This engaging online resource has been launched to build understanding of what the Foundational Economy is; the benefits it can bring; and how it can be strengthened.
Vaughan Gething, Minister for Economy explains:
“This online eLearning module is an excellent tool to better understand Community Wealth Building and place-based approaches, which can support and nourish the Foundational Economy, central to our Economic Mission. We all interact with the Foundational Economy (FE) every day, from the food we eat, the buildings we live and work in, and the services that we use. It is inseparable from our communities and our country, representing roughly 40% of the economy.
Building the necessary capability and skills to embed FE objectives across the Welsh public sector is crucial. By doing this we can maximise opportunities for our indigenous suppliers and build resilient, highly skilled supply chains – keeping the Welsh pound in our communities.
To do this, we recognise the need to provide the necessary toolsets and support for our public sector partners and practitioners.
I am pleased to announce the launch of this eLearning module and hope it is widely used to strengthen understanding, commitment and know-how to help our foundational sectors thrive.”
How long does this eLearning module take?
There are 8 sections to this course. We recommend completing the module in one sitting, which will take between 30 – 45 minutes.
Who is it for?
This module has been designed for anyone to take, whether interested citizens or those working in public, private and third sectors. We particularly recommend it to those who are involved in developing economic policies and projects, as well as those working in public sector procurement. The short course is designed to leave learners feeling more informed, confident and energised!
No specialist knowledge is required to take this module and it has been designed for anyone who is interested.
Where can I find out more?
Links to further reading can be found at the end of the module.
What can a just and fair net zero transition look like?
What can a just and fair net zero transition look like? It’s a topic that has been on my mind a lot since joining Cynnal Cymru in February as the Senior Programme and Policy Lead, leading our Fair Work and Living Wage team. Unsurprisingly for a charity called ‘Sustain Wales’, we’ve always been a sustainability charity first and foremost. But for a few years now, we’ve worked on developing our aims on ‘just transition’, and that has included embedding the fair work agenda outlined in the Fair Work Wales report in 2019 into our aims. That has meant working with trade unions, writing policy papers on spreading fair work principles throughout existing government programmes, and sitting on the Welsh Government’s group aimed at tackling modern slavery.
We’re also the Living Wage Foundation’s accreditation partner for Wales, meaning we essentially host Living Wage Wales in house. Living Wage Wales has delivered over 22,000 pay rises for low-paid workers across Wales through this work, including 5,575 in 2023 alone – making a direct contribution to tackling the cost of living crisis. This fits with another key Cynnal Cymru principle – focus on action, not just words.
This is what myself and my colleagues on the Fair Work and Living Wage team work on – but what does it have to do with sustainability? I’d say it has a huge contribution to make. We should be honest about the fact that there are vested interests who are opposed to carbon reduction and nature-positive actions, particularly at the scale we know these need to happen at. It barely needs saying, but profit motives very often run against sustainability aims. A tree can be a project stewarded by communities over hundreds of years that provides space for nature and clean air for people, or it can be a blocker to a new car park. At time of writing, it was only yesterday that we heard the UAE government plans to use COP28 to make oil deals.
There are often efforts to protect private profit motives via leveraging the jobs business creates, to bind the inexorable destruction of the natural world to the interests of working people. In this framing, environmentalists and their causes are painted as cloistered from the demands of the real world that most people have to deal with. There’s no hiding from the fact that this can be an emotive and powerful dividing line, carving the people whose world is being worsened away from efforts to protect it. We saw in the recent Uxbridge by-election how action on emissions, in this case Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ), can be utilised for political gain.
Focus on action – not just words.
For me, then, a just and fair transition isn’t just a slogan. It is a vital tool in our efforts towards carbon reduction and nature restoration. If our sustainability efforts are questioned, we can very happily point to the work we do to ensure that people have access to fair working conditions and boosting the pay of those in the lowest-paid jobs so that they can afford to live and not just exist. Work on a fair and just transition can bind working people to the cause of sustainability – not an inconvenience for people, but an opportunity. At a legislative level in Wales, the recent Social Partnership and Public Procurement Act has amended the Well-being of Future Generations Act to include ‘fair work’, and our well-being indicators include payment of the real Living Wage and trade union membership. This binds the cause of working people even closer to the task of saving our planet.
