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Elen Macarthur Foundation

 

Facing future challenges together

It often has been said that the European Union would give power back to regional authorities by minimising the effects of centralisation, as a natural knock-on effect of its supra-national reach. So maybe it’s not such a surprise to see regions from ten different countries get together to create an innovative partnership to address the challenges of the future… We talk to Michael Gray, Cradle to Cradle Project Manager with the Suffolk County Council, representing the East of England within the European C2C Network.

Can you tell us about the structure and objectives of the C2C Network?

The Cradle to Cradle network is primarily funded by the European Regional Development Fund and brings together 10 regional partners. In the UK, the project is being coordinated by the Suffolk County Council, and we represent the East of England as a region. The other partners are from The Netherlands – from where the project’s concept originates -, Belgium, France, Italy, Austria, Slovenia, Romania, Hungary and Finland. In each country, a company or a public authority has taken the lead in being part of this network. The objective is to create regions that are committed to the Cradle to Cradle approach: what we try to do is disseminate the C2C principles as detailed in McDonough and Braungart’s book, and our main output will be action plans at the end of our 2-year project, which will detail how we propose to create this legacy in each of the regions. We’ve also been busy trying to find good examples of working in a C2C or eco-effective manner, and what we intend to do is to transfer the learning or the elements of these practices between the different regions. My target is to transfer at least two examples from the rest of Europe into the East of England, and I will be exporting two good practices. The project is all about creating a network and a platform for cooperation around Cradle to Cradle solutions, as well as capitalising on good learning and positive case studies. Of course, the UK is in a different place than say The Netherlands, who are ahead in terms of knowledge and implementation of the philosophy…

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Who are you primarily trying to reach?

Most of our work has to be done around education and dissemination, it’s about explaining what Cradle to Cradle means for different sectors. It’s also important to say that the project itself concentrates on 4 main areas: industry, built environment, master planning & town planning and governance. I guess that last aspect actually transcends all the other 3. We’ve produced a perspective study on each of these themes, analysing how C2C relates to them. We also published a Good Practice Handbook, which is really a collection of the positive examples that we found and that we actually try to transfer between regions. It’s important to emphasise that we are not assessing products or processes in the same way that the certification body (EPEA) would do, we are simply asking people who implement good practices to talk about their journey towards eco-effectiveness. What we present are examples of businesses and organisations moving towards closed loop, by no means are we pretending to produce a list of Cradle to cradle certified products or structures. It’s not that black and white.

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In concrete terms, how do you go about getting the message across?

We’ve had several thematic seminars, within each of the regions. We have led on the construction perspective, and held our seminar at the University of Cambridge where all our partners plus the stakeholders from across Europe they wanted to bring along were invited (architects, builders…). We also obviously invited construction industry professionals from around the East of England, as well as environmental consultants and people who were already interested in the C2C concept. That way, we could get the discussion going between the appropriate people in our region, to know how we could apply the C2C approach locally. The seminar focusing on industry was held in Milan, Italy, the one on governance took place in Belgium (read our article about the Belgian EU presidency) while The Netherlands hosted the seminar about planning… All the learning from these events was used to produce our perspective studies. As well as that, we’ve created an online forum for the East of England for everybody who is interested in Cradle to Cradle: the idea is to come up with a platform for individuals and organisations. What’s more, the regional action plan I mentioned earlier will hopefully become the document that actually commits people to actually embedding C2C solutions within our region. It will give details on how we will import good practices from the rest of Europe, including who will take responsibility for embedding those practices, how they will do it, where the finances will come from – that’s a key point, and as part of my role I need to make sure these action plans have money behind them and don’t just sit on a shelf gathering dust.

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Looking at the European outreach, what are the goals?

We’d like to influence policy, that will be the job of the lead partner really, at the European level they will need to disseminate our work. We have a strong group of 10 regions and obviously our aim will be to try and shape European decisions – as you’ve noticed there is quite a lot of momentum on the continent regarding the C2C concept: the Danish waste management strategy for example includes Cradle to Cradle, and we want to see more examples of that happening across Europe, with C2C embedded in policy-making at both regional and national levels. I think there is definitely growing recognition of the validity of the idea, and the economic circumstances we find ourselves in are pushing a lot of industries and public authorities… Energy and resource-wise, things are getting tighter and tighter so we have to look at using them in a much more effective and clever way: it not only makes environmental sense but it’s also a good business practice, and more and more stakeholders see the opportunity.

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