In today’s episode, we’re talking about critical materials, the complexities of modern supply chains, transparency and Life Cycle Analysis, the challenges of how we ensure fair shares of finite resources and much more.
Helping guide us through these topics is Dr Colin Church, the Chief Executive of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, the global network for the materials cycle – also known as IOM3.
Colin moved to IOM3 in late 2018 from CIWM, the professional UK body for resources and waste management. Before that, Colin spent over twenty years in the UK Government working on a range of issues at the borders of science, engineering and policy. He is also Chair of the Green Alliance Circular Economy Task Force.
Podcast host Catherine Weetman is a circular economy business advisor, workshop facilitator, speaker and writer. Her award-winning book: A Circular Economy Handbook: How to Build a More Resilient, Competitive and Sustainable Business includes lots of practical examples and tips on getting started. Catherine founded Rethink Global in 2013, to help businesses use circular, sustainable approaches to build a better business (and a better world).
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Read on for a summary of the podcast and links to the people, organisations and other resources we mention.
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Links we mention in the episode:
- A Circular Economy Handbook: How to Build a More Resilient, Competitive and Sustainable Business – buy from any good bookseller, or direct from the publisher Kogan Page, which ships worldwide (free shipping to UK and US) and you can use discount code CIRCL20 to get 20% off. It’s available in paperback, ebook and Kindle. If you buy it from online sources, make sure you choose the new edition with an orange cover!
- Sign up to get the podcast player and shownotes for each new episode emailed to your inbox
- Web: iom3.org and https://green-alliance.org.uk/CETF.php
- Twitter: @DrColinChurch (https://twitter.com/DrColinChurch)
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/colinchurch/
- Article by Dr Jack Barrie and Dr Patrick at Chatham House: ‘As demand for critical raw materials rises we need a better plan to manage them’ https://greenallianceblog.org.uk/2021/11/24/as-demand-for-critical-raw-materials-rises-we-need-a-better-plan-to-manage-them/
About Colin Church
Dr Colin Church is the Chief Executive of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, the global network for the materials cycle.
Colin is also Chair of the Circular Economy Task Force, a business led group convened by Green Alliance that aims to lead policy discussions with ambitious business thinking. He is a Trustee of CHEM Trust and a Board Member of the Society for the Environment and of the Materials Processing Institute. Colin is also a member of various industry-academia advisory bodies. He is a Fellow of IOM3, a Chartered Environmentalist and a Chartered Resource and Waste Manager.
Previously, Colin was the CEO of CIWM, the professional body for resources and waste management. Before that, he spent 21 years in the UK Civil Service working in a range of areas including climate change, the theory and practice of regulation, and environmental protection including resource and waste management.
Colin was also a non-executive director of WRAP, the waste reduction and resource efficiency body and the Carbon Trust, the carbon reduction and resource efficiency body.
Provided by AI – add ~2:12 mins for the finished episode
Catherine Weetman 00:00
Colin, welcome to the circular economy podcast.
Colin Church 00:03
Thank you for having me.
Catherine Weetman 00:04
It’s good to see you today. And it’s unfortunate that people listening won’t be able to see the rather dramatic materials background that you’ve got behind you. I’m curious to even know what that is it’s multicoloured.
Colin Church 00:17
Yes, we have a range of backgrounds that we use, here IOM3, because we’ve got a range of different technical areas that come together. And this particular one is some iron ore actually. So, again, for the listener who can’t see it’s striations of green and gold and brown, and it’s one of my favourite visual ones, as well as being representative of one of our techno communities.
Catherine Weetman 00:41
Yes, very artistic and spectacular, even though it’s completely natural. So perhaps we could start by asking for a bit of background about IOM3, what kind of members join up? What kind of jobs do they have? And what about the range of materials covered?