If we get it right, the green transition gives us the opportunity to repair many of the broken elements of our economy. It can mean high-quality, unionised, green jobs spread across communities that have seen unfair working practices and low pay proliferate. Green skills training programmes that prepare our workforce for the future can contribute to bringing an end to the gender and racial inequities we see today. And of course, it can mean the avoidance of the road to disaster our climate and natural world are currently on.
So, as we look at Wales Climate Week and COP28, let’s keep the things that are important to people – their livelihoods, incomes, and their everyday lives – at the forefront of our minds. That’s what a just and fair transition is all about.
Harry Thompson is Cynnal Cymru’s Senior Programmes and Policy Lead. He manages the Fair Work and Living Wage team, which work towards Cynnal Cymru’s strategic goal of a fair and just society. He comes from an economic policy background, having led projects on topics such as empowering trade unions, the Welsh Government’s fiscal framework, and community empowerment.
How do we build green skills for a Net Zero Wales?
Last week, a few members of the Cynnal Cymru team attended Green Skills for a Net Zero Wales led by Business in the Community. In this breakfast briefing about the Green Skills agenda in Wales, likeminded organisations met to discuss green skills, with an address from the Minister of Economy in Wales, Vaughan Gething. Cynnal Cymru facilitated round tables with senior leaders in business of all sizes across Wales to exchange ideas on how everyone in Wales can grow a skilled workforce that meets Wales’ net zero commitments.
What are Wales’ Net Zero Commitments?
As part of the All Wales Plan 2021-25, organisations across every sector have pledged to make changes towards a net zero economy. In order to achieve a net zero economy, Wales as a whole needs to reduce our total emissions in 2030 by at least 90% relative to the baseline year, 2019-20.
How can we do this?
A key message in the event was championing the notion that green skills are not just about technical skills or the creation of new jobs. At Cynnal Cymru, we believe in a well-rounded approach to sustainable change, which is why we have a Fair Work team leading Living Wage Wales and a just transition to sustainable changes.
Since joining Cynnal Cymru, I have attended and led events such as a Net Zero Skills round table for the Open University, a steering group for the IEMA green careers hub, and a Mainstreaming Equality for a Just Transition evidence panel. Through these conversations and research, I have come to realise that if we define green skills narrowly – only as technical jobs in energy and transport, for example – we will alienate people and will not reach our Net Zero transition goals. The UK economy, like many others, relies on sectors such as hospitality, retail, healthcare, construction, creative arts and more, which also need to be a part of this transition. Our focus must be on supporting existing sectors to upskill and re-skill their existing workforces so that huge communities don’t miss out on being part of a Net Zero economy.
If we define green skills so narrowly – only as technical jobs in energy and transport, for example – we will alienate people and will not reach our Net Zero transition goals.
So why aren’t we doing this?
I noticed that organisations:
Don’t have the time to think about green skills
Don’t know where to start with these conversations or changes
Don’t know how green skills apply to them
I think this can be linked back to the understanding that every job can be green. The Welsh Government is currently taking consultations on how to achieve net zero skills across sector. Cynnal Cymru is a member of the SME Taskforce for Climate, alongside other small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). As part of my work on this taskforce, I am educating workplaces across sectors on the ways they can understand their own skillset in relation to net zero.
Karolina joined Cynnal Cymru in 2021 as our Sustainability Advisor to provide consultancy support to the public and private sectors on how to become more sustainable in their operations. She represents Cynnal Cymru on the SME Taskforce for the Climate.
The project, funded by the Wales Innovation Network, identified businesses in Wales that have successfully implemented circular economy principles and content that can help businesses and public services develop their CE knowledge and skills.
The Circular Economy concept requires a new way of thinking, away from the traditional linear economy thinking, where products are bought, used, and thrown away. Put simply, the circular economy is a system in which resources such as materials and equipment are used, reused, and repurposed as effectively as possible, for as long as possible.
Partners have researched and written a report that outlines 21 case studies of Welsh businesses that have successfully implemented circular economy principles, including inspirational video clips, such as Bluestone National Park Resort in Pembrokeshire or Celsa Steel UK in Cardiff.
