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‘Circular economy’ conference attracts over 200 delegates from 20 countries

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Prof Nripendra Rana, Professor in Digital Marketing in the Faculty of Management and Amir Sharif, Professor of Circular Economy

‘Small but significant changes will make the difference’, says Bradford professor

A conference highlighting the benefits of ‘circular economies’ - hosted by the University of Bradford’s School of Management and the Indian Institute of Management Jammu - has been hailed a success.

More than 200 delegates from 20 countries, including the UK, Australia and America, attended the two-day symposium, entitled Virtual International Conference on Circular Economy. It created a shared platform for businesses and academics, allowing for the discussion of the need for reform, potential barriers and possible solutions.

So-called ‘circular economies’ are an attempt to minimise and eventually eradicate waste products, by recycling and reusing them, in contrast with ‘linear’ economic models, which prevail at present.

As environmental issues continue to gain more traction in the media, thanks to things like Prince Charles’s Terra Carta initiative and the UK hosting the UN Climate Change Conference in November, organisers say more conferences are now planned.

Nripendra Rana, Professor in Digital Marketing in the Faculty of Management, Law & Social Sciences, who was recognised in November for his highly cited research by global data analytics firm Clarivate, dubbed the inaugural online conference a success.

“We had over 200 attendees on each of the two days, with over 20 countries represented. The main aim was to start a conversation about how circular economies can benefit businesses. Part of this is about raising awareness and getting people to begin thinking more positively about recycling.

“It’s about looking at anything that is wasted and asking, how can we recycle that? Many companies have already started to look at areas like packaging and some are already making significant savings. In addition, such efforts also contribute to their corporate social responsibility. It’s something that’s going to be vital for companies to do in the future. We’re thinking about how consumers look at products in five to 10 years' time.”

He added: “It is about responsible management but it’s more about changing attitudes and all of us thinking about using recyclables and using far more returnable products.”

Opening the conference with a keynote speech on using circular economy principles for responsible business practices, Amir Sharif, Professor of Circular Economy and Associate Dean (International and Accreditations), said any shift to a new way of working would be gradual, adding that legislation might even be required to force some sectors to take more responsibility for example, for consumption habits linked to disposable packaging.

“When it comes to a paradigm shift on our relationship with the environment, it feels as though we have been on the brink of something big now for 20 or 30 years and that we’re waiting for a major tipping point. My view is that what we are more likely to see is a series of small but significant changes.

“For example, we’re starting to see a lot more companies examine how the use packaging can be improved. But there still needs to be a much more holistic view of how this will work: from across manufacturing, logistics, sales – right through to how this impacts every household. We have started to see innovations and movement on food and plastics waste, which is wonderful to see – but packaging is still a key area of needless waste and poor design. Having been involved with funding agencies such as Innovate UK (a part of UKRI), there is increasing focus on innovating in this area such as current competitions like smart sustainable packaging

“One thing is clear however: we need to see more visible Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). This is essentially where a company takes responsibility for what they produce and sell to consumers – for example, again, the packaging which might carry their product.

“We have some legislation such as the Environment Bill but in terms of a ‘carrot and stick’ approach, we need more stringent measures for ensuring EPR is delivered and that consumers literally see manufacturers and producers turning up at their front door to take their packaging back, away from the waste stream.

“Digital technologies including analytics and AI could really help in pinpointing waste patterns and trends also. This would resonate with a lot more consumers and would show big business is genuinely responsible for their customers and the impact upon the environment.”

The conference, on December 14 and 15, examined a number of issues, including: the impact of emerging technologies, circular economy and competitive advantage and socioeconomic, behavioural and health impacts.

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