Castlefield Symposium – Circular Economy
This year marked our 3rd annual symposium. Our annual events take the opportunity to explore emerging issues concerning the businesses we invest in and the potential environmental and social risks they face. On this occasion we unpacked ideas surrounding the Circular Economy with the help of an expert panel and the wonderful Catherine Weetman as our keynote speaker. We discussed how excessive consumption within a linear economic model has led to a "take, make, dispose" approach to the use of goods. This leads to inevitable environmental destruction due to resource extraction and a tremendous amount of waste. These issues, amongst others, have caused some to propose that a drastic shift is needed, to an economy which is cyclical in nature.
Keynote Speaker - Catherine Weetman
Catherine started the event by explaining to the audience the many benefits of incorporating circularity into business models. She described how utilising by-products and extending stewardship over the goods produced could engender resilience. Recovering materials that would otherwise be disposed of leads to the creation of a loop and increases the value that can be extracted from products already in existence. One particularly stark example of assets that are currently not being used came in the form of gold in outdated electronic devices. Gold is extracted in increasingly geopolitically unstable regions of the world to keep pace with demand. However, there is already a plentiful supply in unrecycled electronic waste. Catherine explained that, on average, one tonne of gold ore yields only 5g of gold. Whereas, one tonne of recycled e-waste produces 150g of gold. This indicates that recycling programs can lead to a higher yielding source of raw materials than traditional extraction processes. This, along with other case studies, are explored in her book “A Circular Economy Handbook for Business and Supply Chains” (https://www.rethinkglobal.info/circular-economy-handbook/)
Presentation by Catherine Weetman
Following Catherine’s speech there was a panel discussion led by Castlefield Adviser, Olivia Bowen. Richard Burnett (Market Sector Manager at James Cropper Paper) started the discussion by emphasising the importance of collaboration between businesses in order to close the loop and turn our linear economy into a circular one. The power of a lone actor is enhanced when large businesses offer their backing to keep resources within the supply chain and prevent waste. Peter Atkinson (CEO of MacFarlane Group – which we hold in our UK Smaller Companies Fund) was keen to point out the pivotal role that education plays in sparking large-scale change. Castlefield Head of Client Investments, Simon Holman, was optimistic about the potential for a shift in culture to bring about these changes. He felt there was a greater level of awareness amongst consumers of the resource use that underpins their purchasing decisions. Consequently, this will lead to different consumption patterns and corporate behaviour will alter as a result. Catherine Weetman agreed, and went on to say that the interconnected nature of the modern world had made it increasingly possible for consumers to engage with large businesses to demand improvements. She cited the example of the pressure placed on a popular crisp manufacturer to provide recycling facilities for their packets. Susan Harris, (Technical Director of Resource Efficiency at Anthesis Group) expanded on this to say that individuals are more aware than ever of the power they hold to influence business and will not buy products that have been manufactured in a way that they do not agree with. Consumers view the pound in their pocket is a vote that can be used to endorse practices that meet their ideals of what is fair. She went on to give examples of how people can support better procedures, she mentioned certification schemes such as the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) in order to ensure that garments have not been made with raw materials grown in conditions that are detrimental to others and the planet.
In addition to excellent conversations and interesting ideas, the setting for our evening was in keeping with the company motto of Thoughtful Investing and the values this represents. We opted to host the event in the Clink Café, a venue run by a charity that aims to cut reoffending rates through training prisoners to work in hospitality. The graduates from this programme work in the café and hone their skills upon release. To find out more about the charity and their important work, please look at their website: https://theclinkcharity.org/the-charity. The vegetarian and vegan food, organic wine and ambience were a brilliant accompaniment to the important issues discussed throughout the evening.
David Elton, Panellist - Peter Atkinson, Simon Holman