Evaluating approaches to resource management in consumer product sectors – An overview of global practices

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Highlights

Products were evaluated based on practical approaches to prolong product lifetimes and close material cycles.

An overview of current best practices was presented based on the evaluation of 519 consumer products.

Study identified 145 examples of the current ‘best practice’ that could lead sustainable innovations in the studied sectors.

Studied identified a huge gap in current business models that do not focus on value recovery from post-consumer discards.

Major barriers and opportunities to the best practices for a wider implementation were highlighted.

Abstract

Addressing global sustainability challenges associated with natural resource security and climate change requires new perspective on waste and resource management. Sustainability-driven business model innovations have a crucial role in transforming current, unsustainable, production and consumption patterns by slowing product replacement and closing material cycles. This study identifies best practice across a range of consumer product sectors. The study developed a novel methodology to identify and evaluate practical approaches to resource efficiency and the circular economy in order to reduce energy and material demand in these product sectors. These approaches include durable product design, enhanced repair and upgrade services, and product take-back. The study analysed 519 products and identified a total 145 examples of best practice within their respective product sectors that provide important insights into planning more circular business models in a range of product sectors. The paper highlights major barriers to, and opportunities, for wider implementation of these practices.

An assessment of achievements of the WEEE Directive in promoting movement up the waste hierarchy: experiences in the UK

Rapidly developing technology and an increasing number of products containing electrical or electronic functions, has led to discarded electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) being one of the fastest growing waste streams. The European Union (EU) has enacted several iterations of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive to address this complex waste stream. However, recycling dominates treatments for e-waste, despite the established ‘waste hierarchy’ showing waste prevention and reuse are generally preferable to recycling.

This paper reports on 30 semi-structured interviews, undertaken across the EEE value chain, examining the impact of the WEEE Directive in the UK. The interviews confirmed that reuse takes place for a limited number of product types, mostly on a small scale. Additionally, whilst legislation has prompted innovation in recycling and higher capture rates, resource recovery is in practice limited to easily salvageable materials, whilst recovery of critical raw materials is often neglected. Furthermore, there is confusion around available collection networks, particularly for small WEEE, which consistently appears in residual waste streams.

The waste hierarchy remains the key component of EU waste strategy and moving to the higher levels of the waste hierarchy is an essential part of achieving sustainable waste management and moving towards a circular economy. The paper proposes a series of measures to this end: promoting recovery routes and practices that facilitate reuse of suitable products, adapting recycling technology to increase recovery of critical raw materials and targeted policies to encourage the application of the waste hierarchy within a resource efficiency-oriented framework.

Read the full paper from Christine Cole, Alex Gnanapragasam, Tim Cooper, and Jagdeep Singh here.

Factors Influencing Upcycling for UK Makers

Changing consumer behaviour can reduce environmental impacts. Upcycling is one of the understudied yet promising, environmentally sustainable behaviours that has the potential to contribute to the reduction of waste and greenhouse gas emissions. This paper addresses this knowledge gap by exploring factors influencing upcycling for UK makers. The study employed a survey based on Triandis’s theory of interpersonal behaviour and Ajzen’s theory of planned behaviour. The survey results revealed key determinants of upcycling as attitude, intention, and subjective norm, and demographic characteristics of people who are more likely to upcycle frequently as females aged 30+ working in art and design. The paper further discusses the theoretical and practical implications of the study.

Read the full paper from Kyungeun Sung and Tim Cooper here.

Public acceptance of resource-efficiency strategies to mitigate climate change

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Rapid action to improve resource efficiency is essential for achieving climate mitigation goals. As they are likely to reshape everyday life in unexpected ways, new products, policies and business models will need to consider the public acceptability of resource-efficiency strategies, as well as the technical emission-reduction potential. Here, using consumption-based emissions modelling and deliberative public workshops, we find considerable public support for a range of resource-efficiency strategies that combined could reduce the carbon footprint in the United Kingdom by up to 29 Mt of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) emissions (a 39% emissions reduction from household products, such as cars, clothing, electronics, appliances and furniture).
Public acceptability is already high for strategies that aim to develop more resource-efficient products. Strategies that aim to encourage product sharing and extend product lifetimes were also perceived positively, although acceptance was dependent on meeting other important conditions, such as trustworthiness, responsibility, fairness, affordability, convenience, safety and hygiene.

