuff’ then we get to another fundamental questioning of society’s growing population. Our population growth is enabled by advances in science, and our society’s consequent voracious consumption via our lifestyle choices and expectations is directly linked to present waste practices and norms. When we get to this area of discussion we are speaking about matching our earth’s growing population with shrinking finite resources and resulting negative impacts on Humankind’s natural ecosystems (water, soils, air, atmosphere, land stability etc.). This earth’s natural ecosystems besides enabling our own evolving human existence, also enables any form of industrial production to occur. Without a fully functioning ecosystem – human endeavours to manufacture stuff ceases.
Humankind has been naturally changing, adapting, evolving to survive through millions of years – but we’re a delicate species – unlike the natural world that can withstand and transform at a much faster pace than our Humankind can evolve. Many scenarios of the demise of our Humankind have been played out in the Arts sector through multi-media channels: plays, films, novels, computer games etc. We’re very much aware of the possibilities that this demise can occur through natural cataclysmic geologic events within our planet, or through cosmic catastrophic impacts onto our planet, or through the side-effects of human induced lifestyle activities causing climate events with knock-on effects to our Global Community. Those localised sectors of economic activities that go wrong (industrial pollution, agricultural food supply sabotage, subsistence scarcities, health pandemics, cybersecurity hacking of food, water, energy sources & supplies etc) all have the potential to cause globalised events reaching tipping points that can decimate our very delicate Humankind.
We live on a wonderfully evolving dynamic planet Earth and here in 2019 according to the United Nations estimates our Humankind population is at 7.7 Billion people. As more of our 7.7Billion human brains interact on this planet through globalization our population’s thinking and striving for new ideas, developments and discoveries evolves. It’s in us as human beings to want to reach out, imagine, explore, understand, create and develop ourselves, our world, and the reaches of our ability to explore beyond this planet. We’re not going to stop dreaming and imagining.
So, in our desires to make stuff and do stuff at a pace that can and is negatively impacting much of our population, many are and will suffer the consequences (both predictable and unintended) because of the sheer pace of these developments and the increasing population demands. Circularity thinking is therefore an urgent and critical pathway to avoiding many predictable consequences of our present Linear Economic models.
Humankind collectively needs to think and consider this globally connected world as an Interdependent Community of one Humankind if we intend to thrive and flourish here. The globally agreed (193 countries of the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Development Agenda) 2015 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) reinforce this understanding. Obviously, this will only be a utopian ideal if our voracious consumption appetite keeps growing and our behaviour doesn’t change to consuming less and preventing negative impacts on our planet’s natural resources and ecosystems. How can Sustainable and Circular thinking become the norm for 7.7billon people? This improved way of thinking needs to initiate by a groundswell of supporting stakeholders to pilot, play out, and prove the urgency and workability of Circularity within the engines of economic growth for our world.
We’re becoming ever more interconnected through technology and transport infrastructure as a Global Community. We need to understand and believe that there is a possibility that Humankind can be deleted from this planet. And we need to consider whether we believe enough in the limits of this world’s resource and our lifestyle impacts. We need to question our willingness and desire to change our mindsets to accepting Circular and Sustainable principles for economic activities, natural wellbeing and the evolving nature of our Humankind on this planet.
On the positive side, if we decide that Circular and Sustainable thinking have principles that want to fully embrace as the norm for a Global Community then we can learn from some innovative, resilient, focused and adaptable companies. Siemens is one such company – it’s been thriving for 170yrs – basically it’s had Sustainability built into its operating programme before Sustainability became part of the corporate language. Siemens is by no means a perfect company and has had its share of commercial failures, cultural and social upheavals and financial scandals – but here in 2019 it is successful. The company is consistently innovating, and new information annually steers its direction to remain a successful company into the future. Its tag-line is ‘Ingenuity for Life’ and the CEO Joe Kaeser is quoted as saying “… if you’re not in business to improve Society – then you shouldn’t be in business.” This is Big Picture understanding.
Being resilient (sense of purpose) and externally focused (understanding the limits to your ability to operate alone while understanding your impacts on your surrounds) in the face of ambiguity and change is a theme that is represented across successful businesses. A responsible, transparent, efficient, optimized, lean and agile business environment is a Circular thinking environment where risks to success are quantified in terms of inputs and outputs to the business.