Colin Church 00:59
Okay, so IOM3 is the global network for the material cycle. It’s got about 15,000 members and our members work across all aspects of that material cycle, by which I mean, they might be involved in finding metals and minerals in the ground, extracting them, processing them, turn them into bulk products, into detailed products, working out how to make better use of them, and then handling them at the end of life. So very, very wide set of, of technical interests. And about a third of our members work in academic institutions, about two thirds in other institutions, apart from those who are not employed as students and retired and wherever else. And about 80% of our members are based in the UK and about 20% are based in 90 plus other countries around the world. In terms of materials rather, ironically, probably the, the material that we do least on is material as in cloth. But apart from that, absolutely everything from wood to the most advanced of nanomaterials and everything in between.
Catherine Weetman 02:03
So a really wide range of interests then, amongst the members. And what are the hot topics for people at the moment of what concerns do those hot topics tend to raise?
Colin Church 02:15
Yeah, so at one level, because of the breadth of our membership. They share the concerns of most people in society if you like. And so certainly concern about the sustainability issues, the climate crisis, biodiversity crisis, very high on a number of our members agendas. And but in terms of more specific things in terms of materials, minerals, and mining and Sakana. Me type issues, I think there are a number of things that people are worried about specifically. One is what we call critical raw materials. So those materials, which for some reason or other, are at risk in global supply chains, but are essential for the kind of society we either have now or want to have in the future. People are also very much concerned about the future of what we call foundation industries. So the Heavy Industries of making steel and cement and chemicals and plastics and paper and glass. And in particular, how we’re going to decarbonize those to live within our net zero targets going forward. All engineers and scientists, when you talk to them will also tell you that they’re always worried about skill supply. And increasingly, that gets bound up with inclusion and diversity issues. Although, you know, there are separate aspects as well. So skills is a big issue for us. And one particular area of skills. that’s of concern to I am three at the moment is the looming dearth of skills of people who understand geology and applied earth science. It’s really not a popular course it’s at school or university. They used to be a very active community of mining engineering courses across the UK, there are now at undergraduate level, and we’re actively recruiting. And I think we’ll probably come on to talk about it. But you know, not having the skills to find an extract material properly and sensibly is going to be an issue for us going forward. Our members are also involved in packaging issues, for example. So here in the UK, there are some big changes coming along to the rules of how one pays for and handles packaging at the end of life. And that’s a big issue for our for our members as well. So, quite a few of the issues are very closely related to sustainability, in lots of different aspects. And really, the members of our industry are fundamental to a lot of those transformations. We like to say that our role our own three is to support professionals in materials, minerals and minerals to be heroes of the transition to a low carbon and resource efficient society and not villains. And and actually, you know, when you think about it, so much of this transition into a low carbon and resource efficient, circular, more circular economy and society depends on stuff, materials, things, whether it’s lithium for batteries, or silicone for power for solar power, or new forms of composites to lightweight vehicle, you know, all sorts of different things. It’s all about material stuff things. And we’re moving from a world, which is using fossil fuels to transfer energy to a world that’s using metals and minerals to transfer energy. So even more important in the future will be stuff.
Catherine Weetman 05:34
Absolutely. And we’re realising that the demand of all these new renewable technologies probably exceeds supply. And certainly I was just reading something from Green Alliance, saying that the projected use of renewable electric vehicles, what else was allow solar solar panels and something else, just those three things that the UK exceeded its fair share of key minerals. So there’s that aspect of it as well, isn’t there not just what’s available, but how to distribute it fairly.
Colin Church 06:10
And absolutely, and then of course, tackling sorry, I say tackling climate change is a global issue. And even if the UK totally decarbonize, which we need to do, if we in decarbonizing the UK economy, stop another economy from decarbonizing because we’ve taken all the materials necessary for that process, then there’s still too much carbon dioxide in the air or too many greenhouse gases. So absolutely, that that fair share argument is, is it’s not just ethical, it’s also deeply practical.
Catherine Weetman 06:42
And it really brings home the need to move to more circular ways of doing things so that we’re designing things so that if something better comes along, we can get all the key resources out of the first product, instead of discarding them and get them get them used again. And absolutely. Over the last couple of decades, resource issues have surfaced in a variety of different ways. But back in 2011, I remember being really struck by McKinsey talking about a century of price declines AI in the 20th century, reversed in a decade. What’s happened since then what what does the picture look like?
