Circular and digital transformations ‘key’ to enabling business growth

A growth in circular innovation and digital transformation are the "keys to a more sustainable future" that is currently being hindered by businesses that still view sustainability as an "add on" that requires additional resources and finances.

That is the view of Dell’s senior vice president for UK & Ireland commercial business Claire Vyvyan, who believes that integrating sustainability into a core business strategy is a necessity to alleviating global issues, inspiring staff and building a reputable brand.

Speaking to edie ahead of her appearance at this month’s Sustainability Leaders Forum (24 -25 January) in London, Vyvyan explained how Dell is harnessing new technologies and circular solutions to tackle the amount of plastics seeping into waterways, which has gained mainstream attention following the recent Blue Planet II television series.

“From the beginning, Dell has been a leader in designing products with the whole lifecycle in mind – emphasising reuse, repair and recyclability as well as smart material choices and easy recycling options for our customers. Our work with closed-loop plastics is a great example of these areas working together,” Vyvyan said.

“In short, we believe that circular innovation and digital transformation are the keys to a more sustainable future. At Dell, we see the huge opportunities offered by embracing digital solutions – offering better quality of life for people and a more efficient use of natural resources, and we are constantly looking at the solutions we offer to drive innovative ways to meet not only business objectives, but our sustainable goals as well.”

The computer firm has been leading a timely revolution against plastic waste, which is seeping into the oceans at an alarming rate. With the Ellen MacArthur Foundation predicting that there will be more plastic than fish by weight in the oceans by 2050, Dell has teamed with other companies to turn this waste stream into a resource.

In February last year, Dell achieved a new first for the technology industry, by converting waste plastic found on beaches and in waterways into new packaging for one of its laptop products. The company is now spearheading a global alliance with positive impact company Lonely Whale – featuring contributions from General Motors and Interface – to create the world’s first commercial-scale supply chain for ocean-bound plastics.

The use of ocean plastics is still a niche initiative, but companies such as Proctor and Gamble (P&G) and Adidas are also exploring uses in a closed-loop system. Dell’s initial pilot committed to using eight tonnes of ocean plastics in packaging in the first year. However, Vyvyan noted that the company has committed to scaling beyond the pilot.

Dell has since committed to using 80 tonnes per year, and the goal links up with an overarching aim to use 100 million pounds of recycled-content plastic and other sustainable materials by 2020. The closed-loop plastics project was certified by UL Environment and analysis shows a net-benefit, natural capital gain of 44% – which is saving the company almost £1m annually compared to sourcing virgin fibres.

For Vyvyan, ocean plastics and closed-loop systems are just one area of a holistic sustainability strategy that has become the prime business model for the company.

“Sustainability for people and planet is not just a nice to have, it is an imperative for our planet as well as for our business,” Vyvyan said. “We’ve been steadily moving away from hydrocarbon-based plastic packaging and we were the first to commercially ship mushroom, wheat straw, bamboo and captured carbon emissions-based packaging.

“At the same time, we are seeing that technology including the move towards digital transformation, the internet of things and big data are driving smarter solutions across business and society which will enable smarter and more resource efficient cities, food production and healthcare.”

Wider opportunities

With the Ellen MacArthur Foundation highlighting that a shift to the circular economy could save an estimated $1trn per year in materials and could generate 400,000 new jobs in Europe alone, Dell is keen to capture additional benefits that its 100-million-tonnes target will bring.

But Vyvyan noted that a successful corporate strategy relied on embedding sustainability into day-to-day situations, the same way that a company would for employee engagement and satisfaction.

Dell offers staff flexible working programmes, for example, which can save commuting costs and encourage a better work-life balance for staff, while reducing facility emissions and costs for the company. With so many challenges – ranging from environmental to wellbeing – for companies to focus on, Vyvyan noted that how businesses position their sustainability agenda will likely define progress against a broad range of topics and societal needs.

“You can also see sustainability as a driver for innovation of products and services. In 2030 there will be eight billion people on the planet, and we can expect to see the impact of widespread resource scarcity and climate change. With so many challenges, there are also opportunities for businesses to look at how their core competencies can help solve for them. The UN Global Goals offer a great overview of innovation opportunities.

“Overall, I think the biggest barrier is that businesses see sustainability as an ‘add on’ – a separate programme or set of initiatives outside of their day-to-day business that requires additional resources, be they financial or manpower. But by integrating sustainability into your business strategy, there are opportunities to not only build your brand and become a good corporate citizen, but also reduce operating costs and create a more engaged workforce.”

Claire Vyvyan at the edie Sustainability Leaders Forum

Claire Vyvyan is one of the expert speakers that will appear on stage at edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum in January 2018.

Taking place on 24-25 January, the Sustainability Leaders Forum will bring together more than 600 ambitious professionals moving beyond environmental objectives to deliver transformational change and create brand value every year.

The two-day event, which runs alongside the Sustainability Leaders Awards, will feature interactive workshops and enhanced networking to give you the most comprehensive and immersive experience on the day. For more information and to book your place at the Forum, click here.

Matt Mace

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