November 27th, 2020
88% of Australian business leaders believe that the circular economy will be important at some level to the future of their organisations
However, 35% also identify ‘lack of information on how to implement circular economy principles’ as a barrier to implementing circular models
Edge fills this knowledge gap by helping businesses understand and implement the circular economy using resources like their Circularity Assessment tool (which provides businesses with a circularity rating based on their answers to ten questions)
Edge Environment is on a mission to remove the confusion around the circular economy. Founded with the vision of backing up circular business models with science, they facilitate partnerships across sectors, drive innovation and develop metrics for implementing the principles of circularity. Their data-driven approach has helped companies like Harris Farm and KeepCup embed the circular economy into their businesses. Edge has also worked extensively with public sector organisations and NGOs, providing tools to help them track their progress towards circularity and set goals for the future.
With expertise in everything from life cycle assessment, green infrastructure solutions to supply chain management, it’s no wonder we choose Edge Environment as the first Technical Supporters for the ACE Hub. The team at Edge will be helping us harness the power of data to fast-track Australia’s shift to a circular economy.
Here, we speak to Edge co-founder and CEO, Jonas Bengtsson, and Edge Principal Consultant and Chair of The Australian Mirror Committee ISO/ TC 323 – Circular Economy, Jenni Philippe, about the company’s evolution and their advice for organisations looking to become more circular.
Edge is a sustainability consultancy founded in 2008 by the Sydney-based Sustainable Built Environment team at Building Research Association Australia New Zealand (BRANZ). The founding directors set out to help catalyse change with scientific integrity at a time when sustainability decision-making and communication was often narrowly focussed on single issues, unsubstantiated environmental claims or ‘greenwashing’. Today, Edge has 35 staff in offices around Australia and America, with a service offering that includes economic analysis, climate change services, supply-chain management, sustainability strategy and planning.
Edge’s clients include government, NGOs, industry associations and corporations from sectors as varied as real estate, transport, finance, fast-moving consumer goods and entertainment. Edge has helped businesses implement Science Based Targets and partnered with the Chilean government to develop the country’s first national campaign against single-use products. Edge is a B Corporation, meaning they follow the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. They have also established a technology ‘spin-off’ company, BPI Rating tool, a business focused on increasing the uptake of sustainable and responsible building materials.
According to the Ellen MacArthur foundation, a circular economy is one that designs out waste, keeps products in use and regenerates natural systems. Edge’s vision is very much in-line with this wider vision of the circular economy. Citing the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Jonas explains: “When it comes to a shared vision of the future, circular economy is a concept most people can get behind and work towards because it cuts through a lot of the complexity. By definition, it's very clear what we're trying to achieve: a world where ‘waste and pollution do not exist by design, products and materials are in use, and natural systems are regenerated’”.
Over the last years, we've seen a significant shift. There’s a larger recognition that we're all going to have to make systemic shifts, not just minor tinkering around the edges — which we know doesn't really work. The ability to have those conversations has changed.
When Edge was founded over a decade ago, many companies were communicating incomplete or narrowly focused claims about the environmental performance of their products, which made it hard to make informed choices and, at worst, could be misleading. For example, a product could claim to be a good environmental choice because of the recycled content of its packaging, because it contained “natural ingredients” or was produced locally, regardless of the product’s climate or life cycle impact.
Edge saw an opportunity to address this issue by providing the science and evidence to inform decision-making. The company drives robust sustainability change by embedding scientific rigour and pragmatic solutions into policymaking and by developing guidelines, tools, certifications and benchmarks for businesses. One example is a tool developed for Transport for NSW that demonstrates the combined financial and environmental benefits of sustainability targets. Some organisations they have collaborated with include the Green Building Council of Australia in the development of Green Star, the Australian LCA Society in establishing the Environmental Programme Declaration (EPD) Australasia programme, and the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia in the development of the Material Calculator and assessment of construction materials.
“Understand your current impacts and get the evidence base before you progress to a strategic process,” is Edge’s advice for organisations wanting to become circular.
Edge’s scientific approach to consultancy is underpinned by a method called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). This methodology analyses the life cycle of products and services. It assesses impacts and benefits from material extraction and processing through to manufacturing, distribution and use, and finally, recycling or final disposal. LCA reveals the ‘hotspots’ – areas of significant environmental and social impact – of a product or service during its lifecycle. By identifying and understanding these hotspots, decision-makers can focus their strategies on areas that will deliver the most significant social and environmental benefits for their company. You can undertake a LCA of a product, such as a KeepCup, a city or an entire organisation.
“Once you’ve got your product or service’s lifecycle mapped out, you can use LCA to understand and manage trade-offs between life cycle stages and types of impacts” Jonas says. “For example, as we transition away from fossil fuels to reduce our reliance of non-renewable resources and to reduce pollution from fuel combustion, we need significant amounts of energy, metals and minerals for our renewable energy solutions. LCA helps clarify the trade-offs and break-even points to pursue the most sensible solutions and to help optimise our path towards a sustainable future.”
This holistic approach, paired with Edge’s technical capabilities, mean the company is well-placed to tackle the challenges presented by the circular economy.
“We are really lucky, from a circular economy perspective, to be able to draw upon strong existing practices and skills in strategy and supply chain, material flow analysis, stakeholder engagement and facilitation, resource recovery and waste and measurement and quantification of an impact,” Edge’s Principal Consultant, Jenni Philippe, explains. “All of that helps to be able to map and understand strategically what is happening and what needs to happen in order to become circular.”
When asked about where Edge is best positioned to contribute to the circular economy, Jonas points to three key areas:
Developing level-playing field methods and metrics for the circular economy that harmonises efforts across sectors and organisations.
Facilitating partnerships across sectors and geographical boundaries. “As consultants we have a unique opportunity to connect the dots and identify linkages,” Jonas explains.
Innovation — “a lot of our work naturally flows in the innovation space. We're not in the kind of space of providing business-as-usual solutions or small adjustments, if it doesn’t help the organisation future proof its products, services or organisation,” Jonas explains.
When Edge started, corporate strategies were very different from the sophisticated sustainability strategies we see today. Increasingly, Edge’s clients are recognising the urgency to act on sustainability, to set more ambitious goals and to develop measurement and metrics.
“Over the last years, we've seen a significant shift. There’s a larger recognition that we're all going to have to make systemic shifts, not just minor tinkering around the edges — which we know doesn't really work. The ability to have those conversations has changed,” Jonas explains.
The opportunities in Australia are vast. In the food industry, for instance, there is a huge push to better manage resources and reduce waste. Two of Edge’s recent projects focus on developing solutions for this sector. The company is using LCA to identify the social, economic and environmental ‘hotspots’ of food products and understand the nature of the impacts, barriers and opportunities of food waste in Australia. Armed with the data, they are working with Sustainability Victoria to halve food waste in the state by 2030 and Food Innovation Australia to reduce our nation’s food waste.
“We don't have any time to lose; we can’t afford to sit around and perfect everything. We've got to move forward towards sustainability and towards circularity and do so based on evidence and science, knowing that we'll need to iterate and improve over time and being aware that it will be part of the learning process. So just start and do something now.”
Visit Edge's website to find out how they can support your circular economy journey.