Colin Church 07:21
I think the main dominant feature, if you look at materials prices, resource process, is actually fluctuation. And quite often for businesses you can you can find a way to deal with almost almost any price level, so long as it’s predictable and stable. What’s really, really difficult is to deal with fluctuating price levels, particularly when they go from low to high, obviously, because you haven’t got it priced into your into your services and products. So that fluctuation that we see over the past decade and a half, two decades is really troublesome. And of course, a lot of that is driven by Why did your political circumstance and we are recording this podcast, particularly tense, geopolitical moment, but there have been plenty of others that have impacted on supply of one or the commodity or resource over time, and that that’s really hard for businesses to deal with.
Catherine Weetman 08:12
And we’re seeing a similar thing, aren’t we with competing industries, you know, over the last year or so, the car industry has lost out for access to chips because other industries have been able to afford to pay the premium to get get access to those materials in in the product. So there’s there’s kind of a whole range of issues of demand and supply imbalance. And when we spoke ahead of the podcast, you mentioned that the IOM three members cover the full value chain circle from mining right through to recycling. So how are you helping them close the loop on resources and bring the circular economy into reality?
Colin Church 08:54
Yeah. For me, one of the great, I joke that the greatest strength of v is the breadth of technical interests of its members. And one of the greatest weaknesses of v is the breadth of technical interests of its members. And this is definitely one of those topics that falls into that, that joke dichotomy, because on the one hand, we within our membership can find people at every point of that value chain. And if we can bring them together to talk about that, in a way that is outside of commercial world, because we are a little charter company and a charity and all the rest of it. That can be incredibly powerful. And that’s one of the things that we’re constantly trying to do is to help our members come together and talk about these issues in a way that’s, that’s pre competitive or outside of the competitive space, and therefore that they can find good solutions. And but at the same time, what it shows is just how complicated those chains are. I mean, if you just think about, we mentioned lithium for batteries, for example. And it’s much lithium is mined in either Australia or in the lithium triangle in South America, although we have now got some happening in here in the UK, which is really good news. And it’s then converted into lithium carbonate usually transported to China, where it’s processed into battery elements. And then it gets shipped to different places to be then turned into batteries and then turned into cars. But various of those stages, various streams of material will be coming in together, and then going out again, mixed, crossed, over, split, whatever it might be. And you’ve just think about that, and the different professionals who are involved in each of those stages, who are making decisions about how they put things together, or how they take things apart, that then have implications much further down the supply chain. But that supply chain is so fragmented and difficult to follow through, but they have no idea of the impact of those decisions. And then the people five steps down, just receive what they receive, and have to work out the problems. I mean, this the classic one that people will talk about most of course, is waste management companies who are very often in the the vein of just receiving whatever comes into the bin and then having to work out what the heck that is and how you deal with it. And the more we can connect along that chain and get people to talk and understand, the better, but it’s bloomin difficult.
Catherine Weetman 11:29
I can imagine this incredibly complicated, even. I remember doing a case study on Fairphone, a few years ago, and the difficulties that they had even establishing which country the raw materials came from, you know, nevermind what had happened to them after that. But you know, was it? Was it a fair mined process or, or not? On? How do you certify that?
Colin Church 11:55
Absolutely. And I think that that whole area of transparency, labelling certification through the chain is really important. And people are very excited about things like blockchain technology, but even blockchain it’s not a it’s not a silver bullet, and B, it has its own potential downsides, because it can be very energy intensive, for example. So is is a lot of iron ore mined in Australia and tracked by blockchain better or worse than some iron ore mined in Sub Saharan Africa, not prepped by blockchain. Because it’s, you know, you’ve got all sorts of different factors. And it’s really important to try and look at things like lifecycle analysis, but even there, it can be really difficult. So I was doing some work with one of my members last year sometime. And he was saying that he was looking at a data set for lifecycle analysis around sets of different metals. And what he found was that the data that the world was using to identify the lifecycle impact of a particular metal was based on one mine in the middle of Africa, which produced maybe 10% of the global production. So that’s, you know, substantial. But there’s 90% is produced elsewhere. And we all know that the climate and social and other constraints and opportunities in Sub Saharan Africa will be different from, say, the southern tip of Argentina or the centre of the US or, you know, pick any other country that you might want to pick. And so even using a tool that could be so rich as lifecycle analysis to understand some of these impacts, and some of these supply chain issues, can be confounded by the data not being good enough in the first place. It’s a huge challenge. But it’s vital that we get on top of it to the extent that we can.