Circularity thinking starts with the questions ‘Why is it needed…?’ and addresses all aspects of creating and using the ‘thing’ until it is no longer needed… so that the resource value is not lost and instead it’s repurposed, or reused, or readjusted, or put back into the system mix for the creation of something that is needed. There are challenges and opportunities that we all face in transitioning our societies to Circular economic models and here are a few of them.
- Economic Societies reluctant to transition to Circular thinking due to their Short-term myopic views and four-year politicking ego mindsets instead of Long-term impact strategy focus;
- How do we get consensus for collective Circular Economy agreements among 7+Billion people? Can the efforts shown by World Leaders in Global Climate Change Agreements be a springboard for understanding that Agreement in Principle is possible in CE thinking? (Resource Efficiency and Sustainability Principles);
- Pace of technology change – is there capability for sustained agility in our economic operating systems? Evolving systems for both the people and the technology;
- How to select best CE options for most beneficial outcome? How to Lead the thinking and behaviour shifts?
- Gap in collaborative industry determination to develop critical mass rollout solutions for maximum impact. No one company/ corporation wants to take the risk (investment, shareholder agreement and payback issues). How to spread the risk and the gains on a global scale – the focus of which is collective leadership and influence and trust among corporate entities?
- Legislation/ Regulation e.g. 2015 EU CE package targets 65% recycling rates on ALL waste by 2030.
Unintended consequences of established legislative barriers to the CE development e.g. Wastes: the various type, the components, definitions, and legal transport logistics of it.
- Start small in local economic communities, or business networks or economic sectors to prove the concepts of CE possibilities.… there is always a possibility for a thriving beneficial world order that promotes positive shared actions for a Global Community – it must come from shared agreements and consensus and strong and inspirational leadership.
- Rethinking the existing economic and business models, acknowledging the need for systemic changes, willingness by companies to experiment with models and ability to forge ahead with solutions among themselves – instead of businesses being stymied by enviro and economic regulatory barriers preventing them via compliance issues ‘not permitted to…’
- True Sustainability = Symbiotic working relationships among all stakeholders along the supply chains.
- What sectors of the economy are most primed for transition to Circular operating models? Perhaps those which are inherently built for precision and safety components (bio-pharma, medical devices, food chain supply etc) – they likelyhave QA/QC detail of each component that can directly and immediately affect the health of people – therefore the barcode of info on the product is already robust enough for trust among a network of stakeholders who want to trade in recycling, refurbishing, repurposing, reusing the components?
- Sustainability, Circular Thinking and the Big Picture Design Engineering concepts, ethos and sense of purpose should be the fundamental basis for a University degree curriculum in Manufacturing for the Future courses?
- Understanding that Energy Efficiency & Conservation = the 1st Fuel (as per EU).
About Geraldine A. Cusack:
Geraldine A. Cusack is a chartered engineer and a chartered water and environmental manager: Bachelor’s Degree in Geology (engineering) and Master’s degree is in Energy (economics & enviro legislation). Geraldine’s technical background (geological engineering, mineral resources, and environmental hydrogeology) and project work previously focused in environmental consulting throughout the US, in IRL & UK, Azerbaijan (Baku), Chile (Antofagasta). Geraldine now works in Siemens Ltd (Digital Industries) in Dublin Ireland driving and managing the Siemens Ltd Sustainability Programme and helps to implement sustainable and circular economy thinking and solutions for industry clients while promoting the mechanisms of electrification, automation and digitalization for decarbonization. Previously, she worked in Meath County Council Local Authority Infrastructure and Environmental departments and established and ran the Meath Energy Management Agency (MEMA). Her programme of work covered Environmental Protection Agency licenses, water infrastructure, renewable energy pilot projects, and energy management. Prior to working in the Irish public sector her career was in environmental engineering consulting for the peat energy sector in IRL and oil and gas upstream/downstream, pharmaceutical and mining industries in the United States. Geraldine is an active member of the Royal Irish Academy’s Climate Change & Environmental Sciences Committee (Vice-Chair 2018-2022) and the Future Earth Ireland Committee and was nominated by the RIA to serve on the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) on the Circular Economy (CE) Working Group 2015/16. Geraldine has also contributed to the Engineers Ireland State of Ireland 2017 report & participated in the Royal Academy of Engineering (UK) 2018 Symposium: Frontiers of Engineering for Development programme –Circular Economy. Geraldine represents Siemens on IBEC’s Environmental Policy Committee and is Chairperson of IBEC’s Resource Efficiency Working Group, and is an active member of Sustainable Nation Ireland’s 40for30 Sustainable Business Leaders Network.