Change the World Book Club: Circular Economy
The Nu. crew in East London held the second Change the World book club in January. We’ve all heard the term ‘circular economy’ thrown around as a buzzword solution to all of the world’s problems. But what does is really mean? And how feasible is it to implement?
Luckily the Nu. crew is made up of profesh ladies who know their stuff and are willing to share their knowledge – so we were thrilled to have Nadine, our resident sustainable-guru there to guide the discussion.
Five things we learnt
1. The circular economy closes the loop on the current linear production cycle
A lot of our economy operates on a linear production model. To make a product we take inputs like raw materials and other resources, put them through a manufacturing process to make a product, consumers buy it, use it and throw it out. The original resources generally end up sitting in landfill. A circular economy attempts to close this loop – at the disposal stage the constituent parts are disassembled and used to remake new products.
2. Circularity means more than just recycling
It’s about getting maximum use from our resources and materials. A big part of the circular economy relates to how we use things during their life-cycle, not just how we take it apart: it’s about how we ensure that items achieve their full lease of life. This means learning how to maintain items, how to repair them when they break and how we can ensure that they are used to their full potential. The Nu. Wardrobe model fits into this stage of the circular economy – using sharing platforms allows for new forms of ownership and more efficient allocation of existing stuf so that products are used for their full value.
·3. We need systemic change
A few companies investing in a ‘closed loop’ production cycle does not make a circular economy. A particularly interesting part of our conversation was about how a circular economy has to be an all encompassing ecosystem. A few companies introducing innovative ways of re-purposing and recycling their products can be extremely resource intensive and we need an entire systemic change across supply chains and industries to ensure that the materials in use can easily be broken down and re-purposed. We need companies that can specialise in recycling products and mending products to scale. The difficulty of making this happen across diverse and competitive sectors cannot be understated - it is incredibly difficult to bring competing businesses, governments, local authorities, manufacturers, retailers and consumers together but this is what has to be done.
4. We need a system that delivers outcomes rather than items
A lot of the discussion at Nu. HQ focuses on how we need to re-conceptualise our relationship with stuff. Do we all need to own a washing machine, lawn mower etc.? In our current system, a company’s incentive is to create cheap products that will break down and need replacement frequently: planned obsolescence. We buy the object, not the outcome. We talked about some companies which are re-imagining this by selling products like services – instead of buying a washing machine you buy the outcome of clean clothes, for example. This means that a company is responsible for providing, repairing and updating your washing machine, ensuring access to water, cleaning materials etc. If this was the case it would be in the companies’ interest to ensure that the actual machine was built to last, well looked after and serviced, and that high quality cleaning products were used to ensure minimal damage.
5. We’re pretty far from a circular world… but things are changing
A few years ago, very few people were talking about circularity. Now we have organisations like the Ellen McArthur Foundation doing amazing work to bring together stakeholders across industries to share best practice. The British Standards Institute has created the very first ‘Circular Standard certification’ in the world. The Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Parliamentary Committee released a report stating the need for a move towards circularity. Circle Economy in Amsterdam is holding a major conference on Circularity with Kate Raworth as the keynote speaker next month.