The Circular Economy starter pack!

Sustainability, climate changes and circular design have been my main areas of interest for the last few years. I have been following news and concepts about circularity with bated breath. I got so much into it, that I needed to do something more, get practical knowledge and finally get my hands dirty. I became an intern at Change Pilots — who are, in my opinion, a market leader in navigating the process of change (Change Pilots Team I know you are reading this!).

This is where my journey begins! The intern memoir.

It is said that if you can’t explain a concept to a child you don’t really understand it yourself. It is so because the thoughts need to physically form in order to get out of your head and hit the audience. This is my first attempt to form a circular information source for others. But please, you are not my grandma so don’t be gentle with me. I think that constructive feedback is the best lesson I can get. My first task was to form a circular content source, or as I like to call it, the Circular Economy (CE) Starter Pack. This article is a summary of my initial research about sustainable design. To make it easier I decided to address it from myself, to myself. This content is for everyone who is at the beginning of the sustainable design path and is looking for a basic set of information

Part one: Setting your mindset

I’d like you to start with setting a specific mindset, so we all are at the same page. Hopefully, this will help you later dive deeper into circularity in the second part.

  • Hide your inner scientist! Hide it just for a moment. It is vital to know when it is time to finish the research. Everyone who has ever had access to the worldwide computer network knows that it is full of places you can sink in and never get out. It is extremely easy to go to the end of the Internet and back. Especially when you are investigating such a complex issue as sustainability. At the beginning it was quite difficult for me to define the scope of my research. As you can imagine this is not the first version of this text. I was going too deep into the topic, which resulted in loss of balance. I was trying to fit too many complex topics at once which makes it impossible to follow.
Source: sadanduseless.com
  • Mind your sources! It is crucial where you are taking your knowledge from. Yes, websites such as facebook, bored panda, instagram and/or tik tok are funny places to be, but unfortunately that is not a valuable source of knowledge. Sharing incorrect, inconsistent and biased data is socially harmful. Especially during the pandemic we can experience its impact. I believe that by checking the sources we can avoid spreading fake news and develop social and political awareness. I’m sure that with further experience and helpful tools I will learn how to better identify fake data.
  • It’s parking time! After days of intensive research I ended up with hundreds of open tabs in my browser, an endless stream of reports and papers. I regret that I didn’t use data management and mapping tools from the very beginning — this would make my work much faster! I believe that the right time and data management is the way to navigate the research work. At Change Pilots, we call it “data parking” — a place where every idea or/and concept or relevant piece of information finds its current place. It’s like a waiting room or limbo for the information that you find interesting but maybe not relevant at this moment. It also groups data based on the reliability of the source. For example during this research I was cruising around the internet investigating “The use of pMDI resin for the production of panels from lignocellulosic raw materials other than wood” — of course it is incredibly interesting BUT! There will be time for it later, when a related research scope appears.

Part two: The Circular Economy starter pack

I’ve created this “starter pack” to introduce key aspects of the Circular Economy in a comprehensive and easily accessible way. I want it to be the starting point for you and me for further exploration.

1Intro…first things first!

Why is there a need and potential to change the current linear system? Why linear economy doesn’t really produce expected results anymore? According to the United Nation by the year 2050, the world population will top 9.2 billion. At the current state, we are consuming 1.75 of Earth’s carrying capacity. Our economy and consumption model is not going to fly anymore. We are producing way too much waste, pollution, and our energy needs are way beyond what we can get out of fossil fuels. We are overreaching the planetary boundaries. I believe that replacing linear habits with new circular behaviours we may create the future with the right balance between environment, society and economy. All this may be done without compromising the ability of us and future generations to meet their own needs.

The first step in fixing a problem is admitting you have one.

Status of the nine planetary boundaries Source: eea.europa.eu

2Climate Change is going mainstream

Governments and other decision-making bodies have a great influence in almost all aspects of our lives. Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement documents have been ratified by the United Nations in 2015. This event has proven that climate change becomes an official recommendation policy around the world, accelerating new social, economic and financial processes being implemented. The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all of us. SDGs address the large, global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice.

The Paris Agreement on the other hand is a global framework to combat dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial levels. The scientists around the world agree that we need to take decisive and extensive measures to fight climate change and limit greenhouse gas emissions. Failing to do so will be catastrophic. This is why, in my opinion, we must determine a framework and a specific action plan by law to enforce changes and mobilize countries around the world.

3 Money is on the table

As we already know the United Nation, according to the Paris Agreement, has pledged to hit the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. China has pledged to get there before 2060. It is the action that has never been taken in human history. It means that this transformation will require an incredible amount of funding. It assumes that we have until 2050 to get to a “one-planet economy” and the sustainable transition and green economy can create 395 million jobs by 2030. The European Union itself by The European Green Deal Investment Plan will mobilize at least 1 000 billions Euro of investments over the course of 10 years. I can’t picture how much money that is, but it seems like a reasonable amount (proven by research).

4 It is all about energy

Our current economic system is a big mess. The linear “take, make, waste” approach to the economy just does not work anymore. Even if we could make it 100% efficient, without radical changes we will be still short of almost one Plant Earth of energy and resources.