Marten Lewis Head of Corporate Responsibility at Bluestone National Park Resort states “The circular economy programmes we have embedded in our operations have been very impactful, supporting need in the local community, creating positive engagement with staff, reducing our waste streams, and providing evidence of our lived brand values”.
Adele Williams founder of Green Wave Hair Workshop gathers hair donations and sews them into an absorbent mat which can be used to soak up oil spills in the ocean and on land commented on how circular economy practices have helped her business:
“Implementing circular economy practices within my business has attracted many more customers and helped to create goals, inspire, and create a sense of fulfilment for myself and Green Wave’s customers.”
Suzanne Wardell, CEO of Circular Economy Mid Wales, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to save waste from landfill explains
“Implementing circular economy principles is at the heart of what Circular Economy Mid Wales not only does, but it is what and who we are! Every aspect of our business is driven by recycle, reuse, repair – from the core business of reducing landfill to our partnerships with other social enterprises. Our aim is to turn a linear economy into a more circular one.”
The case studies provide ‘how to’ examples for practitioners to better understand circular economy principles and their implementation. The case studies also aim to encourage public service organisations and businesses to begin implementation of CE principles. The report disseminates some of the magnificent work ongoing in Wales and supports organisations to reduce their carbon footprint whilst moving to a CE business model.
A capability development matrix provides a ‘road map’ which organises available resources into levels to enable organisations to develop appropriate knowledge and skills of individuals and groups. The level 1 content provides short videos and briefing notes that develop CE understanding, whereas level 7 content features intensive programmes that develop the knowledge and skills of practitioners to implement CE principles within their organisations.
A successful hybrid conference allowed partners from across Wales to participate, soft-launched the resources and findings in October 2022.
The WIN project follows the successful Cardiff Circular Economy Network Project, a pilot project working with businesses and schools in the Cardiff Council boundary which facilitated a series of workshops for practitioners and educators to come together, network and to develop a fuller understanding of circular economy principles.
Project Director Dr Gary Walpole commented on the importance of the research:
“The funding from WIN allowed us to develop a report and resources that will enable practitioners to fully understand the principles of the circular economy and embed them within their organisations. Implementing CE principles will enable clean growth and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).”
Nick Clifton, Professor of Economic Geography and Regional Development at Cardiff Metropolitan University explained:
“We need to transform our innovation ecosystems to deliver truly sustainable societal outcomes that go beyond narrowly defined measures of growth and development. Projects like WIN which brings together private, public and third sector actors to implement real-world solutions and share best practice, are vital to achieving this goal.”
What is the Well-being of Future Generations Act and why does it matter to business?
The Act, passed in 2015, is one-of-a-kind legislation as it places a legal duty on the 44 public bodies in Wales to think about the long-term impact of their decisions, to work better with people, communities and each other, and to work to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change from occurring, rather than just dealing with their consequences. The Act is unique to Wales, attracting interest from countries across the world as it offers a huge opportunity to make a long-lasting, positive change for current and future generations.
Although the Act does not apply to the private sector, here in Wales large organisations such as Welsh Water began to align themselves with its overall purpose of improving Wales’s well-being in the broadest sense. They saw the Act as a framework for talking about sustainability to stakeholders and wanted to show the public sector how they too can contribute to the seven Well-being Goals that the Act sets out. After all, the private sector supplies goods and services to the public sector, so it is important to demonstrate shared values. Moreover, given that the Act reflects the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), businesses in Wales, who have been working on the SDGs, understand the Act’s relevance.
Can the Act be a guide for all businesses?
Last year we got a chance to explore this much further. In partnership with the Office of the Future Generations Commissioner we held a series of interviews with large organisations with a presence in Wales, as well as business networks who said thatbeing able to “speak” the language of the Act would be of value to the private sector. However, in the absence of a readily available, comprehensive, and peer-reviewed guide to the Act and a framework to align with, businesses turn instead to global frameworks and the SDGs, which are more familiar to the private sector. The link between the SDGs and the Act in Wales is therefore missed.
