Does circular mean it’s sustainable? Or, are companies just using circular economy solutions to grow their business (and their footprints)? In this episode, I want to shine a light on something that’s been worrying me. Over the last few years, I've come to realise that the circular economy is not fit for purpose. It’s not helping create the future we need. Instead, it’s being watered down, and cherry picked. I’m seeing increasing numbers of businesses and policymakers choosing strategies that ARE circular - but aren’t improving sustainability. I’m going to be talking about loopholes, rather than loops… I think we’re at a critical turning point. We need to evolve the circular economy into a framework that supports the future we want – the future we know is possible. If we don’t, we’re letting all our work, our innovations, our struggles, go to waste. (And you don’t need me to remind you that waste shouldn’t exist in a circular economy!)
More episodes from "Circular Economy Podcast"
105 Gene Homicki – getting more from less with MyTurn
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52:48We’re going to hear about some amazing software that helps with the 2nd of the 3 key circular strategies I advise people to use… getting more, from less. Finding ways to get more use out of under-utitlized objects can have big benefits, especially by reducing costs. When we think about it, there are probably lots of things – both tools and toys – that we don’t use all day, every day. Sometimes we only use these things once or twice a year! But often, we want to be sure we can have access to that equipment, or that product, whenever we want. Those needs might be planned, say for camping equipment, or unplanned – like repair tools. Today, we’ll hear from Gene Homicki, founder and CEO at MyTurn, a B2B platform that transforms idle equipment into value. MyTurn helps organizations to optimize asset usage, reduce waste, and generate revenue by making it easy to offer rental, lending, and product subscription services. Gene is a serial entrepreneur and technology strategist who is dedicated to advancing the circular economy and sustainable systems. Over his career, he’s led teams delivering cutting-edge solutions for organizations like SEGA, ABC News, The Economist, and the National Science Foundation. Gene co-founded the West Seattle Tool Library which has helped provide affordable access to thousands of people in the community. After seeing how much stuff people had in closets, garages and storage (while others had too little) and knowing that businesses, universities and governments had even more assets sitting idle, Gene founded myTurn. MyTurn’s customers include businesses, communities, universities, and public sector organizations, and it is a for-profit public benefit corporation. MyTurn’s platform has a wide range of features, from admin dashboards to online marketplaces, helping organizations of all shapes and sizes to identify and rent underutilized tools, equipment and other resources – either within the organisation, or by collaborating with others. MyTurn’s customers are seeing big benefits from this circular solution, often increasing product reuse by 10 to 100 times compared to traditional ownership.
104 Richard Burnett – Diversity and packaging innovation
45:40Innovation and diversification is key to the success of James Cropper, a 6th generation family business, based in the English Lake District. Richard Burnett is Head of Technology and Innovation at James Cropper, a prestige supplier of custom-made paper products to many of the world’s leading luxury brands, art galleries and designers. Richard oversees the Technology & Innovation (T&I) function at James Cropper, with projects including the Colourform moulded packaging proposition and the acquisition of Technical Fibre Products Hydrogen, a world leader in green hydrogen technology. Richard led the implementation of the CupCycling programme, introducing the world’s first upcycling process for take-away coffee cups. They discuss the challenges facing the packaging industry, and how James Cropper is both innovating and diversifying, with innovations in speciality paper, bespoke luxury packaging, and advanced non woven and electrochemical materials. We hear about developments in materials, in packaging design, and in manufacturing technology.
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103 Algramo – Refill the future
57:44Reusable packaging startup Algramo is going from strength to strength, and we hear from Brian Bauer and Chris Baker on why customers in Chile, the US and the UK are buying into this. Algramo’s founder, Jose Manuel Moller, came up with a brilliant idea for reusable packaging to help what he called the poverty tax, paid by people who shopped at convenience stores. Those small, local stores sell everyday groceries and household staples, but often in small format packages. That means people often paid around 40% more, per gram or per litre, for the same product they could buy in a bigger format in a supermarket. In the last couple of years, Algramo has gone from strength to strength, and has started a trial in the UK with Lidl, a German international discount retail chain that operates over 11,000 stores across Europe and the United States. Algramo is working with Nestle, Unilever, and Walmart in the US, and launched a user-app in 2022. It’s also won several big awards, including the Most Innovative Reuse Company for Consumer Packaging Goods, at the 2022 Reusies awards. We hear about the Lidl trial, a new project for ‘on the go’ reusable packaging, and hear about innovative packaging and dispensers for liquid home care products. We’ll learn more about what motivates customers to choose reuse, and how reuse rates improve as the new concept becomes ‘normalised’. We also discuss the potential for gamification, and how that could help popularise reuse.