Catherine Weetman 13:46
And I think that’s where it comes back to the transparency around that, isn’t it being able to see what the data is, in the LCA, I’ve seen quite a bit of criticism of the Higg index, recently, with their comparison of organic cotton versus conventional or industrial cotton. And I remember looking at that, when I was first first researching the circular economy and looking at the difference, because organic cotton, ostensibly used an awful lot less water, you know, kind of 10% of the water versus conventional and kind of thinking, Well, why would that be because, you know, maybe the plants are a bit shorter, but surely it can’t be that different. And it turned out that these figures are based in a similar way to the example you just gave. There’s, you know, there’s one organic farm that’s been used to do the LCA for organic cotton. And that happened to have plenty of rainwater, so there was no need for irrigation. So they’ve kind of you know, scaled that out and applied it to every place that’s growing organic cotton, which which isn’t right. But to not even kind of make that clear and have the caveat around it. doesn’t allow anybody to kind of think, Oh, well, I need to know that bit of information. You know, it’s it’s, it’s, it’s critical to what I’m doing. So I’ll go and do some more research. So I think the whole, the whole thing about LCA is I think there should be like Wikipedia, it should be open access data that anybody can, you know, add to and query and challenge.
Colin Church 15:22
I think, if anybody ever just gives you the results of their LCA and refuses to expose the underlying data, you should seriously question the results. Because you the way that you choose the data sources, the way that you choose boundary conditions can turn black into white, and vegan into a carnival.
Catherine Weetman 15:43
That’s Yes, that’s really good advice for people. Really good advice. And so what do you see as the main challenges over the next 10 to 20 years? I know, I’m asking you to be a futurist here. But what kind of what kind of future challenges are you particularly focused in on?
Colin Church 16:04
Yeah, so they link back to the sorts of things that exercise my members actually. And so it’s the challenges around sustainability, climate crisis, biodiversity, and skills, and the skills independent all because if you haven’t got the right skills, you can’t take the right actions to solve the other problems. But so for example, if you look at the work of people like Julian Allwood at UKFIRES in Cambridge, you know, he’ll be very, very clear that with current technology, we won’t be able to use cement and concrete in 2015. It’s not compatible with net zero. And yet, cement and concrete is vitally important to the way that we currently live. So one or the other has to give or something has to change. So that sort of decarbonisation challenge, that material challenge, whether it’s changing to glue, laminated timber, rather than concrete beams, or whether it’s finding a zero carbon, cement, you know, those are huge challenges, and they are materials challenges. And then that’s the kind of thing that my members are really involved with. The other thing that I think it’s really worth mentioning is, most things most products that we engage with both as consumers and businesses are complex and multi material. And that is one of the fundamental challenges for circularity. The example that lots of people will be aware of is plastic packaging, where you have multi polymer packaging and the difficulties you have in separating that. But it applies in lots of other places, as well, there are three and a half 1000 different grades of steel on the market. And if you mix them all up together and melt them back, what you get is rebar, you know that reinforced the bar that you put in reinforced concrete, which is about as low value as you can get, because you don’t know what’s in it, and you can’t rely on it to be high spec and high tech. And when you think of the money, effort, time and energy, and I literally mean energy, electricity, or whatever else that went into creating those different kinds of alloy, to then mix them together and make rebar is hugely wasteful, hugely wasteful. It’s still recycling, but it’s absolutely downsizing, certainly not upcycling. And that’s just steel alloys. If you think about other items, you know the complexity of these machines that you and I are talking to each other on multiple elements, put together in lots of different ways, how you get those out in a sensible way, and then return them into useful life is, of course a huge challenge. And again, a lot of that is as materials challenge, whether it’s how you put them together, how you join them, and the surface coatings that you might need to put in place. And then the sort of science, if you like a separation at the end, those are all materials challenges. And so this whole this is this is why we talk about this challenge of the transition to a low carbon resource efficient society. See, it’s because we have to decarbonize and have to be more circular and materials is fundamental to that.
