Wouldn’t it be great if…


by Emma McKenna, ReLondon’s Business Transformation Business Advisor

Prior to joining ReLondon’s Business Transformation, I had the opportunity to work on a smart city programme for two and a half years. Unlike most other smart city programmes, this particular one had a focus on solving actual city challenges with the ambition of creating a healthier, more sustainable city.

Like our own Circular London, the purpose of this smart city programme was to be a test bed for innovations; and one of its key focuses was the circular economy and how circular approaches could be used as a tool to solve some of the city’s challenges. These challenges were not unique and are shared by many cities all over the world:

  • Growing populations
  • Increased demand and pressure on resources and infrastructure
  • Systems working in siloes
  • Increased social isolation and declining health in our aging populations

You can hopefully start to see why the circular economy was a key focus of the programme. How can cities connect people with one another and make the most of what they have? In order to visualise this, I would often ask the question “Wouldn’t it be great if..?” If we can picture the type of city (or world) we want to live in, then we can think about what needs to happen and how to bring this vision to life.

I have spent hours working with colleagues using just pens and a whiteboard to illustrate these ideas in diagrams and pictures – mostly resembling the artwork of a five year old –  and to identify the things we need to make this vision a reality.

Which brings me to where I am now, working as a Business Advisor on the ReLondon’s Business Transformation programme. I see cities as melting pots for creativity. Look at London: a city with a population of over 8 million people from all corners of the globe and a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship with a staggering 474,000 SMEs – so when I was offered the job I jumped at the chance! This is a real opportunity to work with SMEs to bring the circular economy to life, solving challenges that most of us haven’t considered.

The first SME I met that is now part of the ReLondon’s Business Transformation programme is Aeropowder. I met their co-founder Ryan in my first week with my colleague Emma Ryan. Aeropowder make novel materials out of waste chicken feathers. Chicken feathers! In my 27 years of eating chicken, I had never once considered what might happen to the feathers. In the UK, around 900 million chickens are slaughtered each year by the poultry industry, producing 2,000 tonnes of feather waste a week. Considering how light a feather is, that’s A LOT of feathers and a very major waste stream.

How many other challenges like this exist out there? And how can we come together to solve them? Over the next two and a half years, I’m very excited to be working together and supporting SME’s just like Aeropowder who are sitting in a room somewhere currently thinking “wouldn’t it be great if..?” and, most importantly, doing something about it!