Politicians and business leaders talk rubbish (at Waste to Wealth Summit) 

JLL EMEA CEO Guy Grainger on the environmental and commercial benefits of a circular economy, and how we can save the planet by turning waste into wealth.

February 18, 2019

Just before Christmas I spoke at an event in London alongside the British politician Michael Gove MP, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Guy Grainger speaking at Business in the Community’s Waste to Wealth Summit (from 1hr 23mins)

There is real evidence to suggest a circular economy is not just an inspirational message but also a commercially lucrative one as well

The event, “Waste to Wealth Summit”, was hosted by responsible business organisation Business in the Community (BITC), which was set up by Prince Charles.  Prince Charles remains a patron, and also spoke at the event.

Politicians and business leaders are often accused of talking rubbish.  But in this instance we were there to debate how to better use the world’s resources as an alternative to the throw away culture that is destroying our planet.

Circularity in the built environment

This is very relevant to the real estate industry: 40% of carbon emissions come from the built environment.  And 50% of the world’s raw material consumption is in developing and operating buildings and infrastructure.  Is our industry wasteful?

It depends where you are. The overwhelming consensus of the 200+ attendees from business, government, academia and civic society was that the UK needs to get better.  But countries such as Sweden, Netherlands and Germany are all far more progressive when it comes to reusing waste, or even implementing a more sustainable approach to development.  This is almost always a cultural mindset, and starts from the top.

In the UK, JLL has been working closely with BITC on circular economy initiatives, in particular finding ways to reduce or even eliminate office waste.  We helped them produce the Circular Office Guide, which is about changing the way we design, use and operate offices to increase recycling and to reuse and reduce waste.

Many of the initiatives are simple, but most involve people stopping things they already do.  For example, JLL is helping HSBC remove 25 million plastic cups in its premises globally by introducing reusable water bottles.  In our UK business we saved the equivalent of 2,000 trees since 2016 through a paper reduction campaign called “Pulp Fiction”.  And, office circularity also has a financial incentive – office waste costs UK businesses over £15bn each year.

In support of regulation

I’m also a strong believer that a clear political vision and more regulation will reduce waste and CO2emissions.  In December, Michael Gove’s Environment department published the UK government’s Resources and Waste Strategy.   It places more responsibility on businesses and manufacturers to pay the full cost of recycling and disposing of their waste.  For householders it will see the existing complicated recycling system simplified with plans for a consistent approach across the whole of England.

Do this go far enough?  As a Londoner, it hurts to admit that the UK is at least 10 years behind other nations in terms of approach to single use plastic and landfill.  For those of us in the UK, we all need to act far more responsibly and take a long-term approach.  Office developments in the Netherlands are more attractive to businesses because they have a culture of sustainability and transparency on waste; Park 2020 near Amsterdam is the first business park to be built on the principals of cradle to cradle, with a 100% zero waste model.  The result is that performance in terms of rental levels and yield compression is 15-30% ahead of the market.

There is real evidence to suggest a circular economy is not just an inspirational message but also a commercially lucrative one as well.  Turning waste to wealth is a reality and if you are one of the pioneers to embrace this then it will differentiate you from the legacy approach taken by many others.   I intend to be one of those.

An adapted version of this article was published in Estates Gazette: