With governments funding startups in the social enterprise and circular economy space there is a need to keep an eye on the outcomes being delivered, according to representatives of Responsible Wood.

Mark Thomson and Jason Ross have worked with the timber and paper industry to developed agreed frameworks for marking wood-based products as sustainable. As a result, they understand the need for agreement as well as the challenges. Great Notion’s Geoff Ebbs met with them in Brisbane today (Thursday, June 20) to discuss the lessons they have learned and how they might be applied in the circular economy and social enterprise space.

Mark Thomson is the director of Responsible Wood and is concerned that a lack of oversight might damage the reputation of the movement and lead to its dismissal by mainstream business.

“The implicit assumption that a startup is good just because it is a social enterprise or identifies with the circular economy, may need to be challenged,” he told Great Notion.

Marketing manager, Jason Ross pointed out that if the overarching aim is to spread the concepts of the circular economy as broadly as possible into the business community, then it is critical that the concepts are clearly understood and communicated.

“Business and government really need to address social and environmental viability as well as economic considerations,” added Mark. “Poor implementation could undermine that.”

“We saw in early sustainability standards that hasty implementation of environmental standards discredited the idea of sustainability,” he said. His experience is primarily in timber and paper, but our discussion ranged across similar experience in technology standards, water and sewage recycling and the interactions between rich and poor nations through international programs designed to help that fall into disrepute.

Great Notion and Responsible Wood
Geoff Ebbs, Jason Ross and Mark Thomson discuss certification and standards

Mark observes that there is a natural tension between encouraging innovation and diversity on one hand, and managing processes to ensure a common purpose on the other.

“My experience indicates that certification and standards provide an enabling platform that encourages innovation in an orderly manner and avoids catastrophic failure that is damaging to reputation as well as slowing progress.”

He points out that in the timber industry separate standards developed by environmental groups and industry groups developed from divergent starting points but have evolved to accommodate each other and create a working, global set of standards.

Jason Ross adds that any working agreement between different groups involves compromise, but it is important to ensure that those compromises do not undermine the fundamental intent of the agreement by embedding poor practice as standard.

Great Notion is engaged in ongoing discussions with Responsible Wood about presenting the advantages of the Circular Economy and a Zero Growth Economy to business.

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