Transcript: Where to Study Circular Economy and CE Education Courses Around the World

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Katie Whalen [00:00:05] Hi, I'm Katie Whalen and join me each week as I talk with experts around the globe about Circular economy. You'll find out what's being done to make it a reality and if it can really solve the problems it promises. It's time for Getting in the Loop.

[00:00:26] Hey, it's Katie, and I'm so happy that you're here for another episode of the Getting in the Loop podcast. As always, I want to thank you for taking the time to listen to this podcast and for checking out the show notes and other resources that we have related to the podcast at gettinginthelooppodcast.com. I have one quick update for you before we get started. If you haven't checked out our slide deck, which gives information about circular economy, then definitely head over to slidedeck.gettinginthelooppodcast.com and check it out. So it's 20 slides. It starts off with why we need a circular economy, what is the concept and how can we implement this in practice, and then at the end it finishes with some links to different reports and other resources, so you can learn a little bit more on your own. Okay, now then today's podcast. I am very excited to welcome Tim Forslund, learned to the podcast today, and Tim is an environmental officer at the Embassy of Sweden in Beijing and previously worked as a research analyst at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. In this episode, Tim is telling us all about the learning landscape research he conducted at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, where he spent six months investigating the Circular economy learning offerings that are available both online and at higher education institutions. So today, Tim is going to talk us through some of his findings. And if you want to check out the report, head over to the show notes at gettinginthelooppodcast.com, where I've linked this report, as well as some of the other resources that Tim talks about in the episode. Again, you can find that at gettinginthelooppodcast.com and then click on the latest episode.

[00:02:13] Thank you so much, Tim, for coming on the podcast.

Tim Forslund [00:02:16] Well, thank you, Katie. It's really good to be here.

Katie Whalen [00:02:19] Yeah. Where are you calling in from?

Tim Forslund [00:02:21] Well, I'm actually in Beijing at the moment. I'll be here until the end of November. So it's a bit of a change when I was working for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, where I was based on the Isle of Wight, which is probably the complete opposite of Beijing, where you have 22 million people and yeah, it's a different world. But I really, I really enjoy being here.

Katie Whalen [00:02:44] Yeah. And we hope that the internet will hold out for this cause.

Tim Forslund [00:02:48] Yeah, I hope so too.

Katie Whalen [00:02:50] Yeah. I can't even imagine what it's like to be in Beijing. I was there 20 years ago and I'm sure it's completely different.

Tim Forslund [00:02:58] Well, after the Olympics it's changed. Yeah, and even from 2014 when I was here last time, it's quite different as well. This whole system of mobile payment services wasn't really- they've started, but now it is just ubiquitous. You can't- People laugh at you sometimes if you use cash and yeah, it's really changed, but it's good to be back.

Katie Whalen [00:03:24] Yeah. So let's start off with just the sort of general introduction to why you undertook the exploration of looking at education initiatives around the world.

Tim Forslund [00:03:36] Well, I think you to ask that question to Ken Webster, our former head of innovation, because he's the one who commissioned the work. No, but really, I think the answer is, is quite simple. It hadn't been done before. So when we set out to map the global landscape of circular economy learning in higher education there, there wasn't really any previous project that had already that already had a sense of the state of learning for circular economy.

[00:04:07] So the element of foundation more than most places. I would say has a good understanding of different tire indication. Institutions that teach topics that in different ways connect to circular economy. But a lot of this knowledge has emerged. In more of an organic way, you could say so the jury during the development and processes of the foundation's learning team over the years. So we both think nor any other actor for that matter, actually had conducted this sort of systematic mapping effort. So, yeah, I think that's probably the main part of the answer. I would say. But there were a few national initiatives that I should mention. For instance, in the Netherlands, when a national level you have it's called, it has thrown a drain. Use my Dutch means the green brain. If I'm not mistaken and their map was it was definitely an inspiration for me, but their focus was more on a national level and the map they created. It looks at courses that are not just tied to circular economy, but-

[00:05:17] And yeah, you also have another Dutch initiative actually that's called by. You can do that. Marianne Cotillard from Avan's University of Applied Sciences, which is also in the Netherlands. So her and her colleagues, they'd worked on the mapping initiative that looks at the bio economy in four European countries. So it's more of a regional initiative. But there are there are few different websites that listed different sustainability. Well, yeah, I'm grouped under sustainability related courses, but they're more in the form of lists that have. Yeah, they don't really have any equivalent for circular economy. So that's essentially where we came in. We saw that there was a there was a gap here.