Why Is Ownership an Issue? Exploring Factors That Determine Public Acceptance of Product-Service Systems

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Abstract

Shifting away from ownership towards access-based consumption, innovative new business models known as product-service systems (PSS) are advocated as part of a more circular, resource efficient economy. With product ownership (and responsibility for repair) remaining with providers, pay-per-use services are promoted as one such model, which can both increase product longevity and reduce the ‘burdens of ownership’ on consumers. However, PSS also require public acceptance of access-based consumption, including the long-term use of non-owned products and a range of accompanying contractual obligations. We conducted a series of deliberative workshops with the public, aiming to explore the concept of pay-per-use PSS and the role that concerns about ownership and responsibility may have in determining public acceptance. Rather than focusing on innate desires for product ownership, we found that participants’ concerns regarding pay-per-use PSS were usually related to wider fears surrounding the risks and responsibilities of entering into contract-based service agreements. Identifying four public narratives of service provision (Ownership and convenience; Risk and responsibility; Affordability and security; Care and control), we argue that successful introduction of PSS will only be possible if careful consideration is given to deeply held values pertaining to ownership, responsibility and trust that influence such cultural understandings. View Full-Text

A comparative thermodynamic evaluation of bioethanol processing from wheat straw

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Abstract

The thermodynamic implications of different bioethanol production routes from wheat straw (a cellulosic co-product or ‘waste’ stream) have been evaluated. Comparative thermodynamic (energy and exergy) analysis gives rise to alternative insights into the relative performance of various process chains. Energy analysis of four different production paths were firstly analysed via the consideration of mechanical work, temperature changes and separating techniques. The Net Energy Value (NEV) of each production path or route was then evaluated, including the effect of system boundary expansion. In contrast, the thermodynamic property known as ‘exergy’ reflects the ability of undertake ‘useful work’, but does not represent well heating processes. Exergetic efficiencies were consequently obtained via chemical and physical exergy calculations, along with some of the electrical inputs to the different processes. The exergetic ’improvement potentials’ of the process stages were then determined using the exergetic efficiencies and irreversibility values respectively. These estimates will enable industrialists and policy makers to take account of some of the ramifications of alternative bioethanol production routes in a low carbon future.

Keywords

Bioethanol production
Wheat straw
Biofuel blends
Thermodynamic analysis

Is sharing the solution? Exploring public acceptability of the sharing economy

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Abstract

Advocated as a solution to a range of economic, environmental and social problems, the sharing economy has grown rapidly in recent years. However, despite rising up the political agenda, the concept has been increasingly critiqued in relation to unintended economic and social consequences. Whilst existing research has explored the motivations of existing participants in sharing-based practices and business models, little is yet known about wider public perceptions of the sharing economy. Investigating public discourses, this paper explores how citizens may respond to attempts to mainstream the sharing economy, discussing wider desires and concerns surrounding the concept. In a series of four two-day workshops (n = 51), we utilised deliberative research methods to engage participants in discussion surrounding the sharing economy and its role within a more sustainable, resource efficient future. Overall, positive perceptions dominated discussions, with participants independently highlighting reduced waste and resource use, increased access to unaffordable goods, and increased community cohesion as key benefits of sharing. However, echoing existing critiques, a number of concerns were also raised. Our findings suggest that, in addition to personal interests (such as affordability, convenience, and hygiene), public acceptability of the sharing economy was contingent on it meeting a number of broader social values. These include desire to: foster social equality, in relation to both the opportunity and benefits promised by the sharing economy; encourage and support the development of strong and independent local communities; and ensure that business practices operate fairly in the shared interest of business, consumers and the environment. Given the implications for everyday life and consumption practices, we argue public perspectives need to be given consideration within the debate surrounding which aspects of the sharing economy should, and should not, be fostered.