102 Jo Spolton – making second-hand our first choice
46:13Jo Spolton is the founder of Rumage, a brilliant online platform that makes it super-easy for people to find – and buy - exactly what they’re looking for across a wide range of secondhand marketplaces. Jo is a Fine Art graduate and was a professional racing sailor. Her adventures when sailing around the world opened a window, showing how badly global consumption is affecting our planet. On the Rumage website, under a heading that says “let's make secondhand first choice”, Jo explains why she’s driven to do this, saying: “I wanted my children to grow up knowing that as consumers they have a choice. Fast fashion, our disposable economy, always buying new is unsustainable. Buying second hand means less resources being used up, less energy, less manufacturing, less shipping, less landfill. The choice is ours. Rumage.com is here to make it easy.” In this episode, Jo Spolton tells us how she came up with the idea for Rumage, and shares some of the challenges of starting up, including creating a basic test product, getting clear on what customers really want, and the difficulties of securing funding. Jo talks us through her insights on customer trends, and how people are moving away from ownership and towards renting, sharing and subscriptions.
101 Circular is better for people, planet and profit!
37:04Episode 101 seems like a good time to update my ‘what is the circular economy’ summary from Episode 1, back in 2019. In that first episode, I outlined the 5 components in my CE Framework, one of the core themes in A CE Handbook. Those 5 components are product design, safe, sustainable materials, circular processes, recovery flows, and business models. I see these as the intervention points in value chains, the places where you can start to develop circular solutions, so you get more value from less resources, and you eliminate the concept of waste. For businesses, it’s often easier to start with strategy, and so when I talk to organisations today, I focus on 3 simple strategies that are better for people, planet, and profit. To unpack that a bit, these strategies make positive impacts for sustainability and create more value for all your stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders – and, crucially, for future generations. If you like, these 3 strategies target the sweetspot between sustainability and stakeholder value. Today, we’ll explore those strategies and unpack some of the ways they create value – financial benefits, improving resilience, reducing risk – and providing solutions your customers will love.
100 Catherine Weetman – never too old to be bold
50:53Catherine Weetman shares a bit of her backstory, including why she ditched her corporate career to help businesses get clear on how going circular is better for people, planet AND profit. Today’s episode is a bit different – Peter Desmond, who has been a great mentor and supporter over the last five years, was encouraging me to tell people a bit more about me and how I came to do this – my ‘why’, if you like. I was feeling really uncomfortable talking about my story, and then fate stepped in to lend a hand… someone I’m a big fan of - Sarah Archer - invited me to be a guest for her very popular Speaking Club Podcast. Sarah Archer is a speaking and marketing coach, writer, comedian, performer, and ex-HR Director. This mix means she is uniquely qualified to teach us how to create content that makes our audience stop, engage and fall in love with our message. Sarah is on a mission to show authors, experts, coaches and aspiring change makers how to create a signature talk that uses stories – in a way that aligns to your values and without losing your personality! I’m trying to make more impact with my talks, and Sarah’s been helping me out with that. In this episode, you’ll hear Sarah’s interview with me, asking what sparked my interest, why I decided to call time on my corporate career and go all-in with helping people shift towards the beautiful, fair, regenerative future that we know is possible.
99 Ben Jeffreys – clean, low-carbon, circular cooking for all
45:33Ben Jeffreys, co-founder of ATEC, is a multi award-winning social entrepreneur making better things happen. Right now, he’s focused on decarbonising cooking 🍳, which is a leading cause of illness and death for women and children, The WHO says around a third of the global population cook using open fires or inefficient stoves fuelled by kerosene, biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal. That generates harmful household air pollution 🤒, and inhaling those toxic fumes kills more people than malaria, and creates emissions, in the form of black carbon. The IPCC says that replacing these with clean stoves could save between 0.6 and 2.4 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent each year. Ben and the ATEC team first got clear on the root cause of the key problems with existing biodigesters, in particular for regions like Cambodia, that are prone to annual floods. ATEC looked at how nature🌱 already solves this, and used that to create a ground-breaking biodigester design. Ben explains how ATEC has come up with other innovations, including using the IoT, to make the solution more affordable and circular, with potential for carbon credits. We’ll hear about the many benefits for farmers and local households, how to design for unintended uses of manure, the role of methane in the environment, and some of the challenges of social media and social enterprise. Before ATEC, Ben Jeffreys held leadership positions in strategy and growth with the likes of Oxfam, School for Social Entrepreneurs, and Westfield. Ben describes his approach as unashamedly impatient and bold, and he believes that modern, decarbonised cooking can be a reality for a further 4 billion people by 2030. To Ben, this is not pipe-dream, but a technically solvable problem through disruptive technology, financial innovation, carbon markets and eCommerce. As well as being a trailblazer in his field, Ben is a family man, and puts purpose first, taking a big leap in 2015 when moving his young family to Cambodia to found the business.