Catherine Weetman 19:13
Yeah, and it all plays back to you know, the the two main strategies that I think we need to focus on is making things that lasts for an awful lot longer. Even if we don’t want to use them for longer they should have some reuse and resale value and being repairable and, and even easy to remanufacture and then moving away from this culture of having exclusive access to absolutely everything you know, being convinced that we need a TV in every room in the house instead of having a debate about what we’re going to watch and you know, all that kind of stuff show you so the whole sharing renting paper use economy, the things that we don’t need to have access to, and those are so fundamental on the in terms of taking the pressure off materials and and and also if we’re making products that last for longer or are shareable, so we get more, we have more profit opportunities from them, then that allows us to invest in different techniques to manufacture them so that we put the time and effort into making them easy to disassemble, perhaps not have you had to use a blend of material but been able to use something something different that’s more reusable and circular?
Colin Church 20:27
Yeah, absolutely. One of my favourite statistics is one that a, a well known UK based home improvement retailer, told me, sorry, it’s very complicated way of saying the name, the average use of an electric drill in its life is something like six minutes. Now I do a lot of DIY, so I use my drill a lot more than that. But that’s just shocking. Basically, people buy a drill, and they use it once. And then it sits in a cupboard somewhere. And this huge waste of resources that is in that, but also the downsides of from a social perspective, you know, surely, we should be reducing the price of access to those six minutes, so that everybody can have those six minutes. And then having a better quality device to do it. So fewer people break their wrists when they drill into this or whatever it might be. And that, you know, there’s the environmental, there’s the economic, and there’s the social, it’s a proper sustainable conversation, the three pillars sustainable development, that you can see coming through in those new ways of thinking about, about stuff. And we all though, also have to consume less in the West, in the north. And you look at, for example, the consumption of just steel, again, I’m going to pick material, we recycle 97, I think something percent of the steel that comes to end of life globally. And yet, we’re still digging up and making 10 times as much steel as we recycling. Because we’re sucking it into our steel frame buildings and our cars and our, you know, whatever else it might be. And in some parts of the world, they don’t yet consume enough and therefore they are too poor. You know, they do, they do not have an adequate level of human development. But places like the UK, most of Europe, North America, we consume too much. You mentioned a little green lines ethical share. It’s a similar kind of idea to that. But we have to balance these things consumed the right amount to be well off. Because that’s what that’s right and proper, but not over consumed, and therefore waste.
Catherine Weetman 22:50
Yeah, I think that’s so true. And I remember a few years ago, so I won’t, I won’t remember the exact example. I think it was something from the Building Research Council, there was an example of a building that have been taken down and reused two or three times think it had been an aircraft hangar, and some sorts of storage building and something else, and it might even have moved countries. So it was kind of, you know, steel, gantries. And there’s no reason why we couldn’t design all sorts of things on that same basis. And I guess a lot of it comes back to policy, doesn’t it? If we were taxing the use of virgin materials, then that might create more innovation around design, and the value of those materials when they come to the end of their use?
Colin Church 23:37
Ah! You’ve stolen my thunder now!
Catherine Weetman 23:40
Well, that was that was that was going to be the next the next thing I was going to ask is what policies are you seeing? Or do you think we need that can help close the loop and level the playing field?
Colin Church 23:51
So I think you have to look at the incentives and the structures around it. And I think it was Einstein, who said you can never solve a problem at the level of complexity that you created it. And the analogy for me here in our context is the issues that we’ve created about lack of sustainability, lack of circularity, problems with greenhouse gas emissions have been created by the world that we have around us the economic, social and political systems that we have, and to expect them all in their current state to slip to flip sorry, and solve these problems in a relatively short period of time is fanciful. So you have to see changes, you have to see changes. And people being people humans being humans, one of the best ways of doing that is to incentivize the correct and decisions disincentivize the incorrect behaviours, and it’s usually better to try and do that at a at least a semi macro level and leave the individual decisions to the individuals rather than trying to control absolutely everything because that way lies madness. And we’ve Many examples of organisations and companies that have failed miserably through a total command and control approach. So you have to then I think, look at stuff in that light. And as we’ve just joked, one way, is to increase the cost of virgin materials, Virgin stuff, first incentivizing people to look for alternatives. But you have to at the same time, make sure that you’ve got a supplier of recycled materials or use materials coming in as well. And you, it’s really difficult to make this switch without having to go in sort of stepwise incremental weigh. An overnight switch is really difficult to manage on a sort of national or global economic level. But that’s really what we need to try and see. Here in the UK, I think some of the changes that are happening around packaging regulations, they’re a really interesting example of trying to get into that space. And you can argue about some of the detail. But basically, what the UK is trying to do is, first of all, from April this year, there’ll be a tax on plastic packaging that doesn’t contain at least 30% recycled material. So that is trying to create the demand for recycled material. That’s, you know, that’s good, then, at some point, in the next year or so, we should have a revised approach to who pays for the end of life of packaging or packaging, not just plastic. And the basic rule is that the person who puts it on the market, the producer, the main brand, whatever else has to pay, getting on for 100%, at least 85%. But getting off 100% of the costs of end of life. So that’s then an incentive, in theory, at least, to design your packaging in a way that means the end of life is as cheap as possible.
Catherine Weetman 26:49
Yeah, and maybe even funds the investment to reusable packaging. prefilled packaging like the the loop system that was on the podcast a while ago, which Tom Szaky at TerraCycle was was talking about that creating a whole new area of interest for packaging designers, that suddenly it wasn’t just about the lowest cost and the biggest visual impact on the shelf. Suddenly, it was about durability, and maybe even enhancing some of the features of the packaging, that could help the product like the twin wall insulated ice ice cream containers. So suddenly, those packaging designers have got a whole new area of interest and excitement and innovation. So again, it makes makes people’s jobs more interesting doesn’t it’s not just about how do we get the cost down?
Colin Church 27:41
It is. And I think there’s another element in going specifically on the packaging point that you were exposing there. I don’t know about you. But even before the pandemic, I used to do a reasonable amount of my grocery shopping online. And I think now it’s almost all of it is is done by online home delivery. One of the things that means is actually the role of packaging, fundamentally, even single use packaging is changing. So packaging, what why does it exist, it has three main purposes really, the first one is to attract the eye of the consumer when it’s sitting on the shelf. The second is to protect it from the shelf to the consumers cupboard. because prior to that it’s protected by secondary tertiary packaging. And then the third is to convey whatever information needs to be conveyed, whether that’s ingredients lists, allergens, health warnings, salt content, you know, all of that kind of information. Now, if I’m buying it from a website, you can show me any picture you like, but it can come in a grey box for I care. So that I think maybe doesn’t matter quite so much anymore. It’s been delivered by somebody that you hoped was a bit professional in a vehicle that’s adapted for that purpose. So actually protecting it from shelf to your cupboard is less important than it was and then stick a QR code on it. And you get all the information you want without having to print it on the packaging, potentially you add into that the scope for refill, you know, those supermarket lorries could equally have a large container of no pulses or pastor or washing up liquid or whatever else it is and you come out with your bottle and fill it up and take it back in. You can see that that actually there’s some issues certainly in in the West, the richer countries that could see that, that that whole purpose of packaging shifting quite substantially. So I agree with what you said about why packaging reusable packaging can be more interesting. It could also be a much larger part of the future for other reasons not to do with people’s concern about sustainability.
