ZWC 2014 Highlights – Sandy Rodger Explains Project Mainstream

With over 30 years of experience in manufacturing, supply chain management, and research and development, Sandy Rodger’s background leaves him well-placed to provide leadership and guidance in the shift to a zero-waste approach to the economy. His current position, as the lead for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Project Mainstream sees Rodger collaborating with the management consulting firm McKinsey and the World Economic Forum – to facilitate a shift in the flow of major industrial raw materials, as a means of fostering progress toward a circular economy. In his presentation to the Zero Waste Conference Sandy focuses on Project Mainstream; to highlight the massive opportunities to be found in the switch to a circular economy.

“This is a really big opportunity and it’s catching fire in cities and companies all over the world,” says Rodger at the start of his presentation. “It’s really exciting to see how fast this is moving.”

Rodger references the three reports the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has produced on the circular economy. Each report makes the case for faster adoption, quantifies economic benefits, and discusses ways to implement the circular economy. But it’s the third report that Rodger credits as the genesis of Project Mainstream.

“It’s the action that the third report is calling for,” says Rodger, in particular the need for collaboration at every level to accelerate the desired paradigm shift.

Project Mainstream is designed to help companies overcome the hurdles of scale and scope that hamper the move to a circular economy. The project is a two year endeavor, running to January 2016. The goal will be to establish the foundations in 2014, start the transformation in 2015, and show proof of concept and scalability in time for the 2016 World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

Rodger chooses plastics packaging to describe the approach of Project Mainstream.

“The point of this story is that there are two big design decisions,” explains Rodger.

The first decision is the design of the packaging. The second decision is the design of the system that catches the packaging after it’s been used. The first decision, according to Rodger, is largely in the hands of the companies who produce goods, their suppliers, and the retailers who sell them. The second aspect is handled mostly by cities, through their waste management role, along with consumers and retailers.

The problem, says Rodger, is that currently the two design decisions are made in relative isolation from one another. For multinational companies producing goods for a global market, the ability to create packaging to meet the varied requirements of thousands of different jurisdictions verges on the impossible. For cities, they have to create systems to deal with packaging with little or no input into the best design for their individual needs.

“These two design decisions are essentially independent,” says Rodger, “and the circular flows are seriously hampered by that. Project Mainstream’s job is to integrate these two design decisions.”

Rodger hopes that Project Mainstream can create a blueprint for successful integration of the two factors. He believes that by widening the scope of this issue, it can create the potential for a breakthrough.

“We have big companies and big cities already on board with this and we are going to assemble an absolutely superb cast of cities and companies… It’s about commitment supported by facts.”

Rodger also mentions two other projects being tackled by Project Mainstream. One will look at asset tracking, the other will deal with paper.

“What we are looking for is the ability to get to tipping points,” explains Rodger while encouraging conference attendees to consider participation in the project. “Mainstream has this very particular job of driving the big-scale shift. So what we are looking for are the people who can help us reach tipping points and reach scale. We would absolutely love to hear from you.”

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