An introduction to the Circular Economy

We catch up with Amir Sharif, Associate Dean (International & Accreditations) & Professor of Circular Economy at the University of Bradford, to learn more about how new ways of thinking about waste can help businesses become more environmentally sustainable, support the economic recovery and save money.

An introduction to the Circular Economy with Amir Sharif, Associate Dean & Professor of Circular Economy at the University of Bradford

Please tell us about yourself and your role

I joined the University of Bradford in August 2017, having worked in academia for over a decade. I’ve also worked extensively in industry for leading global corporations including JPMorgan, UBS Investment Bank and KPMG. I’m an engineer by my first degree, my PhD was in knowledge management and artificial intelligence (back then when it was not very fashionable!).

However, I have deep research interests in the Circular Economy, food security and food waste, operations / supply chain management, decision-making and humanitarian logistics. I am leading supervision and contributing to several projects on intersecting aspects of the Circular Economy and its impact in terms of food (food sharing initiatives in the Gulf region; food safety in restaurants; food systems in schools), water (community water projects in the Global South; water systems management), and health (digital health for neonatal support in Sub-Saharan Africa).

I teach on the Bradford MBA in Innovation, Enterprise and Circular Economy and am part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Higher Education Network Universities (LINK) group. I also run the School of Management’s annual International Masters Summer School on Sustainability and Circular Economy and contribute to the university’s annual Sustainability day.

How do you describe the Circular Economy to people who haven’t heard of it before?

Simple – the Circular Economy is a zero-waste philosophy. It promotes a pro-reuse, pro-redesign and pro-improvement approach to how we make and consume products and services. Of course, it’s a little more than that, because the roots of the Circular Economy stretch back to some quite fundamental concepts and theories

Systems thinking, industrial ecology, complex systems and biomimicry – including elements of sustainability philosophy, economics, business and management and now even social sciences – are integrated into what we now know as Circular Economy. So, it is actually a combination of several deep concepts, theories and well-developed practices that have existed for several decades.

What are the benefits of adopting Circular Economy principles to small and medium sized businesses in our region?

The Circular Economy is a game-changing approach. It can benefit SMEs and enterprises anywhere. Simply put – it may save you money by increasing the value of your capital and investment. Because it is a zero-waste approach, companies can and should try to see where there is waste in their business and try to minimise it by improving the retention of value.

If you are investing in materials, products, services, any sort of asset – even people of course! – then how are you using that value? Is it going to waste? Can you put in place any continuous improvement initiatives to maximise value and minimise waste?

I believe companies can adopt a Circular Economy approach using the starting point of avoiding the creation of waste, retaining value and then looking to adopt some core Circular Economy principles of looping (reusing materials and assets for as long as possible), cascading (reusing products and services for different purposes), and where possible redesign (re-purposing products and services so that they maximise value and are zero waste from the beginning).

There are thankfully lots of very powerful and useful Circular Economy business models that companies can now use, and which we regularly teach on our programmes and inform companies about at the University of Bradford.

Adding to that, for SMEs looking for support on how they can become, and benefit from being, more sustainable there are programmes that can help. For example, the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership and York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership currently offer support for SMEs within West & North Yorkshire to explore Circular Economy opportunities and become more resource efficient. Consultancy and grant support is available to eligible SMEs, funded through the European Regional Development Fund and the Northern Powerhouse Growth Deal. Learn more about the support the offer

Are there examples of businesses in our region you admire because of their approach to sustainability?

There are many examples of successful and innovative businesses and local districts and cities throughout the world and the UK – Yorkshire is no different, and there is an exciting buzz about the region being the next ‘Silicon Valley’ for the Circular Economy.

Four examples come to mind, across energy (Drax PowerStation), water (Yorkshire Water), plastics (Filamentive) and waste (Amey Allerton Waste Recovery Park). At the School of Management within the University of Bradford, we regularly use their examples and have included site visits and guest talks from each company as exemplars of how Circular Economy and sustainability principles are used (including on our MBA programme, our International Summer School and in student projects and research).

Drax PowerStation continues to be Europe’s most sustainable PowerStation, using wood pellets instead of coal to generate electricity for the region.

Yorkshire Water has been instrumental in redesigning and reconfiguring how their business works to reduce waste, embodied carbon and increase efficiencies in their supply chain.

Amey’s Allerton Waste Recovery Park highlights how a materials recovery facility (MRF) can utilise the latest waste sorting and energy recovery technology whilst also being compatible with its local environment.

Finally, Filamentive is a local small business success story based in Bradford which seeks to maximise the reuse of recycled plastic for 3D printing.

Feeling inspired?

If you’re inspired to look at how you can change your business and would like support, find out how the LEP can help.