Catherine Weetman 29:50
Yeah, that’s that’s really interesting. And it takes me straight back to a battle I had when I was at Kellogg’s with the marketing team, where we were trying to come up with them. It was when Costco and the other big discounters were supposedly setting up these big warehouse, you know, shops that and they wanted different packaging. And so we were talking about changing the size of a 750 gramme box of cornflakes, which is very tall and very wide and not very deep into something much squatter, and we designed it, so it would fit perfectly on the pallet and fill the vehicle. And the logistic savings were massive. Marketing just said, no, no, no, we want the biggest impact on the shelf. So we’re not changing anything. And it was just all about that, you know, the visual, the visual impact of the of the cockerel on the front. So, yeah, so but that that could just translate into so many changes, I could never just just that that kind of reimagining and looking at the way that we’re now doing things and changing our shopping habits. Yeah, it’s really thought provoking. And so Colin, since joining IOM3, what have you struggled with? And what surprised you in conversations related to materials, minerals and mining?
Colin Church 31:11
So one of the reasons why I was really excited about taking on this role was because I spent quite a lot of my professional life wondering about the waste end of the circular economy. And I was as convinced as I could be without having worked in it that actually part of the answer, lay higher up further up the value chain, supply chain, whatever else. And that’s absolutely been the case. And that’s been really exciting and positive and invigorating. But it’s also plumbing difficult See earlier conversation that we have, you know, the complexity and the the number of different angles that you have to think about in that space is very, very difficult indeed. So struggling with getting one’s head and my head, everyone’s had the issues head around that complexity and how best we can support our members to unpick that complexity and understand that complexity and work through that complexity has been a huge struggle, but a really rewarding one at the same at the same time. And I think the thing that surprised me, but it shouldn’t have was how receptive everybody was to the idea of thinking about sustainability circularity, decarbonisation, I’d kind of grown up in a world that was pretty focused on that a lot of my roles have been in pretty explicitly environmental focused areas. And I was coming into an area that didn’t on the face of it seem to be environmentally conscious, if you like, and I was wrong. I was so wrong. And I thought I was gonna have a huge difficulty in getting people to realise how fundamental this was. And that was wrong. And that was really surprising and really positive. But, but actually, it’s made up of people who are very professional, technically, quite well qualified, being thinking about all these issues. So I shouldn’t have thought that. But I did.
Catherine Weetman 33:14
Yeah, that’s it. That’s interesting, and also very encouraging that people aren’t as late to the party as we as we might think. And so what if you were sharing top tips with somebody wanting to take their business in a more circular direction, or even start something circular? What would be your number one tip that you’d share?
Colin Church 33:33
I think this is a really hard one to to generalise because I think the sort of specifics of how you bring in a new circular model or a new circular product will make your business more circular are are going to vary so much. But I think it’s really, really important to try and think as much as you can, about the holistic picture the system. I work at an organisation that likes to think of itself as an engineering amongst other things organisation, and we love talking about systems even more. So we love talking about systems of systems. But if you’re going to make circularity work, you have to think about the system, you have to think about how everything fits together and how your innovation your product, your change sits within that overall system.
Catherine Weetman 34:20
Yeah, I think that that’s, that’s great advice. And something that we find so hard to do, isn’t it because we get focused in on the bits that we can control? And outside looks complex and opaque and it’s so easy to miss something vital. And, Colin, if you could change just one thing, if you had a magic wand to wave today, what would that one thing be?
Colin Church 34:45
So it really is a magic wand and that would be to raise the value to society of raw materials, Virgin raw materials that would at a stroke, put in place a lot of incentives that we need to have to change We deal with things, stuff is too cheap. It does not to us the economists speak, you know, we don’t internalise the externalities of social and environmental damage from the extraction, processing and transport of stuff, we just don’t. And so we overuse it and abuse it. So that would be the magic one. But that, having said that it really is a magic one, because I think the complexities involved in doing that are, particularly if you couldn’t do it at the global level. And I don’t think we have the governance to do it at a global level. It’s like thinking about a carbon price, or carbon tax, and times more difficult, because there are 10 times more things to worry about, you know, how have you worked out the value of the materials in a particular product, for example. So very, very idealistic, magic wand waving?
