On 11th May 2017 we hosted a stakeholder engagement event exploring public perceptions of the circular economy that was attended by 30 high level guests, including researchers, policy makers, government officials, and heads of industry.
As businesses look to experiment with circular economy approaches, understanding how people feel about the new models, products and customer relationships involved will be crucial to their success. Social scientists from Cardiff University conducted an extensive set of public workshops to learn how people respond when presented with ideas like sharing their hedge trimmer with their neighbour, buying their washing machine and clean clothes as a service, or taking their detergent bottles back for a refill. Aiming to interest businesses, policymakers and researchers working on the circular economy, the workshop was a unique opportunity to hear about the initial findings of Cardiff’s research from Professor Nick Pidgeon and to shape their on-going analysis.
Exploring six aspects of the circular economy (products, business, ownership, community, waste and lifestyles) the event discussed the implications of the research findings for business and policy. A main outcome of the event was to identify a range of key challenges that need to be overcome in order to move towards a more circular economy. These included:
How to inspire trust concerning consumer-to-business and peer-to-peer relationships?
How to encourage the convenient and secure repair of products and technology often considered essential and hard to part with (e.g., mobile phones and laptops)?
How to overcome categorisation of product categories as unsuitable for sharing, leasing, remanufacturing etc?
Overall, the event was extremely successful in highlighting the importance of public perceptions and attitudes towards achieving a more circular future.
We are pleased to announce the 2nd Conference on Product Lifetimes and the Environment, PLATE 2017, which will take place in Delft, from 8-10 November, 2017. PLATE 2017 is the second international conference to address product lifetimes in the context of sustainability. It is the meeting place for researchers, designers, practitioners, and educators from a broad range of traditions and communities from all around the world.
An increase in product lifetimes and a move to a more circular economy are increasingly recognized as essential elements in resource efficiency, waste reduction and low carbon strategies for sustainability. For this reason, the first PLATE conference was held in 2015 at Nottingham Trent University, UK, which brought together over 100 academic researchers and industry representatives with a shared interest in tackling the detrimental effect of our consumption through product longevity. To continue this success, the PLATE 2017 Conference will be held at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering at Delft University of Technology.
The conference will provide a great opportunity to review the current state of research in this emerging field of knowledge. Academic researchers, industry representatives and policy stakeholders are invited to share their experiences and debate the implications of product longevity for environmental, economic and social sustainability.
A not-so-quiet repair revolution is taking place in communities across Britain. Consumers, fed up with having to throw away broken phones, toasters and other appliances, are instead meeting to learn how to repair them and to extend the lifetime of their products. These repair “pop-up parties”, where like-minded people can improve or learn new skills in a supportive environment, can prevent still-useful products from ending up in the bin, while saving money.
The number of electrical appliances and devices in UK households tripled between 1970 and 2002 and it continues to grow – the average household now owns around 41 electrical items. Many products develop simple faults which are challenging for the amateur to repair, resulting in replacement products being purchased and equipment with small faults being disposed of. For many consumers, repair is now only an option for high cost items such as cars and personal computers, or for household fixtures such as heating systems – washing machines, kettles and toasters are easier just to throw away.
The ability to repair goods is key to maintaining the functionality of products and delaying, or avoiding, their disposal. The government recognises the value of repair as part of a waste reduction strategy, and the Welsh and Scottish governments have also signalled strong backing for practical action that encourages a circular economy. In Sweden, there are plans to reduce the VAT on repair work from 25% to 12%, and in France there are penalties for “planned obsolescence”, intentionally producing goods with short lives. Germany and Spain have also been looking at the issue.
Restarts and pop-ups
Community-based organisations are providing innovative approaches to the repair of a variety of products including clothing and electrical equipment. Access to information, spare parts and tools is available on websites like iFixit, which publishes guides that teach people “how to fix almost anything” and invites users to create new ones.
The London-based Restart Project is a community-based repair initiative that runs a forum for motivated individuals to attempt repairs that extend the working lifetime of a variety of items, concentrating primarily on electrical and electronic equipment, and promotes awareness of recycling routes for items they can’t fix.
