The Beginning of the End for Our Take, Make and Dispose Culture

Andrew Phipps • 02/06/2020

Our current approach to the linear economy of take, make and dispose has its roots in the second industrial revolution. The first industrial revolution sparked off the railroads, coal, iron and textiles industries. The second, coming to an end just as World War I started, saw the expansion of the electricity, petroleum and steel industries.  

The years following World War II generated considerable prosperity through the exploitation of the resources at hand. This approach had its downsides, namely the inception of a consumption hungry, throwaway society that carried on for many decades. The years since the turn of the millennium have of course seen an increased focus on using resources more efficiently and a recognition that we have a finite supply of many of the elements we deem critical to living our lives. We’ve seen the property industry looking at ways to negate the environmental concerns that we’ve been aware of for some time. The development, operating and management of assets being addressed in a more considered manner. 

The linear economy has served many people and businesses well, unparalleled growth in the economy of many countries. In fact, being a cornerstone in the growth of many previously economically challenged nations. As the economy has grown, so too has the level of concern expressed by many that this may not remain a sustainable stance for the years to come. If we create an item, whether that be a washing machine, a pair of jeans or a stylish top, with shorter timeframes before planned obsolesce we exacerbate the challenge of rationally utilising our meagre resources.  

The ‘cost’ of white goods has reached a level where many think it is not worth taking it to the local repair shop (if indeed such an outlet existed), better to replace altogether, with little thought to what happens to the ‘old’ machine much beyond ‘will the delivery driver take it with them? The thought of suggesting to my 13 year old daughter that I mend an item of clothing when a seam comes apart would see an expression of bewilderment. The whole point of fast fashion is not only to get it into the stores quickly and with a smooth supply chain but also to become out of fashion just as quickly. When an outfit can be purchased for the same price as 4 coffees at your Starbucks it is hardly surprising that this is the case. 

Gerald Ratner wasn’t wrong in his infamous 1991 speech to the Institute of Directors when he basically destroyed his company by saying ‘We sell a pair of earrings for under a pound, which is cheaper than a shrimp sandwich from M&S, but probably won’t last as long.’ People don’t mind buying products that have a very short life span but do mind being told they are buying ‘crap’ to use his vernacular. The businesses of today have learnt this message and don’t suggest they are offering products built to last, the speed of stock to shelf dictates the lifespan of an item. No longer do people think in terms of years or even seasons, but more in months, weeks and ‘wears.’ 

The current COVID-19 pandemic has given many people time to recalibrate and perhaps to understand what is important. We’ve seen how global supply chains have shuddered to a halt, we’ve faced walking along silent high streets, driven along empty roads and looked across at shopping centres bereft of shoppers. The linear economy that has been in vogue for an extended period of time has been found wanting and the positive news is that there is another way of working, a different way to live. 

The circular economy has been discussed at conferences, events, across boardroom tables and to date has not been greeted with the open arms of true recognition of what it actually means. In its simplest form it refers to the circular flow and efficient use of resources, materials and products. The anthesis of the way we have been operating for the past century. The new model supports a sustainable green agenda, environmentally protective and moves us away from a consumption and disposal-based model towards the extension of the life of products and materials and a reduction in the amount of waste being produced.  

The primary aim of the circular economy being of course, to eliminate waste and drastically reduce the use of our finite resources. There are a host of environmental, climatic, societal and economic benefits. The opportunities now are in identifying the opportunities that exist and in particular enhanced public – private relationships driving us towards a new pattern of growth.  

The circular economy will gain more attention as we progress back to our new normal. The focus on consumption and use of resources is something that engages people and businesses for different reasons. The recent spate of minimalism books, guides, podcasts and even films is in a part an extreme alignment with the concept of the circular economy. The premise they offer is one of buying and owning items that are critical, don’t throw away, maintain and repair. This is of course an extreme, but many will look at buying items that are longer lasting, the adage of ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ being thought of more often. 

We have already seen signs that our society will emerge differently from the crisis than we entered. At a very local level doing the weekly shopping for my elderly neighbours and answering a knock on the door to find a delicious, piping hot plum crumble as ‘payment’ is a suggestion that there is a renewed hope for the use of bartering, or sharing the ‘wealth’ with others. The low cost to me, high value to my neighbour (I’m going shopping anyway and they can’t), and the low cost to them, high value to me of a plum crumble (Sheila was baking anyway and had a glut of plums from her trees, I don’t have a plum tree nor the culinary skills!) My colleague habitually offers a skillfully caught brown trout in exchange for provisions at the local store, a store in which his wife volunteers and operates to the benefit of the village. In a microcosm this is the circular society, drastically reducing waste, providing things of low cost to us, high value to others, not having to overuse our limited resources. 

There have been some that suggest re-establishing economic growth will result in a pull away from the need to create a more sustainable environment and approach to life. We have to accept that this could not be further from the truth, the only sustainable approach to economic growth is by engaging with the core principles at the heart of the circular economy. Those principles of use, reuse and retain as opposed to take, make and dispose are in line with the way we will view and measure success over the remainder of the century. 

rELATED articles

modern office with lamps and Vitra style chairs
Insights • Workplace

The Challenges of Returning to Work

The return to work is considered across 3-time horizons and across 5 key areas from integrated facilities management, work space, people and future work patterns, to buildings and portfolio.
Nicola Gillen • 21/04/2020
high rise apartment block looking up
Insights • Investment

COVID-19 and Alternatives

Investors in specialist sectors such as student accommodation, life sciences, retirement living, data centres, healthcare, co-working, hotels and residential are seeking to understand the impact of COVID-19 on the underlying operational businesses as quickly as possible.

David Haynes • 21/04/2020
University laboratory US petridish
Insights • Lab

Life Sciences Looking Forward

Life science: from academia, to businesses and clinicians, the sector has never been more at the forefront of society.
empty lecture theatre
Insights • Education

Student Accommodation

The lack of certainty over the 2020/21 academic year and impact on student intake has caused some investors to be more cautious. 
Sarah Jones • 21/04/2020
elderly gentleman's hand place over each other on walking stick
Insights • Residential

Should You Invest in the Retirement Living Sector?

As a needs-based product, senior living real estate has historically proven to be more recession-resilient and stable than traditional real estate sectors.
Lee Layton • 14/12/2020
sand timer with red colour sand
Insights • Residential

Residential - Timing Is Everything

The UK residential market continues to be impacted further with the Government’s advice to close down the new homes and secondhand markets.
Charles Whitworth • 21/04/2020
Insights • Commentary

Rethinking Density

Putting people together creates value. This principle is now being significantly challenged by COVID-19. Do we need to rethink density? If so, do we also need to rethink cities and offices?
Richard Pickering • 21/04/2020
red steel building
Insights • Commentary

UK Real Estate Perspectives

As the COVID-19 pandemic envelops the globe, we are committed to providing our clients with up to the minute intelligence and commentary as to what is happening in the real estate markets.
Digby Flower • 04/11/2020
Sustainability 101 (image)
Research • Sustainability

Sustainability 101: Your Guide to Critical Definitions

We have created a list of terms and definitions we think are of particular importance when it comes to sustainability and commercial real estate.
Andrew Phipps • 07/06/2021
Role of the City CArd (image)
Insights • Sustainability

The Role of Cities in Defining Our Environmental Future

To support that future, the urban ecosystem needs to be at the heart of urban and development planning. While some might argue that’s a constraint on development, it’s actually an opportunity.
Andrew Phipps • 03/06/2021
blue duotone graphic of people in office
Insights • Economy

EMEA Markets View

Our EMEA local market research colleagues share the latest real estate market views from their countries.
Andrew Phipps • 01/06/2021
20 things to know about sustainability (image)
Insights • Sustainability

20 Things you Need to Know About Sustainability and Property

While sustainability is a major challenge that we are all aware of, the details may be less transparent. We've highlighted 20 things we think should be known about sustainability and real estate.
Andrew Phipps • 13/05/2021
arrow engraved in concrete
Insights • Occupier

Occupier Decision Making

As we stop and reflect on what is, for most people, week 2 or 3 of our imposed lock down, a massive call out to all FM teams globally. They have been working flat out to help businesses stay functioning and open where this is necessary, as well as lending additional support to front-line businesses.
Michael Creamer • 08/04/2020
glasses on desk inside skyscraper office looking out at night time city
Insights • Valuation

The Valuer's Perspective

March quarter figures will show a marked downgrading in all sectors bar Central London offices and the best industrial and logistics units.
Charles Smith • 08/04/2020
high rise apartment block looking up
Insights • Investment

COVID-19 and Alternatives

Investors in specialist sectors such as student accommodation, life sciences, retirement living, data centres, healthcare, co-working, hotels and residential are seeking to understand the impact of COVID-19 on the underlying operational businesses as quickly as possible.

David Haynes • 21/04/2020
ethernet cables in sockets
Insights • Data Center

Data Centres Versus COVID-19

With society under physical lockdown, we have never been more reliant on data centre facilities, as we increase our virtual (on-line) presence.
flexible workspace people working in converted warehouse
Insights • Coworking

Flexible Workspace's Biggest Challenge

Although some flexible workspace operators had not until now weathered a downturn what we learnt from the GFC in 2008 was that demand for flexible workspace in times of uncertainty tends to remain high.
Emma Swinnerton • 07/04/2020
empty hospital operating theatre
Insights • Healthcare

Healthcare Balance of Risk and Opportunity

Never has the healthcare industry been in the spotlight to such an extent and rarely has the interaction between the public and private sectors been so constructive and collaborative.
Martin Robb • 07/04/2020
pillows on hotel double bed
Insights • Hospitality

Hospitality Challenges

Two months ago, the conversations around the UK hospitality sector were focused on exciting new brands, the undisputed positives of long-term global demographic and tourism trends and how best to package product to satisfy the increasing appetite from institutional capital seeking to capitalise on the secure long term income provided by the sector.
Jonathan Hubbard • 07/04/2020
Knightsbridge, London during COVID-19 lockdown
Insights • Retail

Retail Quarterday Mayhem

As the ‘stay at home’ message crescendos, and lockdown sweeps the world, many sectors are feeling the economic crunch. Without the daily hustle and bustle on our streets, the physical elements of the retail and leisure market are facing a state of economic hibernation.
Paul Durkin • 08/04/2020
Woman working on laptop in kitchen with glass of milk
Insights • Commentary

Introducing the New Normal

A week is a long time in politics would be a very apt phrase for the current global situation. The change we’ve seen since we shared our last view of the UK real estate market has been dramatic in two ways. 
Andrew Phipps • 07/04/2020
desktop screen at home with iphone with Skype logo
Insights • Commentary

Leadership Resilience

The resilience of our leadership is brought into sharp relief during times of crisis. The nature of the crisis is moot, it’s how people in positions of responsibility respond and the messages they send to their teams, clients, and in the cases of governments around the world, their electorate and the voracious 24-hour news cycle. 
Andrew Phipps • 07/04/2020
black & white young woman eyes raised, smiling
Insights • Commentary

Motivational and Social Shifts

If your past 2 weeks has been anything like mine, then you’re likely to be getting to a place of COVID-19 fatigue.
Richard Pickering • 08/04/2020
blue duotone graphic of people in office
Insights • Economy

EMEA Markets View

Our EMEA local market research colleagues share the latest real estate market views from their countries.
Andrew Phipps • 01/06/2021