Katie Whalen [00:06:07] And so can you tell us a little bit how you went about doing it, how you how you figured out what was happening?

Tim Forslund [00:06:15] Well, have you heard of the search engine Google? It's terrific. No, it's. Well, is this essentially what I did a lot of Googling. A lot of Googling and then more more Googling and tweaking search strings back and forth, trying to get the right words. And. Well, you know, it's you're you're you're stuck with if you suboptimal but. But functional keywords and search strings. But by the way, have you. Have you tried different Internet browsers and search engines are usually just stick with Chrome or Google.

Katie Whalen [00:06:52] Usually I stick with Chrome and Google, but sometimes I am using Safari. So, yeah.

Tim Forslund [00:07:00] Do you notice the difference that you get different hits, different entries, depending on which one you're using?

Katie Whalen [00:07:09] That is true. Yeah. Yeah. Now, come to think about it.

Tim Forslund [00:07:14] It's well, it's I noticed that a few years ago I tried this Scotia at some point and I noticed that I would use the exact same search string and the results were different, quite different for. Some reason I can explain why this is the case, but I thought that this was quite important for our research, that we tried a few different browsers and search engine. So we used Safari and Chrome and we used Google and a few different search engines. On top of that and others, you have language as well. I had the pleasure of working with one of our interns at the time thinking who's Chinese is much better than mine. And we got different results just depending on if we use traditional or simplified Chinese. And again, I can't explain why this was the case, but we.

[00:08:09] Yeah, we got very different results depending on all these different aspects. So there was a lot of tweaking and getting the words to the search strings just right before setting out to. Yeah. To do all the searches. And going back to the beginning, though, we actually started with some exploratory interviews and we did 7 17 in total. Or well trying to get a good sense of where we should director attention. That was the main rationale for or talking to different people at the outset. And well based on this kind of initial exploration we definitely got a better understanding of where the boundaries we should draw should be in terms of like what academic level, what course length, what does Circular economy actually means? What are the boundaries that we have to look at? And quite early on, we also decided that we should focus on four languages in total to represent the global landscape of Circular economy.

[00:09:15] And then once we had established boundaries, we had a lot of teachers to reach out to to correct course descriptions and syllabi. Believe me, it was the timing couldn't have been any worse. In one sense, and I guess in China it was fine, but trying to get hold of any Navy and academics in July is it's just hopeless. No one is worth anything. I know probably really well.

[00:09:43] Anyway, after we had collected all the data and analyzed for patterns, we we tried to make everything digestible to see what what are the patterns that are emerging from here. What do we make of it? And finally, after we've done the analysis, we spent quite some time also just to disseminate the work. So I been emailing with 700 academics from across the world during this process.

Katie Whalen [00:10:10] Wow. Wow. Forgive me if I missed it, but which 4 languages did you decide to focus on?

Tim Forslund [00:10:17] Oh, I forgot to say that it's probably not the ones you'd expect if I said it, but it's Finnish and Dutch. There's a lot happening in those two countries. So, yeah. And besides them, also English and Chinese, I should say.

Katie Whalen [00:10:34] So I'm dying to know. So where can you study CE? What did you find?

Tim Forslund [00:10:42] Well, yeah, if you speak Finnish or Dutch, you definitely have more options. So together they actually account for 38 percent of all learning offerings that we found by September last year. And there were at least. And I want to stress at least because in our research we never purported to cover everything, but we have been systematic. So in September, there were at least one hundred and thirty eight higher education institutions that explicitly teach topics that connect to circular economy in different ways. So some in the form of complete programs like in temporary University of Applied Sciences in Finland. So that really impressed me. And. Others off from world courses or modules. But to answer your question. Where where can you. Yes. Study Circular economy. It's it's definitely heavily concentrated in a few countries like the Netherlands and Finland. But I should also say that we we found around 17 movies through which you can learn about topics that in different ways, different ways relate to circular economy. So as long as you have an Internet connection and speak the right language, you can study just about anywhere in the world.

