• Funding the right technology startups is a key way of reducing waste.
  • Making supply chains more sustainable is in everyone’s interests.
  • Sustainability needs to be an intrinsic part of economic activity.

One of the hot topics at this year's Sustainable Development Impact Summit is how technology can help make the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) a reality. That’s something Carlo Delantar is working toward as a venture-capitalist seeking out companies with innovative solutions for reducing waste in production and consumption.

He spoke to the World Economic Forum about the importance of the circular economy and some of the most promising technologies he's seeing. He also talked about what inspires him, and how a typhoon led him to recruit others to join the cause.

circular economy sustainability society
A model of how a circular economy operates.
Image: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

You can hear more from Carlo Delantar, and other leading global figures, on the World Economic Forum’s Great Reset Podcast.

Which of the SDGs is your work most focused on?

I'm the head of circular economy for Gobi Partners – a venture capital firm based in Asia – looking at technology startups. I’m also the circular economy pioneer for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

My work focuses on goal number 12: Ensure sustainable production and consumption patterns. So what that means is my work revolves around a focus on the circular economy and technology startups, but also on the advocacy side.

Mainly my focus is on looking for circular startups in the region.

And part of that is addressing the way resources are used and consumed. Historically, products and services have not been designed in a way that takes consumption and disposal into account. But the circular economy is really all about looking at that design aspect and making sure that we close the loop.

How would you explain the circular economy to a layperson?

As consumers, we tend to think about accessing convenience. We have the buying power but we don't really care about the whole lifecycle of the things we buy. That needs to change to reduce the overall amount of waste. Consumers’ demand has the potential to change the way supply chains function.

You start by looking across the whole supply chain and identifying waste and inefficiency. Then you examine how you can create something new, effectively reducing the overall environmental impact.

At the moment, 9% of the world economy is circular. We still have 91% to go.

What is the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact summit?

It’s an annual meeting featuring top examples of public-private cooperation and Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies being used to develop the sustainable development agenda.

It runs alongside the United Nations General Assembly, which this year features a one-day climate summit. This is timely given rising public fears – and citizen action – over weather conditions, pollution, ocean health and dwindling wildlife. It also reflects the understanding of the growing business case for action.

The UN’s Strategic Development Goals and the Paris Agreement provide the architecture for resolving many of these challenges. But to achieve this, we need to change the patterns of production, operation and consumption.

The World Economic Forum’s work is key, with the summit offering the opportunity to debate, discuss and engage on these issues at a global policy level.

What inspired you to dig into the issue of sustainable production and consumption, and how did you come to be where you are right now?

I come from the Philippines, where we're used to being affected by typhoons – sometimes every single month. Growing up, I thought that was a normal thing. But then I began to learn about climate change and how that influences the intensity of things like typhoons. I felt like there must be something we can do.

Carlo Delantar: “We have a limited amount of time left to act.”
Carlo Delantar: “We have a limited amount of time left to act.”
Image: Carlo Delantar/Instagram

After typhoon Haiyan seven years ago, I realized we have a limited amount of time left to act. I felt like I just needed to do something about it. It doesn't mean I'm being messianic. It's just I need to empower myself to hopefully attract more people to address this problem.

One of the people I look up to is Yvon Chouinard the founder of the outdoors business Patagonia. His whole model of looking at how they can use their business as a platform for addressing environmental challenges is inspirational.

Also, I come from a family of manufacturers. My parents started a manufacturing company, creating furniture, exporting all around the world for big retailers. My parents ingrained in me the value of taking into consideration the needs of the people you're working with, the people you're doing business with, and also the need to think about the products and materials you're using. And we still have that business, it's now a certified B Corp in the Philippines.

What keeps you up at night in regards to efforts to build more sustainable consumption and production?

What keeps me up at night is the thought of rising temperatures. I also think the COVID-19 epidemic shows the consequences of environmental damage. Maybe if we hadn't messed up the ecological system, we wouldn't have this problem.

But for me, it's really about looking for innovations and for champions that want to help the transition toward a circular economy. We already have the systems and the champions in place around the world. We just need to bring them together to say, “Hey, sustainability is part of the economy.”

What do you hope leaders will be addressing and discussing during UN Week and at the Sustainable Development Impact Summit?

The world needs leaders that are open-minded and inclusive. So, they need to listen to everybody's point of view and really work to balance and not compromise on the values of the communities, even countries or organizations that they represent.

I implore the leaders that are coming to the Sustainable Development Impact Summit, remember we're all watching – the world's watching. It's now or never. We need the best leaders for the world to actually survive for generations to come.