According to Coreo’s Ashleigh Morris it’s time to move away from sustainability and focus on all things circular, especially with the rising trend of “circular-washing.”
Since working with the Ballarat City Council, which we reported in March, the team at Coreo, a boutique circular economy consultancy, has been busy with new clients, from Acciona and Transurban to state and federal governments, which are all climbing on board the train to the circular economy.
In an interview with The Fifth Estate, co-founder and chief executive Ashleigh Morris said that while significant momentum in the industry and demand “has been insane”, “circularity” has become a buzzword that is easily misused and misplaced.
Morris claimed that a trend of “circular washing”, similar to the rise of greenwashing and green-hushing, could be seen in the circular economy.
“Equally as likely [as greenwashing], you’ve got practitioners that will do circular washing, where they’ll sell services when they don’t really know what they are talking about. It’s happening a lot in Australia, and it’s just too important now to not get it right.
“We need to do better collectively and be honest about where our skills are best placed. We are facing some heavy realities about what’s coming around climate, around water, around biodiversity in nature, around the economy and increasing inflation.
“This isn’t going to get easier; it’s going to get harder. And we need genuine, honest, and experienced practitioners. We need organisations ready to sign up to work at the highest degree possible on circularity so we can address these risks and build resilience,” Morris said.
Earlier this year, energy and water minister Tanya Plibersek established the Circular Economy Ministerial Advisory Group to establish Australia’s transition to a more circular economy by 2030.
“Now, that is just not possible,” said Morris about the goal. “We need very brave and courageous leadership, and it’s important for anyone working in this space to understand the depth of what it means to enact circularity.
“Otherwise, we are getting a lot of misdirected efforts and investment into better waste management strategies – and absolutely it is not about that, but that’s what happens when you’ve got people wanting to [jump into] this space because it’s selling.”
Moving away from sustainability
During the interview, Morris challenged using the word “sustainability”, saying it was the “wrong word” to use in a climate of misrepresentation.
“We have to move towards circularity to [popularise] regeneration and restoration…It is so far away from where we are right now.”
We need a shift in the terminology.
“We collectively know terms like ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ intend to do good things, but they have probably been the most misused terms – it would be helpful if we collectively start framing the task at hand – which is to embed principles of circularity, to eliminate waste and pollution, to circulate products and resources, to regenerate nature and social systems because we are not doing those activities.”
We need new job titles too
She explains that the biggest challenge for those in the circular space was encouraging private enterprises away from traditional terminologies and job titles.
“There is a healthy level of fear to reposition their strategies and job titles from sustainability director to net positive director or regeneration specialist or circular specialist, but the businesses we work for are all listed companies, and they face a lot of public scrutiny so they can’t just make a step easily without feeling validated and transparent,” Morris said.
“Our organisation is ready to let go of sustainability and embrace circularity.”
So, what’s the focus on right now?
According to Morris, the company is currently focusing on encouraging diverse clientele such as L’Oreal, BHP and the Queensland state government to put circularity into practice and on helping new clients in extensive infrastructure and construction.
While not much could be revealed at this time, she explained that some key considerations include materials that go into road construction, such as asphalt, which is derived from crude oil and bonded by bitumen and coal tar.
“There’s a lot to think about in terms of circularity in that area. [There’s opportunity] to be highly recyclable and recoverable, and we can start substituting and reducing impact with alternative materials and innovative designs. There’s thought around how do we extend the life cycle of a road beyond what it’s currently specified to be.”
Morris said her company was doing its best to educate the sector.
“Australia needed the relevant skills and mindsets – especially in an industry such as mining, she said.
“Skills is a big challenge, and we are not making the change fast enough, which is why we train most of the consultants in the country.”
- Read more about what you should study to address the sustainability skill gap.