Katie Whalen [00:12:01] It's funny. Right. As you said, Internet connection, your Internet connection kind of went out for a second. But everyone, whatever. Everyone can understand what you're thinking. So you're not going to worry about that. We'll have a list to, of course, all of the different. Well, the report, first of all, in the show notes so listeners can can find out more about what these 17 nukes are. But moving on. I was curious, Tim, what aspects of Circular economy do these ethnic educational programs focus on?

Tim Forslund [00:12:38] Well, it's it really depends. It might be a bit of a crude. Yeah. Proxy or approximation, rather, to say. But it because there is such a multitude, of course, is out there. But I would still say that most courses are tied to either economics, business, finance. So that's one quite crude. But. And then engineering, that's that's another at design. A little bit less perhaps. But but still up there. And last but not least, quite a few courses for better or worse, fall under the sustainability umbrella. So those are four very crude categories that I would say a lot of them. Yeah, the content fold falls into. But there's there's really such a multitude of different courses. So there there are some that connect to. I see t you have the weirdest and most interesting combinations. So that's been really interesting to see this diversity of courses.

Katie Whalen [00:13:47] Yeah. Definitely. Could you give one or two examples?

[00:13:53] Well, I think that diversity in itself is is part of what's really impressive. But yeah, I would still it's hard not to talk about Finland. If I'm if I were to give an example and I think just the work of Monty Python and and her colleagues, et cetera, so that see the National Innovation Fund in Finland, her and all her her colleagues have different higher education institutions in Finland. Their work has really paid off. And if you find some real interesting courses, like I'd say Naoki and Somalia. So there are two universities of applied science. They offer courses that are specifically connected to food topics and the circular economy. So, yeah, you find some real interesting combinations. However, if I if I could only give one examples, I would have to go with Stephanie Kirsten Johnston's course at Columbia. It's called Circular economy for sustainability professionals. So it's just a short introductory course, but it really doesn't leave any stone unturned. And the way it approaches circular economy, it really, really impressed me. And when I got to talk with Stephanie, I realized how much work must have gone into the course. So she's from the business where I'm working, working for Heineken. So I guess she. Yeah, maybe that's part of it. But she understands both sides in a sense. So she's really carefully selected great material, first of all, and digested it and then framed as an excellent way for the audience so that she can well get get us get as much out of it as possible.

[00:15:34] But I think more than that, I think she makes it really interesting since her programs that are devoted to circular economy this this short introductory course to the Circular economy, which to be fair is what I think a lot of deans will allow that. Yeah. You get three credits if you're not starting the whole program.

[00:15:57] So I think that's a reality that a lot of the teachers have to to operate in, but making making something relatable and interesting. I think maybe that's even more important than than than yet. Trying to tell the full story about circular economy everything there is to learn, which is impossible anyway. But if you can get students to. Yeah, if they want to continue exploring the topic, I would say that's probably even more important.

Katie Whalen [00:16:28] Yeah, I would 100 percent agree with you. That was something that I really struggled with when making in the lube game, you know, because I was thinking about how how much should people walk away with knowing after after playing this. And I came to this kind of conclusion that you just said to him, which was. You know, you just give them a taste to want to discover more.

Tim Forslund [00:16:53] Yes, you can if you can pick their interests. I think half half the battle is won in a sense.

Katie Whalen [00:16:58] Yeah. Maybe we should get Stephanie on the show sometime to talk about her experiences with with this course.

Tim Forslund [00:17:04] I think you definitely should. She's great.

Katie Whalen [00:17:08] So you did say that you talked to a lot of educators across the world and you've hinted a little bit already with discussion about how Stephanie's courses as three credits, what are their experiences with teaching Circular economy and implementing these courses?

Tim Forslund [00:17:29] Well, I was really impressed with the personal stories that I got from talking to all these really, really interesting people. And I think part of it was just how you can you can really tell how passionate some of these these people were. And with these courses that they've created, their hair, their babies, in a sense, and you get the sense of some of them have fought really, really hard to make them make them happen. And I think I think of Stephanie's course, of course, but also of Claudio Zara at Bertone University, who's created a course in finance and circular economy. So that's a a bit rare or unusual or even more so. There's a course in law, tea and circular economy that Rosalie Cole Homan at Groningen has created. So I thought that was really stood out for me. And Carrie Snyder at Harvard, just to name a few. But there are so many examples that I could mention. I mean, I email would seven hundred teachers and I talked to quite a few of them. And we also started with 17 semi structure interviews to begin with. And I think that was really invaluable to us to understand that the teachers or at least getting getting us a little bit of a sense of their experiences. A bit of a snapshot to to add that I mentioned that you don't really get from tweaking Google searches and looking at course descriptions.

[00:19:09] And one of the questions that I enjoyed hearing well, quite a range of different answers, too, was when we we asked about their perspective on the FTD of Sustainable Sustainable Development Goals and Circular economy, what's the connection? And I think somehow that show that for some it's more of a bolt on addition circular economy it tackles elements of.

[00:19:37] The world's resource questions, whereas for others, it's felt like they sold more us as a shift in mindset, as as a way of thinking that connects to to everything. And I actually say, quote unquote, that I really liked and kept that hand. It's from from Kim Posner, assistant professor in entrepreneurship and organization that's bargaining in university and research.

[00:20:01] And there's no right or wrong, of course. But with regard to how I see it personally, it really resonated. And it reads like this: The Circular economy is departing from the imagination, from the possible good future. So it's more about creativity and imagination and creating a world that is good, not less bad. With inspiration from nature and closed loops. So that really stood out to me. I thought that was that was a really good one.

Katie Whalen [00:20:32] Yeah. I liked the part about creativity and imagination. Is there a particular focus or sort of gap that you see we should be addressing more in the future? Since you've had such close contact with the current offerings that exist.

Tim Forslund [00:20:48] Oh, it's it's a difficult question there. There are definitely some areas that remain under explored, such as courses that are dedicated to circular economy well, in connection to finance, for instance, or law like it.

[00:21:01] Like I mentioned. But I think there are a lot of topics that I would like to see more of. That's what I personally wish there was more. For instance, I think quite a few courses struggle to get the systemic frame and focus just right that they mention, oh, it's systemic. But what does that actually mean? So I think more attention to detail. And yeah, I run into systems thinking. I think that's one aspect that more courses could try and capture.

[00:21:37] And I think also it might be a little bit surprising. But the shift from goods to services, sometimes I think we're telling the resource story and we do it really well. But we were forgetting to tell the or talk about the importance of the shift from from goods to services, which is also a fundamental part. I would say and also some of the well know what to call it, maybe enabling condition conditions like the role of renewables. Can you have a circular economy without renewables or the connection to innovation?

[00:22:11] And yeah, getting back to that kind of playfulness and creativity aspect and another enabling condition that I feel like it's talked about as a bus buzzword, but what does it really mean? And that one is digital solutions. I think that one is quite important as well.

[00:22:33] So what? However, saying that I think that one of the questions that really we're going to ask yourself. Regardless is what does the circular economy means, we got to. We always got to ask ourselves that. And I think one of the key aspects is that it continues to evolve. So while some of this might resonate for some people this year, I hope it won't. In two years that we're asking different questions at that point.

[00:22:58] That it always continues to evolve. While we still have that kind of overall shared goal or vision that still guides it. Yeah, it has to evolve. I think that's that's really important.

Katie Whalen [00:23:13] You mentioned the shift from goods to services, which is you see courses that did like a good illustration of this or I mean, obviously you're talking about something lacking, but what?

[00:23:26] Yeah. Could you give an example of what that could. What that might look like?

Tim Forslund [00:23:33] I might not, actually, because I didn't take the courses I've been looking at. Course descriptions. So my understanding is confined to how they described it there. To a large extent. But I have a sense that it's also being it's thrown it was thrown in there sometimes. But you're still telling the resource story. And then at the end of the course, you mentioned, oh, by the way, you can also move away from using. Yeah. Being more efficient, having more resource efficiency applied and yeah. Having fewer cars through car pools or whatever example they might opt for up for it in the end. That's not a great proxy, but. Well, if you're selling a washing machine, for instance, that they're they might have an example, but fundamentally they're still telling they're focusing on resource efficiency and they're not necessarily getting in getting that dimension as as if it were as important as the resource efficiency aspect, if that makes sense.