Restart also arranges pop-up events, where members of the public can take along broken electrical items and attempt to repair them with some support. Restart do not charge a membership fee, and admission to the events they organise is also free. Their aim is simply to enable repair to help extend the lifetime of electrical and electronic equipment and reduce the number of these items that become waste. Restart’s volunteers act as “repair coaches”.
They are also social gatherings, so even if repairs are unsuccessful, participants are still happy to go along and have a go.
Despite the good work being done, the repair network is complex and fragmented – there could be more of them, more widely located, and better known to consumers. Some consumers lack the skills, knowledge or confidence to attempt repairs, even when the resources are available. In a recent study conducted in partnership with The Restart Project, we asked participants at pop-up repair events about their previous experiences of repair. We also asked them about their recycling behaviours and their experiences at the pop-ups. Over half the participants had previously attempted to repair items on their own with different levels of success.
Confidence appears to play an important role in willingness to attempt repairs. It’s often easy to learn how to repair and purchase the tools and parts online, but the compact design of electricals and electronics often makes it an unforgiving task. Pop-up repair events offer a supportive environment in which you can receive help and support completing repairs, building your confidence.
Participants also described a lack of trust in commercial repair services with nearly half of the participants unable to name a repairer they trusted. Several mentioned that the perceived cost of a repair would discourage them from using local, paid-for repair services.
Informal community-based enterprises such as The Restart Project appear ideally placed to develop local networks and respond to the gap in trust.
We also identified that participants were less likely to recycle their electrical items than other waste such as paper, glass and tins. This is a problem because electrical items contain materials which require large energy inputs to create and transport. Nevertheless, pop-up repair events may be able to encourage correct disposal of broken and unwanted household items by telling people how best to dispose of them.
Pop-up repair events, such as those organised by Restart, have the potential to reinvigorate our enthusiasm for repair.
On the 15th February CIEMAP researcher Jannik Giesekam participated in the Healthy Buildings Conference and Expo, organised by the Alliance for Sustainable Building Products (ASBP) and hosted by UCL. The conference focussed on how careful product selection can have a positive influence on occupant and planetary health. Expert speakers addressed current occupant health issues such as overheating, moisture and mould, and indoor air quality and explored how building products can exacerbate the problem or provide a solution. Jannik gave a presentation on the importance of low carbon, resource efficient building products in maintaining a healthy planet. Jannik also chaired a session on ‘Problem solving with healthy products’ and participated in a panel discussion answering the question ‘What do we need to do to increase the uptake of healthy products?’. All presentations from the day are available from the ASBP site.
This book introduces the Eora, Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP) and World Input-Output (WIOD) databases and provides detailed metadata on the data sources, database structures and construction techniques used to build each system. It offers a detailed account of how multi-regional input–output (MRIO) databases are used to calculate consumption-based accounts – guiding the reader through each mathematical step and explaining the associated equations. It demonstrates that different MRIO databases calculate different national level consumption-based CO2 accounts. If these results are to be used as evidence in climate policy-making, analysts need to be confident about the accuracy of the databases and understand why the results differ.
It carefully explains the mathematical equations behind each technique and provides a link to a repository where the reader can access specially prepared MATLAB functions associated with the techniques.
To make meaningful comparisons between the three MRIO databases, each is mapped to a consistent classification system comprising 40 countries and 17 sectors. Further, readers can access the aggregated databases using the link provided. The effect of this aggregation is shown to be minimal, so readers can be confident that the aggregated versions of each database reflect the full-sized versions.
The book concludes by making recommendations as to how future MRIO databases could be accurately and consistently constructed and how they should be used in policy-making in light of the findings.
Energy efficiency is often seen as a win-win: falling energy use benefits consumers and the environment, whilst it also allows the economy to grow. However, our recent research into energy rebound or ‘take back’ (when energy efficiency can be cancelled out by changes in people’s behaviour) suggests it may hamper the effectiveness of policy aimed at reducing energy use and its associated carbon emissions.
Why we need more policy ‘headroom’ Climate change is rightly seen as the biggest threat to our planet. Since energy related CO2 emissions are 80 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, a significant policy effort has been focused on reducing energy use and decarbonising energy supply. The problem of energy rebound has been known since Jevons highlighted it over 150 years ago, when he suggested that energy efficiency may increase – not decrease – energy use.
Our research estimated the size of overall national level rebound for the UK and, in line with other studies, we found evidence for a partial rebound effect: where only around 70 per cent of planned savings actually occur.
Some might wonder if this means we should abandon efficiency as part of the solution. The short answer is no. Instead, we should remember that energy efficiency policies are still working, just not quite as well as we hoped. The way to address rebound in this case is to build in sufficient policy ‘headroom’, increasing energy efficiency targets to allow for predicted energy take back via rebound.
What about the industrialising world? We also looked at the case of China, and found evidence for possible ‘backfire’, where energy use is actually higher than before energy efficiency technologies were introduced. Why is this so? It suggests that larger rebounds occur in industrialising countries (the UK in Jevons’ time), as efficiency accelerates the cycle of lowering the cost of production, thereby increasing production, and further reducing costs.
So is rebound in this case a bad thing? Again, no. Energy efficiency was done for economic reasons long before we knew about climate change. Helping to lower the cost of energy services has had wide social benefits in the spread of lighting, transport, heating etc, greatly improving quality of life for millions across the globe. But now those benefits need to be balanced against the need to cut CO2 emissions.
The presence of backfire suggests a different response to the policy headroom suggested for the UK. If we think of renewables and energy efficiency as two policy dials, then, if the energy efficiency dial isn’t working to reduce energy demand due to backfire, the renewables dial should be turned up to compensate and ensure we can keep global warming within target limits.
Renewables ‘rebound’ is a good thing If renewables are undercutting fossil-based power, won’t their cheaper price lead to something akin to rebound too? Perhaps, but an increase in energy use due to falling renewables prices may (in contrast to energy efficiency induced rebound) be beneficial for cutting climate change emissions, if it lowers the cost of renewables further and accelerates the displacement of fossil fuels with cheaper, clean energy.
Rebound gets a lot of interest from policy contrarians, and our research suggests that it’s a significant challenge for rapidly industrialising countries. But energy efficiency has improved lives across the world and its benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Rather than allowing rebound to cast doubt on the policy, we just need to better understand the scale of rebound, and respond appropriately: by building headroom into our energy efficiency policies in the UK and speeding up the renewables transition to deal with backfire.
This post is by Paul Brockway, research fellow at the University of Leeds. He examines roles and relationships between energy, economy and society as part of UKERC’s research programme.
Guido Schmidt-Traib, the Executive Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, opened with a talk inspiring us, as scientists, to think creatively about the challenges ahead. The SDGs are to be implemented universally and provide a framework with the aim to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all – not an easy task. The SDGs comprise of 17 goals and 169 associated targets, for example to eradicate poverty, provide quality education for all, and implement affordable and clean energy.
We set to work in small groups, with a deliberate disciplinary mix, to develop a collaborative 3 year funding proposal to contribute to at least one of the SDGs. We were encouraged to develop a solution-focused research approach, to identify our target audience and to think about how to engage with them throughout the course of the project. We were to build on the expertise and strengths of our working group.
In just 3 hours, my group had developed an ambitious 3 year proposal to create sustainable and resilient agricultural communities in rural Indonesia, a topic quite far from my research on climate mitigation policy in the UK. We set out to investigate and find solutions for (1) the social sustainability of agriculture in Indonesia, which is dominated by Multi-national Corporation’s production of palm oil; (2) the environmental impacts of different agricultural practices, which are currently depleting the areas forests and biodiversity; and (3) the economic sustainability of business practices in the region and opportunities to diversify community income. Through discussion we were able to identify how our different strengths and skills could be put to practice. I research the environmental and social impacts of global supply chains and could look at the global implications of unsustainable production processes, the social imbalances among producers and consumers, and the potential risks to business supply chains. Everyone in the group was able to contribute, and it was a definite strength of our proposal.
