Ladies and Gentlemen, I need hardly say how grateful I am to all of you for finding the time in your busy schedules to participate in this meeting, and particularly so to those who also attended the two fascinating-sounding and innovative workshops prior to today. My only regret is that I was not able to be there with you before now...
I must say how greatly encouraged I am that the work of both my International Sustainability Unit and Business in The Community, as well as Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership, is shining a light on the challenges posed by today’s linear and throw-away society, which has caused so much damage to our environment; as well as helping to create opportunities to support and stimulate innovation towards a more 'circular economy' approach to the plastic supply chain. Ever since attending the "Plastic in the Marine Environment" Conference in Washington two years ago, I have been hoping it would be possible to follow up with this kind of gathering. So it really is immensely heartening to find such passion and commitment towards tackling this complex challenge from all of you here today.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is impossible not to re-state how urgent it is, in my view, that we move towards a 'circular economy', particularly when considering ways to address the seemingly unending flow of plastic into our oceans. We already know the extent of the damage that this is having on marine life today, and if current trends continue, the implications for the viability of the ocean ecosystem, on which humankind relies so heavily, are stark indeed. I am so pleased, therefore, to see Dame Ellen MacArthur here today and in addition to my congratulations to her and her team on their recently launched report, I can only thank her most warmly for her summary just now. Given the tremendous opportunity that a transition to a circular economy offers, both towards improving the health of our oceans, as well as to businesses, surely it would be wise to move ahead with its implementation with a degree of considerable urgency?
One critical part, as I see it, of the transition towards a circular economy, particularly in relation to plastics, is that of innovation and the need to re-think the way we design products. This would entail moving from a model that encourages a buy, use, throw-away mentality, to one that facilitates re-use, recovery and regeneration. We do need to consider, from the very beginning, the second, third and, indeed, fourth life of the products we use in everyday life. I appreciate that this is easier to say than do, so I was particularly interested to hear the key findings from the design workshop held in various locations across London this week. I have always been a great believer in the "Seeing is believing" idea, so I very much hope that your ‘field’ visits left you feeling inspired to create new solutions within your organizations that are supported by your senior executives, many of whom – I am very grateful to see – are around the table today. Given how critical the design phase of a product's life is to its later environmental impact, I can hardly overstate how important I think this work is and I know that my I.S.U. stands ready to help continue to facilitate these conversations.
Whilst solutions do seem to be at hand, we are only likely to succeed if there is considerable, concerted and collaborative action into the future by all involved. Therefore, I am much encouraged by the willingness of the businesses round this table to collaborate, as indicated by Peter Simpson and as was seemingly so evident at Business in the Community’s workshop yesterday. Such collaboration between and within different industry sectors is absolutely fundamental if we are to find innovative solutions to rapid decarbonization, an essential part of which will come from a re-design of the plastic supply chain. The implementation of these solutions will inevitably require great leadership, such as that demonstrated by Business in the Community’s new Circular Economy Taskforce, as well as a determination to take very practical and ambitious action. One recent example of this, by which I am truly heartened, is Unilever’s bold commitment to ensuring that 100 per cent of its plastic packaging will be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.
Thus my overriding hope is that you will draw inspiration from the example of key companies within the pulp and paper industry which have combined forces to develop innovative methods of achieving rapid decarbonization, and will be able to find ways to continue to work together beyond this meeting and to find clear and practical ways forward – for surely it cannot be beyond the wit of man to integrate circular economy principles into the heart of business models? It is, of course, essential that in addition to the actions undertaken by companies, consumers play their role in lessening the burden on our environment. This is why I am so hopeful about the Sky Ocean Campaign and its ability to win hearts and minds...
With that said, Ladies and Gentleman, it only leaves me to thank you again for being here and to welcome your thoughts and ideas about how, together, we can help to catalyse the sort of transformative change that is required, not least for the future health and prosperity of our oceans.