The bottom line is circular
The sight of empty shops on Maroochydore’s Ocean Street gave sisters Ashleigh and Jaine Morris more than cause to reflect on a wasted opportunity but, rather, what they could do to help turn around the precinct using circular economy principles.
Their focus was tackling waste – but not necessarily what the traders and local businesses had to throw away. By promoting a collaborative approach, they believed it was possible to eliminate waste and provide the participating businesses with a financial boost. The Circular Experiment was born.
The sisters recently launched a six-month proof of concept business project in the Sunshine Coast town aimed at demonstrating how moving away from a linear economic model could result in significant benefits, among them maximising the use of resources and offering the possibility of scale for individual businesses.
“We believe that small business is the backbone of the economy – our dad runs a small business. We thought there had to be another way to help them get more value from the resources they have, minimise or eliminate waste and improve their bottom line,” Ashleigh says.
“I’d studied a Bachelor of Environmental Health and have a degree in management. I’ve worked in Indonesia, at the forefront of some challenging issues, but it was the TED talk by Dame Ellen MacArthur about when
she sailed around the world that really brought things home to me.
“She talked about having to make do with finite resources – what she had on the boat with her was all she had. We believe the global economy is the same.”
Jaine came through a different path. “Out of high school, I studied to be a nurse and moved to Cape York in Far North Queensland, working with a community of around 500 Indigenous people,” she says. “It was a life changing experience because the culture was very foreign to me, but I quickly gained an appreciation for how incredibly resourceful the Aboriginal people are and their connection to country.
“I then moved to Sydney and I was struck that, in a city of millions, I felt very alone. There was a lack of connection, a lack of community. When I moved to the Sunshine Coast, we brainstormed the idea of how circular economy principles could increase social value and connection, as well as resource efficiency.”
The mix of outlets in Ocean Street presented an attractive mix for the sisters, including cafés and restaurants, retail shops and service businesses. One of their key plans is to foster sharing of assets and releasing their value among the wider business community.
“We’re trying to help them change the way they look at their business model – in that any increased value
in their region or street results in increased value for them,” says Ashleigh.
“It essentially leads to economies of scale. In Ocean Street we’re working to connect [a number of] cafés
and bars. They all have different logistics for ordering, for deliveries, for waste management. We’re investigating whether we could implement one ordering system for them all, which could lead to cost savings and reduce emissions.
“It’s a conversation we need to continue to have with businesses. Circular Economy is a new term; the words don’t mean anything to small business.
“Small business owners work very hard; they’re often the owner, manager, chef, bookkeeper etc and trying to get the right conversations with them can be challenging. They have a lot of people knocking on their doors to sell them things and, while we’re looking at helping them save money and implement operational efficiencies, it’s tough for them to find the time or resources to address this.”
Key to the sisters’ plan is identifying where the value lies in the concept for each business. “Some businesses see the value in ‘going green’ because it’s an environment that appeals to their customers,” says Ashleigh. But the sisters say they’re aware that, for many other businesses, it’s a matter of the triple bottom line – social, environment and financial.
With the sisters working to sign up the Ocean Street businesses (12 at the time of going to print, with more expected), their hope after the six-month trial is to support the Sunshine Coast’s goal to become the most sustainable region in Australia. “That might be at odds with the Queensland attitude to waste and landfill generally,” Ashleigh says. “Queensland is not a leader in the management of waste and we need to innovate to show how sustainability can be an advantage for Queensland businesses and the community. It’s important for government, at any level, to have proof of concept. If we can show how local businesses are benefiting and why people are getting behind this, hopefully that can make the government step up in other ways.”
Jaine agrees: “We’re seriously proud of our area, but we can’t just depend on the stunning natural environment to make our case for us. That’s not what it means to be sustainable – we need strategies and innovations that will make it stay that way.”
GOALS FOR OCEAN STREET:
- minimising waste, moving to zero waste
- reducing water and electricity use in the street
- developing shared communication platforms
- between business owners, and
- creating shared social value.
“We’re hoping that, arising from this pilot, we’ll be able to develop a playbook that other places around Australia can learn from and implement,” Ashleigh says. “We have a ‘learn’ tab on our website and we’ll be transparent about our successes and challenges.
“It would be incredible if we could help make a difference in regions across Australia and create a scalable circular model that is accessible and affordable for small business.”