A chaotic mess of electric cable in the center of Dheli, India source: depositphotos

If you are not familiar with how the big picture Circular Economy concept looks like, I recommend to start with the Ellen Macarthur butterfly diagram as well as the linear economy diagram. The problem is that in practice the linear economy is neither linear nor circular — to me it looks like the image below — a disconnected, chaotic mess!

What I believe is really important about the Circular Economy is to focus on the big picture and re-think existing system elements by questioning past decisions. CE can give us tools to connect all inputs and outputs to create a self-supporting and sustainable system. In my opinion, the key to a circularity is to keep it simple but well connected. Repair, reuse, remanufacture and at the end if this doesn’t work — recycle. That may not sound like a great invention, but it’s important to not waste and keep the energy and material flow in the loop. This is where design comes to play, currently responsible for up to 80% environmental impact in the linear economy. To meet the circular criteria, products and supporting systems should be designed for easy to repair, reassembly, longer product lifespan and more.

Circular Economy is based on three main principles: designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems.

“To do more and more with less and less until eventually you can do everything with nothing.” - R. Buckminster Fuller

5The change has to happen in your head

For the past few years, we have experienced huge social shifts. Some are reflected in the rise of the School Strike for Climate by climate change activists Greta Thunberg or the Extinction Rebellion, a global environmental movement which is using civil disobedience to compel government action and avoid ecological collapse. Such movements, led mostly by young people, inspired societies around the world to take actions locally.

We don’t all have to strike and go out on the streets. There are a lot of people who will take care of this, and the planet must be happy to have them. However, everyone has a right to find their own way and area where an action can be taken. All small steps like recycling or right consumer choices take part in making a big impact together. I believe that the most important action that can be taken to avoid the collapse of the climate and to change the system should happen in our heads, by shifting mindsets. All this may sound too optimistic and maybe a little bit naive, but I decided to be excited about the change.

What’s next? This article helped me to organize my knowledge about circularity. Every time when I’m trying to explain the concept of circular economy I’m learning something new. This text isn’t perfect, I could write in a very different way, but what I had learned while working on it is golden. I learned that I always could do better, but to move on, I have to know when to finish the current phase.

There is a lot of work to be done in sustainability, we have to find the right balance between environment, society and economy. Almost all industrial sectors need to make the transition and go circular. The complexity of this challenge makes me excited.

During my internship at Change Pilots I would like to learn how to talk about sustainability and climate change so people can understand its value. I find all circular business models, design strategies and system thinking interesting as a holistic approach to solve climate crisis. I want to make the difference, get practical knowledge and finally get my hands dirty soon.

Please think of this text as an invitation to discussion, I will be more than happy to hear feedback from you and share the experience! We are all drivers of change here, whether we are aware of our impact or not.

“We need to use not just the brains we have, but also the brains we can borrow.” — Woodrow Wilson

#starterpack #circulardesign #circulareconomy #goz #gospodarkaobieguzamknietego #circularthinking #sustainability #circulardesign #interncontent#changepilots

Text: Paweł Mikołajczyk; text support: Change Pilots team; Illustrations: always Ewa Browarczyk.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

P.S — To make this starter pack promise complete, I would like to share with you sources I found trustworthy to start a research on your own.

Where to look?

  • Holland Circular Hotspot — Netherlands is the leading region in circular economy. Climate change and rising sea levels will affect this geographic location in a hard way soon. With the necessity to survive they become pioneers in sustainability;
  • United Nations — United Nations is The United Nations;
  • World Economic Forum — “The Forum engages the foremost political, business, cultural and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.”;
  • ResearchGate and Academia — That’s indeed the nerdy cave when you can find research and project from scientists around the world, but be careful because almost everyone can publish their research or bachelor essay here (as I did!);
  • Leyla Acaroglu and her Unschool project — “Leyla is an inspiring communicator and educator with a PhD in how to make change in the world by design.” UN Environment Champions of the Earth! I had never met the person with such energy;
  • Deloitte and Ellen Macarthur Foundation — big international corp and foundation. You can find knowledge presented with very accessible forms that speaks business value. Be careful for product placement.;
  • Also, I must mention one book that shaped me as a designer: “Design for the real world” by Victor Papanek , the father of a sustainable design. It first appeared in 1971 and since then it is becoming more and more relevant.

Financing:

  • The European Green Deal Investment Plan will mobilize at least €1000 billions of investments over the course of 10 years;
  • Just Transition, a EU financial support program. It will help mobilize at least €100 billions over the 2021–2027 period in the most affected regions;
  • The Green New Deal is the proposal of the United States with financial support up for 97 billions of dollars for the next decade.

More info & data about climate change:

  • United Nation Climate Change;
  • IPCC — The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change.

Honorable mention:

  • The Paris Agreement works in a 5-years cycle increasing climate actions. The latest scheduled gathering of the parties — COP26 — was due to take place in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2020. It was postponed by 12 months because of the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • The general trend in tightening the limits of greenhouse gas emissions. Where developed countries adopt higher emission standards to offset the developing countries emission.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
CHANGE PILOTS

CHANGE PILOTS

Strategic design consultancy that offers a unique perspective as both designers & strategists. They make unknown known & help organizations design their growth.