Whilst a challenge, there was definitely momentum for truly interdisciplinary research that shows a clear route to having impact on the ground. It needs researchers to be proactive and get out and talk to people, even when the connection might not be so obvious. In 20 years’ time the research landscape could look quite different than today’s. It is likely that more priority will be placed on interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving, and there was support for more emphasis to be placed on research impact compared to a publication benchmark. As Early Career Researchers we can help shape this.
On Tuesday 29th November he presented at the annual Carbon Crunch event at the Institution of Civil Engineers in London. This event is the annual follow up to the Infrastructure Carbon Review. Jannik’s presentation focused on building-on-the-paris-agreement (The role of low carbon construction in the UK) and other speakers at the event included representatives from National Grid, Yorkshire Water, Costain, BSI, Mott MacDonald and the Infrastructure Client Group.
Dr Marco Sakai, Dr Kate Scott and Prof John Barrett of the CIE-MAP Centre argue that measuring carbon emissions by consumption rather than production would more accurately and fairly allocate responsibility for meeting climate change targets.
As the COP22 UN Climate Change conference drew to a close in Morocco last week, many of the world’s nations were reinforcing their commitment to mitigating climate change and attempting to meet global emissions targets. To honour these pledges, countries must have accurate ways of measuring what their emissions are and how they are decreasing or increasing. Moreover, the question of who is ultimately responsible for the emissions (regardless of where they happen geographically) has continued to be a contested issue that has proved difficult to bring into the negotiations.
This is a complex technical and political issue. The question of what is the most appropriate means of measuring emissions has been debated for as long as there have been targets. While the UN community of nations recognises the common responsibility to address climate change, there is of course a huge variety in the extent and ability to cut emissions in different countries across the world. The issue of whether developing nations should be expected to reduce emissions at the same rate as developed nations – as the former strive to ‘catch up’ – is also a major debate. As the extent of action needed to reduce climate change has become apparent, the Paris Agreement has broadened the scope by including developing nations. Thus, all nations are expected to address their emissions irrespective of country classifications.
This area is a major focus of the Centre for Industrial Energy, Materials and Products (CIE-MAP). In a recent paper, they have explored the possibilities of changing the way emissions are accounted for.
Production-based vs consumption-based accounting
Internationally, responsibility for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is normally measured according to a production-based (PB) accounting approach. This method focusses on greenhouse gases emitted within the borders of a particular country. However, this approach does not account for emissions created by demand for products from other countries. For example, if a shipment of plastic toys is produced in China to meet demand in the UK, the environmental impact of the production and shipping process is created by UK importers and consumers. So with PB accounting some of the environmental impact of the consumer nation can be hidden from the figures.
Given the complexity of the global economy, researchers argue that other methods must be explored. With consumption-based (CB) accounting all the emissions that occurred in the course of production and distribution to the final consumers of goods and services are considered, and would be allocated to the consumer country.
The future of carbon accounting?
Many experts favour a switch to CB accounting, as it would change the dynamics of how we look at the problem and shift accountability. With 20-25% of overall CO2 emissions created from the production of internationally traded products, more responsibility would be placed on the importers (consumers) than the exporters. As developed countries tend to import more and developing countries export more, the onus would be placed on the developed nations to reduce the emissions created by their demand for products from exporters. This would in turn mean that the importing countries would need to address their policies regarding reducing consumer demand and reducing internal emissions to offset the higher burden. They may also seek to influence the production and transportation processes of their suppliers in the developing world.
There are arguments for and against switching to CB accounting (or creating a blend of different methods) and it is a highly complicated and technical issue – which is covered in much more detail in our paper. But in this brief overview we can see that in the global effort to mitigate climate change, it is important to locate the root causes of CO2 emissions in order to address the problem most effectively. We conclude that a complete redesign of the international climate change regime in favour of CB accounting seems unlikely at this stage. Yet, we believe that mandatory reporting of CB emissions should be encouraged. This would allow the international community to design effective policies and tools to mitigate emissions embodied in trade.