6 Dec, 2020 - 4 min read
The Impact Series - What goes around, is better for all
“One of the greatest things we need to do for this generation is to re-wild our earth, to release the pressures on the wildlife habitats to allow them to do their job of carbon sequestration, those natural habitats that right now are basically being used to produce products for us. So the idea that if we don't have to go back to those environments and do that, it's a huge impact.”
Louise Nash, Master of Technological Futures graduate and founder of Circularity and XLabs.
Once you know the Circular Economy and the fundamental principles it promotes, it’s hard to dismiss it as simply a ‘nice to have’. It makes perfect sense and offers business, industry and society an olive branch to not just reconcile our relationship with the natural world but thrive within it. The idea of a Circular Economy is not all that new. Walter Stahel was one of the first people to formulate the concept back in 1982 when he published his prize-winning paper “The Product Life Factor”, the first publication that defined a ‘closed loop economy’. Now, as the world grapples with the climate crisis and the vast impact we humans have on the natural environment, the concept of circularity is transforming into tangible solutions. Today, one of the most active advocates for the Circular Economy model is the Ellen McArthur Foundation, set up specifically to ‘accelerate the transition to a circular economy. There are three key principles of the Circular Economy:
Design out waste and pollution
Keep products and materials already in the system in use
Regenerate natural systems
A circle is perfect
The inspiration for circular economy thinking comes from nature - where there is no waste and everything inside the ecosystem is part of a never-ending cycle. Yet when we look at the world we’ve created, accelerated by industrial revolutions, nearly everything has been built on a take - use - waste model. This is fundamentally flawed because it’s founded on an assumption that resources are infinite - which clearly, they are not. This underlines how the circular economy isn't a ‘nice to have’, it's essential if we want to not just survive but thrive into the future. Saskia Verreas, Innovation Advisor at Tech Futures Lab and Future-Fit advocate, is firm about this. “There is no question about the fact that we have to go to a circular model on everything we do and that includes business." At Tech Futures Lab, circular thinking is a fundamental component in the Master of Technological Futures, and in fact all our programmes, as it underpins the values we uphold of creating regenerative, ethical and purpose-led businesses. In Saskia’s informed view, all businesses must become ‘future-fit’, but “you can still build a business and build the value that’s required, but do it completely differently.”
The only way is up
The most interesting thing about the circular economy model is that it really only has positives to it. Yes, there are some speed bumps to get over while transitioning from a linear to circular approach, but there are major opportunities in making this shift. For one, designing out waste and pollution is clearly a good thing, for the planet and therefore the environments we live in.
And when we design to keep products and materials in a closed-loop system, we don’t just release the pressures on natural environments, we innovate, we create new business opportunities, and we develop stronger connections with the communities we operate within. One business’ waste output may be another’s material input - in this scenario, it’s a win-win relationship that can lead to stronger networks and more resilience in times of crises - like when international supply chains are disrupted. The financial impact is also positive - reusing, recycling, repurposing all reduces the need to buy new, so savings can be made. And a real positive halo effect of a circular economy is the wellbeing impact it can provide businesses - for employees, for its suppliers and for its customers. Employees will not only feel good about the positive contribution they have on our ecosystem but also a circular model requires more creative thinking, ingenuity and resourcefulness - all capabilities that provide great job (and personal) satisfaction.
Suppliers become partners and, because transparency is critical in the circular economy supply chain, trust and deeper connections will evolve. And for customers, sustainability and environmental impact are fast becoming one of the most important factors in buying decisions.
Waste no time
As consumers, we have to demand better, think consciously and vote with our dollars. As business leaders and owners, we have to decide today to make the shift and plan to transition, with deadlines. Because a circular model does take time to implement, and we haven’t a lot of time left to start getting things right.
Listen to Louise's story of how she used what she already knew, layered it up with new tools and created a business that's dead set on massive change.