I’m a bit of a futurist. Always drawn to megatrends, weak signals, the impossible that might burst. For me, disruption is the lifeblood of energy and change. But there are plenty of bandwagons out there. I always try to look beyond the rhetoric.
Take the circular economy. I love much of what it is trying to do, precisely because it is so challenging. But I do worry a little about the end point. I don’t necessarily believe we need a circular economy to survive, or indeed prosper.
You might be forgiven by all the messaging that surrounds it into thinking that we do. But my one beef with this brave new world of thinking is that it doesn’t address the core of our woe: our love affair with consumption. With the new.
Consider remanufacture – one of the pathways orbiting within this framework. It relies on recapturing used product parts to make them super shiny again, with equal or better performance than before. An admirable marketing strategy. But by offering it as new, it only panders to our increasingly broken purchasing habits.
Whether we design for better materials recovery, reuse or remanufacture, we are still creating circles of consumption. We are still encouraging businesses to grow, perhaps more than they need to. Our industrial model puffs on regardless.
What might supersede is something far more disruptive. A ‘buy nothing’ economy, where purchases are based on need and not desire. The emerging sharing economy is starting to connect the dots here; its emphasis on community powered by a digital/flesh connective interface makes it easier to relate to. It feels way more human.
Good products change how we experience things. We want to carry them forever. They represent something else beyond a single use or purchase. The possibility of tapping into that user journey, to extend it, so we are happy with less stuff is where I think the real smash-up begins.