Circular Economy, Insight

Process Optimisation and the Circular Economy – can you have one without the other?

Panalpina, 2019
Panalpina, 2019

Blog post author: Katy Huckle (PARC Co-ordinator)

PARC Insight: Is optimisation always sustainable? This short blog post discusses the relationship between process improvement and sustainability

Following the recent iLEGO event at Cardiff University, I got to thinking about how we at Panalpina are constantly collecting ideas on improving efficiency and optimising supply chain processes, using tools such as value stream mapping, kaizen workshops, and track-and-trace. The goal of these tools is to make things work faster, better and for longer.

Simultaneously, as a research centre, PARC is committed to the circular economy and to helping local businesses to improve their circularity and sustainability. The circular economy is focused on re-use and recycling to prevent valuable materials from leaving the supply chain. In a fully circular model, raw materials are sourced from waste product, so that no new inputs are required, and nothing is wasted.

Now it is time to start joining the dots between the two. Wherever lean-inspired process improvements are implemented, the relative impact on circularity or sustainability should also be measured. I predict that optimisation is, in most cases, more sustainable, and vice versa.

The iLEGO speakers provided numerous examples of waste “valorisation”; getting the value back out of waste or the concept of “my trash is your treasure”. Bread loaf ends used to brew beer. Cheap fruits turned into luxury compotes. Tired, old office furniture upcycled to better-than-new council upgrades. These are just a handful of cases of waste valorisation.

Most instances of improved circularity create a positive impact on:

– Waste reduction
– Profitability
– Growth

All of the above measures can be used to demonstrate both corporate sustainability and optimised efficiency.

We are currently experiencing major momentum in the field of circularity. Awareness of the issues created by single-use plastics has never been higher. Consumers are finally starting to wake up and pay attention to what they are throwing away and as a result organisations will need to listen and take note if they want to survive. For every single-use plastic producer there will be numerous alternative options for the ethically-conscious consumer.

Process optimisation to improve operational efficiency will go hand-in-hand with increased circularity to become more sustainable.

Conversations and partnerships between academia and organisations will bring major steps forward when it comes to implementing the cutting-edge ideas about sustainability generated through universities. Events such as the iLEGO are a wonderful example of the potential to create impact through collaboration.

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