Katie Whalen [00:24:37] No, that makes sense. And I was thinking, while you're talking about and you mentioned enabling conditions and you've also mentioned you're for your former your former boss, I guess, Ken. Ken Webster, we had we had him on the show, episode four. And we talk about enabling conditions for a circular economy. So listeners are welcome to check that one out at the at the podcast Web site. I don't think you've actually played In the Loop, but you have discussed with me about it at length and I'm happy that it's included in your learning reports. So the question that I ask all of the guests is if they could create their own in the loop event, what would that be? So the events are one of the most memorable parts of the game and they change the market conditions and they just think they cause chaos, whether it's good or bad chaos. That depends on the type of the event. So, Tim, do you have an idea for an event?

Tim Forslund [00:25:39] Yeah, I saw this question coming because I listened to Ken's pod as well, among others, and I I mean, I'm sorry for being completely dystopian, but just the first thing that came to mind was nuclear war.

[00:26:01] And I thought, no, I can't say that. That's that's too dystopian. Then the thought of climate change. No. No. Okay. It's still up there. And then I realized that, well, where am I getting this from? Oh, it's it's so you well know why Harare. The three challenges for the 21st century. So. So there he talks about climate change, nuclear war. And I think it actually. Yeah. This technological disruption. So that's it's funny. I said it there at the start because. But yeah, I just- That's what comes to mind. And I'm thinking how that connects to a resource from a resource point of view. I'm sure it has an impact. All of those when any of those would be super interesting. But I'm just I'm biased because I just read that and it's always the first thing that came to mind.

Katie Whalen [00:26:54] You have a good point there. And we had David Peck on the show, episode one, and he talks about materials and he gives a brief overview of how a lot of the conflict in the past, well, since mankind has been because of resources. And I think we're going to be seeing this more in the coming years. For example, we had you know, you're Swedish, right, Tim? So there was extreme drought in Scandinavia this past summer and you couldn't have like a fire. You could so you couldn't have any barbecues. And the farmers were hit quite bad because of that. You couldn't grow crops. So I think you're on the right track here and it's looking like it's not such a positive event.

Tim Forslund [00:27:38] I mean, what I studied as well with that in mind is it's just difficult not to see climate change. How is that going to impact? Yeah, the resource availability, extraction and trade. It's just yeah, it's difficult not to think about climate change, but I'm sure some of some other of your guests in the past, some kind words said that, yeah, we've had a lot of different ranges.

Katie Whalen [00:28:04] So it's great to hear everyone's perspectives and connections to their work. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. It's been a pleasure to talk with you. Tim.

Tim Forslund [00:28:15] Oh, likewise. It was great to be here. Thanks, Katie.

Katie Whalen [00:28:18] Yeah. And where can listeners go to learn more about you and the topics that we discussed today?

Tim Forslund [00:28:24] Well, actually, we're on the Ellen MacArthur Foundation web site. You have a section about higher education. I'll provide the link in the description, so there- Yeah,  there is a report there  and we have a lot of other resources that we use. So there a team has created and yeah, I'll start with that. I think that's that's a good place to look. And we also have if you're teaching for Circular economy, we have LinkedIn group dedicated to that as well.

Katie Whalen [00:28:53] Okay, yeah, we'll put a link to both the report and the EMF resources as well as the LinkedIn Group in the show notes on our website at gettinginthelooppodcast.com. Brilliant. Thanks, Tim.

Tim Forslund [00:29:09] Well, thank you.

 

Katie Whalen [00:29:14] Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode. Poor show notes and links. Go to our web site at gettinginthelooppodcast.com. And while you're there, subscribe to our mailing list to have new episodes delivered to your inbox every Monday. See you next week.

 


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About the Show

Getting In the Loop is a weekly podcast dedicated to exploring how to transform to a more circular society. Join host Katie Whalen as she examines the challenges facing our current resource use and discovers alternatives to the ‘take, make, dispose’ way of doing things. Each week she interviews circular economy experts about what they’re doing and learning. Together we'll uncover what circular economy means in practice and find out what's being done to keep our resources in a loop rather than sent to waste.