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University of Edinburgh is well-placed to use its scale and influence to drive innovation in the circular economy

Posted: 22nd November 2018

The University of Edinburgh has made a strategic commitment to embrace the circular economy alongside its goal to become zero carbon by 2040.

With a staff and student community of over 50,000, a turnover of nearly £1bn and extensive property, investments and purchasing, the University is well-placed to use its scale and influence to drive innovation in the circular economy.

Circular economy thinking and practice is already happening at the University, across research and enterprise, learning and teaching and operations (in areas such as procurement, waste management and estates development).

For example, Kate Fitzpatrick, Waste Manager at the University of Edinburgh said: “The University has a strategic commitment to become a zero waste university by embedding circular economy thinking across all of its operations. A good example of this is its partnership with Revive Eco Ltd. Revive Eco process all the waste coffee grounds from the University’s cafes to produce a soil conditioner which the university’s Landscaping Division purchase as an alternative to fertiliser.”

The University is pleased to be working with Revive Eco as a circular business, which has recently received confirmation of £234,358 funding from Zero Waste Scotland for its process to use coffee grounds to create valuable bio-oils with applications across several sectors.

The University’s research plays a critical role in developing circular economy thinking and practice across business sectors.  For example, Professor Jason Love in the School of Chemistry works on a process to recover previous metals from electronic waste (otherwise known as ‘urban mining’). The University is also home to the UK Biochar Research Centre, a world-leading centre for research into the production of ‘biochar’ – a charcoal-based soil conditioner with significant environmental benefits.

The University also supports circular and low carbon innovation at its Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI). ECCI is the official Scottish partner of Climate-KIC, Europe’s largest climate innovation initiative that supports low carbon start-ups. In the last few years several businesses supported by Climate-KIC have been circular. For example:

-IntelliDigest turns food waste into energy;

-Beech Product Solutions provides an alternative to plastic food packaging with a biodegradable material made from food waste; and

-ApparelXchange, a Glasgow-based social enterprise, specialises in reusing school uniforms to ensure more children have access to quality clothing.

Kate added: “The University established the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability in 2014 to ensure we operate in a socially responsible and sustainable way. It works closely with academic schools and other business units – such as the Waste Office in Estates Operations – to understand the challenges and opportunities presented by the circular economy and to identify and test solutions on campus.

This collaborative approach naturally involves lots of different parts of the organisation working together, as well as partnerships with suppliers, charities, social enterprises and other local community partners. There is also a network of almost 200 staff volunteers who act as Waste Coordinators to help improve resource efficiency in their area of work.

We recognise that working in partnership with others is key.  We are looking to identify further opportunities to work with businesses, charities, social enterprises and community groups who have an interest in being part of city-wide discussions and action on the circular economy.”

The University now plans to take circular economy thinking and practice on campus to the next level. This will involve taking a whole-institution approach to embedding circular economy further across all spheres of practice and looking for partnership opportunities to stimulate further innovation and exchange of circular ideas, including exploring the potential for a specialist Circular Economy Knowledge Hub and business incubation centre.

As Kate explains: “Every sector and every business has a place in a circular economy. Doing so often requires new ways of working. Organisations need to work together to identify opportunities and figure out how to deliver them – universities play a key role in this area.”

Circular Edinburgh is a joint initiative delivered by Zero Waste Scotland and the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce supported by funding from both the Scottish Government and the European Regional Development Fund through the £73million Resource Efficient Circular Economy Accelerator Programme. Circular Edinburgh delivers a programme of knowledge sharing events, workshops and roundtable discussions to promote the “Circular Economy” to local businesses.

For further information please visit https://www.edinburghchamber.co.uk/circular-edinburgh/ or contact Mayan Grace or Aileen Boyle on 0131 221 2999 (option 5) or email circulareconomy@edinburghchamber.co.uk

Business Comment

Business Comment is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s bi-monthly magazine. It provides insight on Edinburgh’s vibrant business community, with features on the city’s key sectors, interviews with leading figures and news on new business developments in the capital.
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