98 Barry O’Kane – Software as a circular enabler
39:21It’s episode 98, and Catherine Weetman is talking to Barry O’Kane about software, one of the key enablers for circular economy solutions. Barry O’Kane founded HappyPorch, a software engineering specialist and consultancy (and now a certified B Corp) in 2015, and I met Barry a few years ago when he asked me to help him find examples of software that was supporting circular economy strategies. Barry interviewed a few of those companies for Happy Porch Radio, and has featured many more software-related circular businesses on his podcast. Today, Barry and I discuss the trends that he’s seeing, as businesses and developers start to build software solutions to support circular economy business models and recovery systems. Barry explains the importance of context-specific solutions, and outlines some of the software related barriers that are making it difficult for bigger businesses to adopt circular systems and processes. He also explains how software can help you get a much better understanding of the current system, and what the possibilities might be. We talk about the potential uses of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, including visual Machine Learning, and about blockchain, and Barry shares his lessons learned from seeing businesses trying to get started with circular solutions. Barry talks about infrastructure software, which in this context means software to help business organizations perform basic tasks such as business transactions, supply chain management, workforce management and other internal services and processes.
97 Alice Mah – unpicking plastics propaganda
49:26IT’S EPISODE 97, and today we’ll be talking about plastics, a familiar circular economy topic, from someone with a someone with a less familiar background… Alice Mah is Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick, in the UK, and she’ll help us unpick the propaganda about plastics and their role in a circular economy I came across Alice’s work when IEMA’s Transform magazine interviewed her about her latest book, Plastic Unlimited: How Corporations are Fuelling the Ecological Crisis and What We Can Do About It. I’m a member of IEMA, which is the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment. Alice unpacked some of the ways the plastics industry is trying to improve our perception of plastics, including how it tries to reframe the circular economy as a recycling issue. She highlighted other worrying aspects of how the petrochemicals industry is operating, and we’ll hear some of those. Spookily, a few weeks later, on the same day I’d emailed Alice to invite her on, I was in the kitchen half-listening to BBC Radio 4’s sociology programme, Thinking Allowed, and up popped Alice, being interviewed about the ways the plastic industry uses its corporate power to influence our thinking around plastics. Alice Mah holds a PhD in Sociology from the London School of Economics and was Principal Investigator of the large-scale European Research Council project “Toxic Expertise: Environmental Justice and the Global Petrochemical Industry” from 2015-2020. Her research focuses on environmental justice, corporate power, and the politics of green industrial transformations. Her next book the is Petrochemical Planet: Multiscalar Battles of Industrial Transformation. In today’s conversation, I’ve asked Alice to help bust some myths around plastics and their potential role in a circular economy… Myth #1 Plastics can support a Net Zero economy Myth #2 Plastics are safe – in other words, it’s wrong to link plastics to health issues Myth #3 Plastics are essential for our quality of life Myth #4 Exporting plastic waste to low-income countries helps the country, and/or the local people, create value from that plastic Myth #5 Plastic recycling can play an important role in the circular economy.
96 Nick Oettinger – keeping mattresses in circulation
49:41Nick Oettinger is Founder and CEO of The Furniture Recycling Group (TFR Group) in the UK. Nick has 12 years’ experience in recycling and waste management. He was previously Managing Director of a specialist construction company before moving into the waste and recycling sector, where he spent five years as an improvement consultant and nine years in product recycling. The Furniture Recycling Group (TFR Group) provides mattress recycling, rejuvenation and collection, working in the UK with bed retailers, local authorities, home delivery companies and waste management sites to keep mattresses and their materials in circulation. They rejuvenate and recycle over 10,000 mattresses each week, and are responsible for diverting nearly 9% of all UK mattresses away from landfill. We’ll hear how online retailing has transformed the market for mattresses, and led to increased levels of returns. Nick explains the complexity of mattress designs, and how TFR Group is going beyond recycling to help its customers recover more value from unwanted mattresses. Nick describes the broader circular services and advice offered to The Furniture Recyclng Group’s clients, and what makes mattresses such a challenging product to reuse or remake, including barriers created by our sub-conscious perceptions.