On the back of this research, we suggested a framework for businesses to help them start making sense of the Act, which we are now trialling with larger companies. As further research we also ran a workshop with board members of Hafren Dyfrydwy (a subsidiary of Severn Trent Water) to help them realise how to contribute to the Act’s Goals.
Future-proofing smaller businesses
While our research addressed the challenge that large businesses face, we felt that there was also an opportunity to engage smaller organisations with fewer staff and resources.
Over the last two decades, we have noticed that small-profit and not-for-profit businesses want to contribute to sustainability but lack time, people, knowledge and money to take action. They want to sustain their operations and provide employment opportunities without causing damage to the environment, communities and economy for years to come. But they feel overwhelmed by the information about sustainability and confused when this is often presented as a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘must-have’ like HR, health and safety or finance. They are in need of clear advice and want to talk to someone with an understanding of their challenges. We also often hear that businesses want a one-stop shop where they can read and enquire about sustainability and find solutions that are relevant to their size or sector. And because most business owners feel that they are on their own, being part of a community is important to them too.
The toolkit aims to support businesses to play their part in Wales’s journey to the Act’s seven Well-being Goals. It is free of charge, available in the public domain and most importantly, is written from the perspective of businesses and their sustainability priorities.
We recognise, however, that to increase its relevance and effectiveness, the toolkit can be enhanced with more tools, examples and case studies to help businesses future-proof their operations. This is the next stage of our work and we are excited to use the knowledge and insights we have gained from working with our members and others to inform this.
We hope the toolkit will act as a guide to sustainable development as described in the Act, and as a hub of knowledge for businesses seeking ideas and solutions.
Can you help test this toolkit to meet business needs?
If you are an SME and you’d like to help test this toolkit, please get in contact.
The natural world operates on a closed-loop system where nothing goes to waste. Everything that dies or is extracted eventually returns to the soil or transforms into something else, processed and used by other symbiotic organisms. This is in stark contrast to the linear system of the human world, where high volumes of organic and inorganic materials are produced with no efficient process to eliminate waste and pollution. The planet and its inhabitants struggle to cope with the sheer volume of waste generated. To tackle this global problem, we must shift to a symbiotic, circular, and closed-loop mindset.
What is circularity
Luckily, there are dedicated non-profit organisations, companies, and public institutes that have worked tirelessly to embed this concept into all our lives. Therefore today, we speak of a “circular economy”.
According to one of the leading voices on this topic, the Ellen McArthur Foundation, the circular economy is:
“A systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution. It is based on three principles, driven by design: eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials (at their highest value), and regenerate nature.
It is underpinned by a transition to renewable energy and materials. Transitioning to a circular economy entails decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources. This represents a systemic shift that builds long-term resilience, generates business and economic opportunities, and provides environmental and societal benefits.”
Rather than simply improving recycling, a circular economy connects the post-product lifecycle with pre-production, which is largely disconnected.
The great disconnect
As you read these words, memories may flood back to when waste was not part of your household vernacular. You might even recall times when every part of the animal was utilised, clothing was shared, and purchases were limited to necessity. Even now, it is commonplace for factories to sell their waste to other industries, which then repurposed it as raw materials.
The notion that households and factories in the past generated little waste due to financial constraints is valid. Historian William Cronon notes that early 20th century Chicago, the world’s meat production capital, had an overwhelming amount of animal by-products such as skin, fat, and hair. This forced the supply chain to repurpose them, leading to economic diversification and specialisation. However, that does not mean there were no issues just because a producer found another use for waste—quite the contrary. Mass meat processing in the early 20th century, although it seemed futuristic (the pig de-assembly line influenced Henry Ford to create an assembly line for his cars), it created a lock-in for farmers who had nowhere else to sell to, workers who were tied to the factory line, and the consumer who lost small-farm butchers. The animals, bred en masse and killed en masse, and the environment, which suffered from polluted rivers and overgrazed plains, were also locked in the system of not their creation.
