Like most residents of Amsterdam, Andy Ridley is enchanted by the city’s picturesque canals.
Unlike most of its residents, however, it is not just the aesthetic quality of the UNESCO-protected waterways that fascinates him. It is also the mud in the canal bed.
“Amsterdam’s canals may have originally been designed for smooth logistics into the city, but the sewage sludge that collects at the bottom can be used to produce biogas and synthetic fertiliser,” he explains. “That has a lot of value for both the local economy and the agricultural industry.”
This idiosyncratic observation is clearly not that of an ordinary Amsterdammer. Ridley is the chief executive of Circle Economy, a social enterprise and advocate of a novel approach to corporate sustainability that puts safeguarding the environment on a par with maintaining profitable growth.
The idea of Amsterdam’s canals doubling up as source of biogas and fertiliser is just one of many that Ridley and his team of scientists, engineers and designers have proposed following the completion of their ‘circularity scan’ of the city, through which they analysed its flows of energy, food production and water.
Circle Economy maintains the world economy has become dangerously reliant on a near-defunct linear model of ‘take, make, and dispose’ that is putting increasing strain on the world’s reserves of natural resources.
The economy would be better served, Ridley says, if companies make more efficient use of raw materials by keeping them in circulation for as long as possible, and recovering products at the end of service to give them a new lease of life. To help businesses, communities and governments do that, Circle Economy has developed a number of practical tools and products.
Ridley says his ideas for redesigning the economic system are beginning to gain momentum – not least because persistent volatility in the price of rare earth metals and other commodities has acted as a wake-up call for corporations.