Keywords: sharing economy; sustainable consumption; public perceptions’ discourses; deliberative research

Industrial energy, materials and products: UK decarbonisation challenges and opportunities

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Abstract

The United Kingdom (UK) has placed itself on a transition pathway towards a low carbon economy and society, through the imposition of a legally-binding target aimed at reducing its ‘greenhouse gas’ (GHG) emissions by 80% by 2050 against a 1990 baseline. Reducing industrial energy demand could make a substantial contribution towards this decarbonisation goal, while simultaneously improving productivity and creating employment opportunities. Both fossil fuel and process GHG emissions will need to be significantly reduced by 2050. Ultimately, all industrial energy use and emissions result from the demand for goods and services. Energy is required at each stage in the manufacture of a product from raw material extraction through to the final distribution and eventual disposal. The required energy and associated GHG emissions along UK supply chains emanate from many different countries, due to the growth of globalisation. A range of socio-technical methods for analysing decarbonisation have therefore been explored. Efficiency gains can be made in industry, including those associated with the use of heat and with improvements in processing. Changes in the materials needed to manufacture products (via material substitution, light-weighting and ‘circular economy’ interventions) can also lead to emissions reductions. Likewise, altering the way the final consumer (industry, households or government) use products, including through product longevity and shifts from goods to services, can further reduce energy demand. The findings of an interdisciplinary study of industrial decarbonisation is therefore reported. This gave rise to the identification of the associated challenges, insights and opportunities, in part stemming from the development of a novel set of 2050 decarbonisation ‘technology roadmaps’ for energy-intensive industries in the UK. These determinations provide a valuable evidence base for industrialists, policy makers, and other stakeholders. The lessons learned are applicable across much of the wider industrialised world.

Aligning carbon targets for construction with (inter)national climate change mitigation commitments

CIEMAP researcher Jannik Giesekam has published a new article in a Special Issue of Energy and Buildings. The Special Issue is titled Embodied Energy and Carbon Efficiency: The Next Major Step Towards Zero-Impact Buildings. The paper presents a review of the carbon reduction targets set by the largest UK construction firms and discusses the challenges in aligning these with sectoral and national carbon reduction commitments. This follows on from prior CIEMAP work demonstrating the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions from construction activity.

Abstract:

In the face of a changing climate, a growing number of construction firms are adopting carbon reduction targets on individual projects and across their portfolios. In the wake of the Paris Agreement, some firms are seeking a means of aligning their targets with sectoral, national and international mitigation commitments. There are numerous ways by which such an alignment can be achieved, each requiring different assumptions. Using data from the UK construction industry, this paper reviews current company commitments and progress in carbon mitigation; analyses the unique challenges in aligning construction targets, and presents a series of possible sectoral decarbonisation trajectories. The results highlight the disparity between current company targets and the range of possible trajectories. It is clear that a cross-industry dialogue is urgently required to establish an appropriate response that delivers both a widely-accepted target trajectory and a plan for its delivery. This paper is intended to stimulate and support this necessary debate by illustrating the impact of different methodological assumptions and highlighting the critical features of an appropriate response.

Read the full paper at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enbuild.2018.01.023

 

Thermodynamic insights and assessment of the ‘circular economy’

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Abstract

This study analyses the effect on energy use of applying a wide range of circular economy approaches. By collating evidence on specific quantifiable approaches and then calculating and analyzing their combined full supply chain impacts through input-output analysis, it provides a more complete assessment of the overall potential scope for energy savings that these approaches might deliver than provided elsewhere. Assessment is conducted globally, across the EU-27 and in the UK.

Overall, the identified opportunities have the potential to save 6%–11% of the energy used to support economic activity, worldwide and in the EU, and 5%–8% in the UK. Their potential is equivalent to the total scope for other industrial energy efficiency savings.

The potential savings are further divided into those due to sets of approaches relating to food waste, steel production, other materials production, product refurbishment, vehicle provision, construction and other equipment manufacture. Each of these sets of approaches can make a key contribution to the total savings that are possible.

Complementary use of energy and exergy metrics illustrates the way in which energy use might change and for the first time provides indication that in most cases other energy efficiency measures are unlikely to be adversely affected by the circular economy approaches.

Potential for savings in the energy embodied in each key product input to each major sector is assessed, enabling prioritization of the areas in which the circular economy approaches have the greatest scope for impact and identification of supply chains for which they are underrepresented.

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