Scholarship helps recipient spark change for the environment

13 December 2022

Gavin Walsh is conducting research that aims to help the construction industry move to a circular economy.

A donor-funded Master of Management Studies project at the University of Waikato is set to make a significant contribution to New Zealand’s circular economy, and so is its recipient Gavin Walsh.

The masters scholarship sits within Āmiomio Aotearoa, a Waikato-led, trans-disciplinary research project weaving together concepts of Mātauranga Māori, materials and design, and people, business and policy. It aims to help move society to a place where waste, pollution and greenhouse gases are designed out of our industries, materials are kept in circulation, and natural systems are regenerated.

Scholarship recipient Gavin Walsh is passionate about sparking change in this area through developing ecosystems for circular economies, looking at how they can exist beyond a singular entity through building relationships and understanding the perspectives of small businesses, large institutions, policy makers, and the average person/consumer.

With a focus on the construction industry in particular, Gavin is looking at how some of the materials and products associated with construction can have their life extended and renewed through these relationships – ultimately helping prevent construction waste going to landfill.

He says while such change can be tough, it is necessary. “We can’t keep going the way we have been, the environment can no longer support it. We’ve got to this stage where everything we buy and consume has to be new, and what we really need is a total shift in thinking and a return to things we used to value – like frugality and thriftiness.

“That’s why the Āmiomio project is so important, it’s about connecting and integrating the different research communities – the scientific and the social – to achieve widespread and sustainable change. It’s an issue not just for our government, or people writing policies, or company CEOs – it’s an issue for everyone, and it’s going to take enormous people power to turn the tide.”

Penny White is a Waikato alumna with a personal interest in sustainability and environmental protection. She had been searching for an area of sustainability to donate to, and as a graduate of the University was keen to give back to her alma mater.

“In particular I wanted to support research into replacing plastics or re-using materials that have a long lifespan into something else of value.  I saw the University was doing some great work with circular economies, so funding the masters scholarship made sense,” she says.

“As a society we’re all about buy more, consume, consume, consume – but we’ve now reached this tipping point that we need to come back from. We need to re-use and recycle, and in this way the circular economy just makes sense. It’s a slow movement but it’s where we need to be, and it’s going to take a massive change in mindset, from the individual level right up to the corporate and governance level. I’m excited to watch Gavin’s progress.”

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