How to make a business case for resource recovery

If resource recovery is to be widely adopted as part of the transition towards a ‘closed-loop’ circular economy, we need to be able to clearly articulate to government and companies how they would benefit from this change: in other words, we need to be able to present a compelling business case.

To understand how such a business case for resource recovery could be prepared, we enlisted the help of resource recovery experts from academia, industry and government as part of the Resource Recovery from Waste 2017 annual conference. During the day we asked them to identify drivers, barriers and actions for the adoption of resource recovery. From the resulting discussions, 37 themes were identified that can act as a list of ingredients for future business cases: these are outlined in our new open access paper.

The themes identified fall in between the old economic paradigm that we can grow our way out of the complex issues associated with resource overexploitation and waste generation, and the newer paradigm that multi-dimensional sustainability challenges need multi-dimensional solutions. This suggests that resource recovery could help support the move towards multidisciplinary growth where net positive contributions are achieved across the economic, social and environmental domains.

Using the full list of themes for any single business case would amount to a lengthy argument. On this basis, a network analysis was undertaken to determine which themes were most connected and could act as key intervention points, these were:

  1. Expanding the types of values and costs considered from mostly economic costs to also include environmental, social and technical aspects (‘Value resources’, ‘Holistic costs’)
  2. Governmental aspects such as ‘Regulatory change’ and ‘Policy integration’.
  3. ‘Enabling technologies & skills’ and ‘Resource security’ were also critical.

These key intervention points function as an umbrella and by formulating arguments for resource recovery on these points, benefits regarding the other themes may be covered too. For instance, in the case of how we value resources, additional benefits may include business model innovation, low-carbon growth, and including external costs as a fairer reflection of true cost. In turn, how we value resources is likely to depend on the policy and regulatory landscape. In the end, to write a full business case for resource recovery (addressing the total change and not just elements) will require the integration of evidence from across disciplines and years of sustained effort.

The full paper on which this article is based can be found here:

Anne Velenturf and Juliet Jopson (2019) “Making the business case for resource recovery” Science of the Total Environment. 648, 1031-1041; doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.08.224 Open Access. Published online 18 August 2018.

We would like to thank again all the conference delegates for their participation in discussions at the Resource Recovery from Waste Annual Conference 2017 that led to this publication. Further details on the conference including a summary of proceedings and presentations can be found on the 2017 conference webpage.

A full list of RRfW publications can be found on our publications page.