Our partnership with Our Food Future and COIL and has been a critical driver of the key knowledge and insights the Lab has produced. This collaboration has produced a number of impactful outcomes: a landmark study of climate-smart circularity and accompanying report, an in-progress research project on ‘circular clusters’, events (such as this webinar hosted with the Network for Business Sustainability), and the highly-innovative Circular Leadership Program.
Increasingly, policymakers are promoting the transition to a circular economy to not only reduce waste and save natural resources but also to mitigate climate change. However, ecological gains of the circular economy may actually be highly contextual and require holistic analysis tools such as LCA to guide decisions. This motivated us to apply LCA to circular food economy projects supported by the Our Food Future initiative in Guelph-Wellington (as well as similar projects in the Montreal Region). The multi-year study analyzed over 110 “discard exchanges,” in which one firm took the potential food waste from another for an intended beneficial use, with a focus on food waste upcycling.
Our joint report with Our Food Future and COIL – Scaling the Climate-Smart Circular Economy – was the outcome of this research. This research produced some eye-opening findings, especially that the well-established food waste hierarchy doesn’t necessarily guide correct decision-making in terms of climate outcomes. Our work clarified the key enablers of how circular upcycling solutions can also be climate-smart – factors like efficient processing and minimizing the distances materials are transported. Importantly, many of the circular food entrepreneurs we studied were already operating in this climate-smart fashion. This report has generated significant interest and attention and is informing the policy dialogue in Canada, such as this recent report from the Canadian Climate Institute.
We are now applying this same approach to look at the climate benefits of circular clusters – whole networks of circular businesses connecting with others like we are seeing emerge in Guelph-Wellington. This research will be published shortly. This work has now led to a collaboration with Canadian Standard Association (CSA) on a new project. This project will extend our work with Our Food Future to construction and textile sectors to build quality standards for circular decision-making in food, construction, and textile sectors.
The recent exciting outcome of our collaboration has been the Circular Leadership Program (CLP). The first cohort of CLP worked with 19 entrepreneurs and business leaders to build their systems thinking capabilities and to deploy these to shape innovative new circular business ideas. This first cohort produced some very exciting new solutions, and the support from COIL enabled five standout companies to secure up to $20,000 to fund their circular ideas. This collaboration demonstrates the exciting possibilities when change-making initiatives like Our Food Future and COIL partner with a leading research partners like Ivey – we can really help shape pathways of systems change: in this case the transition to the circular economy.