The tipping point”, Sarah Hill writes, “came over several decades towards the end of the nineteenth century, when consumption got severed from production and when manufacturers no longer relied on the by-products of consumption to make new things. By the third quarter of the nineteenth century, mechanised extraction of natural resources rendered such creative practices obsolete in the United States and England. And the steady outpouring of new goods, fashioned from new materials, made it more and more pointless to hold onto anything for long, not only when things broke, but also when things became ‘outdated’. (Hill, 2016:178) . On top of all this, so much of what was produced was made from materials that cannot be reused and will not decompose, choking the earth.
Changing natures of circular economy
Since the 1960s, environmental movements have advocated for a circular economy as a response to the mass production and disposal of goods. Ekins et al. (2019) define the circular economy as having two components: the flow of materials through an economy and the necessary economic conditions to support that flow. Although terms like sustainable management and industrial ecology gained popularity during this time, it wasn’t until the 1980s that Stahel proposed a spiral-loop system that allowed for economic growth and progress while minimizing environmental harm. In Pearce et al.’s “Blueprint for a Green Economy” in the 1990s, the term “circular economy” was coined, and movements like biomimicry and Cradle to Cradle have since furthered the concept. However, Boulding’s 1960 essay “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth” first called for the stewardship of future generations by criticizing the linear take-make-use-dispose system.
The dispersed origins of a circular economy are important because, as often happens, the past re-emerges while new ideas try to establish themselves. Blomsma and Brennan for instance, talked of a circular economy in terms of framing a narrative around handling waste and resources in the early days and from the 1980s onward, the discussions were framed around waste as a source of value. But in the 2020s, there is a much wider and broader framing, which we see in the definition by the Ellen McArthur Foundation’s famous butterfly diagram:
The circular economy is gaining traction in policy and private sectors, leading to diverse interpretations and evaluations. However, it is important to note that it is not solely about improving recycling but rather about reimagining production, usage, and regenerative potential for the environment and society. Adopting design and system thinking, as well as user-centric and environment-centric designs, can assist those embarking on this journey. This may mean asking new questions about things we buy or produce. For instance, as a customer, consider a T-shirt you purchased years ago that no longer fits. Did the company provide a way to return it for repurposing, or did you donate it or throw it away? Were you informed about the sourcing and manufacturing of the material, as well as the conditions under which it was produced and shipped? In a circular economy, this T-shirt would never end up in a landfill. Instead, the entire supply chain, from cotton fields to customers, would be part of a larger symbiotic system where waste is eliminated, nature is thriving, and so are workers and communities.
However, the most captivating aspect of circular thinking is symbiosis, which emphasizes cooperation and unlikely partnerships rather than an input-and-output model. This approach involves completely rethinking how we interact with products and services, from refilling stations to utilising technology to treat wastewater and reusing organic waste without causing pollution.
Although the concept and the application may still evolve, progress towards its realisation has already begun and shows no signs of slowing down. We recommend exploring the case studies featured on the Circular Economy Innovation Communities (CEIC) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation websites to gain the latest insights and practical knowledge on applying circular economy principles.
Talk to us
This whistle-stop tour of a circular economy is not detailed enough to capture every nuance and development. To help us grow the Welsh circular muscle, please tell us what you want to know about the circular economy – or better still, what you have learnt, experimented with or successfully implemented. But please also tell us what a circular economy means to you.
Cronon, W. (2009) Nature’s metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. WW Norton & Company, 2009.
Ekins, P., Domenech, T., Drummond, P., Bleischwitz, R., Hughes, N. and Lotti, L. (2019), “The Circular Economy: What, Why, How and Where”, Background paper for an OECD/EC Workshop on 5 July 2019 within the workshop series “Managing environmental and energy transitions for regions and cities”, Paris
Welsh Government’s commitments and delivery plan to the end of the current Senedd term.
Latest policy interventions to strengthen the Welsh foundational economy. Including a Challenge Fund to support novel approaches to tackle issues within the foundational economy, opportunities from procurement reform and actions regarding parts of the Welsh foundational economy; construction, food, social care and afforestation.
Community wealth building is an approach to economic development aimed at changing the way that economies function so that more wealth and opportunity is retained for local people. In this way, its approach is similar to practitioners working within the foundational economy, with their focus on grounded, local firms. Community wealth building has been used successfully in Preston – known as the ‘Preston Model’ and is increasingly being used by The Scottish Government.