five wisdoms keeping circular economists awake at night

Last week, as a journalist, the spotlight was turned on me to some extent as I took to the podium for three days to chair Circular Economy Connect - a new conference theatre launch from the organisers of the RWM event in Birmingham.

I chaired 14 panel sessions in all, they were debate-led and geared towards audience interaction with seat-powered poll voting and Q&As. The beauty of this was that it opened up the discussion, it went beyond what the panellists were showcasing on stage and filtered out into aisles of the show; where the real networking is done.

For three days I was immersed in introductory handshakes, expressive questioning, speaker facilitation, late night speech writing – and some fascinating conversation. In shaping the debate, I learnt a hell of a lot. So I thought I would share some of this learning – distilled into five ‘top takeaway’ lessons.

Lesson 1: You can't build a circular economy business model on your own

Collaboration was the one constant theme that virtually threaded all of the sessions together. Nearly every speaker made reference to the fact that their organisation needed to find new, smarter ways of working with different stakeholder groups, both within and outside of their supply chain.

Lesson 2: Who dares innovate?

The innovation challenge – not just how to unlock it, but how to fund it. Bridging that gap, between R&D and commercial scale-up was confirmed as a constant struggle for the untested business models that a more circular economy demands.

Lesson 3: Demand is growing for closed loop customisation

There is a real appetite out there for closing the loop on certain waste streams, but with an emphasis on tailored solutions. Business leaders spoke of a pressing need for ‘remanufacture-ready’ materials that could meet four key criteria: quality, supply, price and specification.

Lesson 4: How do we define ourselves with less?

A circular economy works on people owning less stuff, and stuff tends to be linked to our sense of identity and social status. How do we make people desire something they will have access to, but never own? This was signalled by speakers as one of the marketing challenges of the future.

Lesson 5: When all else fails, quote Aristotle

One of the most inspiring talks came from Dr Walter Stahel, a early founder of the circular economy movement. He quoted Aristotle and said that true wealth lies in utilisation, not ownership. Many were left humbled by his words.

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