To go forward we must go circular, and to go circular means going together
The concept of circular economy has been around for long enough and established its place in our thinking firmly enough to even have developed an antonym for itself, thus rebranding the “conventional” economy as linear economy in recent years. Despite this, we’re not quite there yet, and work remains to be done before circular becomes the new normal. On the second day of SHIFT Business Webstival 2020, three experts from the field shared their views on the near future of circular economy.
“Building a circular economy is not a project, but a journey with a clear destination, but without a predetermined path.”
Dr. Jacqueline Cramer is a professor of sustainable innovation at Utrecht University and a member of the Amsterdam Economic Board. With a wealth of practical experience about implementing circular economies, Dr. Cramer walked the SHIFT attendees through the process – as much as that can be done, considering that “building a circular economy is not a project, but a journey with a clear destination, but without a predetermined path.” She emphasizes that circularity can only arise from networks where each party is committed to the goal and has a clear responsibility within the big picture. Only then will both the costs and benefits of circularity become evenly distributed among all the stakeholders, from governments to businesses, policy makers to technology providers.
Gunter Pauli, entrepreneur and author of the book The Blue Economy, also considers costs and benefits: as long as we continue to aim for the cheapest possible solution or product, we continue to cheat ourselves out of the greatest possible benefits of more sustainable systems. He believes that the way forward is through thinking big and aiming to do good, not just less bad, and that the shift towards a larger-scale implementation of circular economy is key in improving quality of life and will happen through new business models. Like Dr. Cramer, he sees the successes of the future being found in working together to find the win-win-win situations that benefit all parties.
“We need consumers to step up and pay for the repair, and it’s the manufacturers’ responsibility to make that possible.”
The third speaker of Wednesday’s circular economy panel, CEO of ifixit.com Kyle Wiens brought the discussion to a very practical level: to fix whole systems, we have to know how to literally fix things. This is true for both manufacturers – we need to start making things that can be fixed, and making it easier to fix the things we manufacture – and consumers, who we need to educate to fix simple things by themselves instead of buying more and more new things. Again, mutuality comes up, or as Mr. Wiens puts it, “We need consumers to step up and pay for the repair, and it’s the manufacturers’ responsibility to make that possible.”
Indeed, what could be a better way to increase the lifespan of materials than by increasing the lifespan of products? However, like the views of Cramer and Pauli, fixing things can’t be down to the hobbyism of the individual or the goodwill of the company though; fixability and standards for fixing things need to be written in the letter of the law, says Wiens. No matter which angle we approach it from, the large-scale implementation of circular economy hinges on systemic change, networks and commitment on all levels of society.
Circular economy was discussed at SHIFT session “Closing loops through technology, legislation and intention” with Jacqueline Cramer, Gunter Pauli and Kyle Wiens.