Catherine Weetman 35:56
Well, that magic ones are always useful, because you can, you know, having had the, the germ of the idea, you can then work out how you can, you know, set the compass in that direction and move forward kindly. And, Colin, is there anyone you’d recommend as a future guest for the programme?
Colin Church 36:14
I think there are lots of interesting people. And I will confess, I haven’t gone through all new episodes of yours to check that you haven’t had any of these people on but some of the ones who came to my mind. So many people might have heard of a professor called Mark, Midownik. He’s at UCL and he’s a fantastic communicator about material science issues. And he’s just hugely entertaining to talk to and to listen to. So he’s, he’s great and
Catherine Weetman 36:41
I have his book on my on my shelf, I think it’s called Stuff Matters. I think it was the latest one.
Colin Church 36:48
Yeah. And then somebody in a broadly similar vein, but earlier on in her career is, Anna Ploszajski, who’s an up and coming science communicator, if you like, and she is really good at bringing material science into everyday life, and then making the relationships there. So those are the two material science type people and circular economy type people. Anne Velenturf, who’s an academic, and she’s currently involved with a lot of work around decarbonizing industry, and energy, circularity of wind farms, things of that nature, which is, you know, it’s outside of the consumer circularity model, but it’s still pretty bloomin fundamental to this whole transition. So those are the three names I just throw at you to to have a think about.
Catherine Weetman 37:42
Yeah, thanks. Yeah. And I know Anne, she’s at Leeds. So in the same in same county. So yeah, thanks for those. I might have to come back to you about the spelling of Anna’s name. But yeah, the the other two I can definitely spell. And Colin, how can people find out more and get in touch with you and IOM3?
Colin Church 38:02
So we obviously have a website, WW dot, IOM three.org. We’re on social media, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. If you search for iron three, you’ll find us there. And I think my details are probably in the show notes for this episode. So if people want to get a hold of me there, then they can. And we’re always interested in talking to people, particularly if you wish to become a member, but even if you don’t, we’re very much up for the conversation.
Catherine Weetman 38:30
Yeah, thank you very much. And yes, we’ll put all those links in the show notes at Circular Economy podcast.com, as usual, along with the transcript, and yeah, we covered lots there. And I think we could have talked for just as long and delved into a few other issues. I had a list of a long list of materials, because there’s just so many things we we don’t even think about, like sand and, and all sorts of things.
Colin Church 38:54
It’s my favourite critical raw material at the moment,
Catherine Weetman 38:56
was it right? Yeah.
Colin Church 38:57
So because because people say sand can’t be a critical raw material. But actually, it’s, it can be and it is in some places, graphite and other rubbers and other you know, just people think the critical raw materials are just exotic materials that go into smartphones and lithium batteries. And and that’s not true, which was much more than that.
Catherine Weetman 39:21
Hmm, yeah. And yeah, you’re never gonna run out of things to get curious about I. Colin, thank you very much that’s been illuminating. And, yeah, it’s a shame we couldn’t have dived into a whole load of materials. But thanks for sharing all of that. And I look forward to hearing what you’re up to next.
Colin Church 39:39
Thank you very much indeed. A pleasure to be here, Catherine.
Want to find out more about the circular economy?
To go deeper, you could buy Catherine’s book, A Circular Economy Handbook: How to Build a More Resilient, Competitive and Sustainable Business. This comprehensive guide uses a bottom-up, practical approach, and includes hundreds of real examples from around the world, to help you really ‘get’ the circular economy. Even better, you’ll be inspired with ideas to make your own business more competitive, resilient and sustainable.
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Thanks to Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow, otherwise known as the brilliant, inventive and generous folk duo, O’Hooley & Tidow for allowing me to use the instrumentals from the live version of Summat’s Brewin’ as music for the podcast. You can find the whole track (inspired by the Copper Family song “Oh Good Ale”) on their album, also called Summat’s Brewin’. Or, follow them on Twitter.