Gove and Grainger talk rubbish

Have you ever thought what you might say if you met Michael Gove face-to-face?

I had this opportunity recently when speaking alongside him at the Business in the Community “Waste to Wealth Summit” – in his role as secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs.

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.

A wasteful industry

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? Or do we just reflect the UK trend?

The overwhelming consensus of the 200-plus attendees from business, government, academia and civil society was that the UK needs to get better. From my travels around Europe, I see that nations such as Sweden, the 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 it starts from the top.

At JLL we have 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 doing things they already do. For example, we are helping HSBC remove 25 million plastic cups in its premises by introducing reusable water bottles.

In our own business we have saved the equivalent of 2,000 trees since 2016 through a paper reduction campaign called “Pulp Fiction”. Office circularity also has a financial incentive – office waste costs UK businesses more than £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 CO2 emissions. What is the UK government doing? In December, Michael Gove’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs unveiled the government’s new 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.

Does this go far enough? We are at least 10 years behind other nations in terms of our approach to single-use plastic and landfill. So what can we do? We can 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 principles 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 that a circular economy is not just an inspirational message but also a commercially lucrative one as well. Turning waste into wealth is a reality, and if you are one of the pioneers in embracing this then it will differentiate you from the legacy approach taken by many others. I intend to join the pioneers.

Image: Monkey Business/REX/Shutterstock

Listen to an interview with Guy Grainger at the World Economic Forum in Davos on the latest Future of Retail podcast, available on all your favourite podcast players, including iTunes, Spotify and Podbean: