Transcript: Communicating Circular Economy and How to be a Circular Entrepreneur with Katherine Whalen
SEE THE SHOW NOTES AND LISTEN AT: Communicating Circular Economy and How to be a Circular Entrepreneur with Katherine Whalen
[00:00:02] Hi, I'm Katie Whalen.
[00:00:04] And join me each week, 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.
[00:00:18] Hi there. Thanks for tuning into the Getting in the Loop Podcast I'm your host, Katie, and welcome to all the new listeners.
[00:00:25] And welcome back to all the reoccurring listeners. Let's get straight to the exciting news. I feel like I should put a general in here, but I'm not that high tech, so I don't know how to do that quite yet with my editing software. But just pretend there's a drum roll here to announce that I am officially Dr. Whalen. That's right. I defended my PhD two weeks ago. I had some really thought provoking questions as well as some challenging ones from my opponent and committee. But all in all, it was a great day. And if you're interested in learning about my PhD and the work that I did in my PhD on circular business models, especially those that extend the lifetimes of products, you can download my thesis actually in PDF form from the Lund University Library. I'll link to that download in the show notes of this episode. So just head over to the GettingintheLooppodcast.com if you want to check it out. And even if you don't want to read it in full, you should still download it just to check out the cover because it features a painting by a previous Getting in the Loop podcast interviewee.
[00:01:35] I'll give you a hint. It's Emanuele Di Francesco from Episode 38. Naturally, people have also been asking me what's next? And you're probably wondering what finishing my PhD means for the podcast. Well, the good news is there won't be any big changes for now. I'll still be working and teaching at Lund University through the spring and I'll be still putting out new Getting in the Loop episodes every other Monday. One big thing that's happened recently, however, is that I've relocated to Stockholm, Sweden, and I also have some really exciting guest lectures with In the Loop coming up, including a trip to Boston for the Circular Economy Symposium at Harvard that is taking place on the 6th of March. I'd love to connect with listeners in both my new city of Stockholm and those in the Boston area while I'm there on my trip. So if you're in Stockholm or Boston based, send me an email. Katie@IntheLoopGames.com and I'd love to meet up. Today on the podcast, I thought I'd mix some things up from our normal interviews. I've been getting a lot of requests from people who are just getting into Circular economy and want to understand the basics. And if you've been a longtime listener of the Getting in the Loop Podcast, you know that I have a lot of experience with helping people understand and learn about Circular economy. I've done some episodes on the podcast, in fact, like Episode 37 and episode 31, where I've broken down some circular economy concepts. And, of course, you know that I'm a fan of using game-based learning like the Loop Game to help others experience why we need a circular economy and the realities of linear economy. Recently, I've also been trying to incorporate storytelling into part of my explanation of circular economy as I think metaphors and illustrations can be a powerful medium to help get ideas across. Well, I finally had a chance to try it out when I was invited to give a keynote speech at Lund University for an event called Trendspotting Circular economy. And today I'm going to share my talk with you because I hope that the way that I present it can inspire you in how you communicate circular economy and circular business to others. And since we're on the topic of communicating circular economy, how have you approached explaining circular economy in the past? I'm really curious to hear from you, the listeners. So send me an email. Again, my email is Katie@intheloopgames.com. And I'd love to hear about what's been working or not working from you. OK, before we get into playing the recording, I just want to give a heads up. One thing you'll notice is that I did have slides with simple images when giving the keynote. And although you can understand the talk without seeing them, if you'd like to check them out. I've posted a video with the slides in the show notes. So, again, just head over to the show notes at GettingInTheLoopPodcast.com. If you want to check that out without further delay. Here is my keynote for Trendspotting Circular economy.
[00:04:36] Tonight, I'd like to begin with a story about my summer this summer, I lived on a sailboat with my husband and cat. And at one point during summer, my parents came to visit my father's biggest concern.
[00:04:53] Before he came to come sailing with us was not about four people fitting on a assault small space, but about mosquitoes.
[00:05:04] I'm glad some of you found that funny.
[00:05:11] I've lived in Sweden, so I know that mosquitoes are a bit problematic here and specially in the summertime. But I assured him that on the coast there's a lot of wind and they don't really like to hang out there. So he was quite happy. But I think that we should all be a little bit thankful that we live in a country where when we think of mosquitoes, we only think of them as maybe pests and inconveniences and not associate them with things like malaria or dengue fever. My students hate when I show this photo in class, but this little creature is one of the deadliest ones on the planet and he is responsible. I sometimes always call him a he, but he or she it is responsible for transmitting millions of diseases to millions of people every year. So naturally, a lot of research has been put into this because we want to see how we can reduce mosquito populations and to address these concerns.
[00:06:19] But I'll come back to that.
[00:06:23] So now, you know, one thing about my father and I'm going to tell you a second thing as well. My dad, he hates wasting time. And maybe some of you also waste hate wasting time. You Google how to be more productive. You click on those Click Bay articles in the Huffington Post. Like 30 more ways to be productive. We humans were obsessed with efficiency. And this efficiency has served us well because in the last 100 years we have been some of the most productive humans on the planet. It's pretty crazy, right? We have learned how to take Earth's resources, turn them into products and distribute them at global scale like never before. We have been while doing this, though, treating them as consumable, disposable. We now know that it can't be this way.
[00:07:23] The Earth has finite resources. It's not like when I'm on my sailboat and we run out of fresh water, we just go into port. It's fine. We pick up some more water. Where does the Earth go to refuel? The good news is that we increasingly find it doesn't have to be this way. We increasingly find that there is business value in how we manage our resources and doing it differently. And that is the idea of what we're going to be talking about tonight. This is the main idea of the circular economy.
[00:08:00] At the heart of the circular economy is the idea that we can manage our resources differently. And it starts with designing out waste. I'm going to switch gears and go to phones for a minute. I'd like to see a show of hands if this has happened to anyone in this room.
[00:08:24] OK. And it's happened to about half of us here. So were you able to replace the screen or did you have to get a new product show of hands if you had to if you were able to replace the screen? OK. A little bit less. And if you had to get a new phone. OK. When I do this, a lot of times the people who had to get any phone, it's pretty much the entire people who dropped their phones. It's frustrating, right? You're you have a fully functioning phone except for maybe the screen, but you have to pay to replace the entirety of the product.
[00:09:08] Here in land, we have been studying how you can actually create circular business, how you can essentially figure out how to reuse that phone to extend its value. And it comes down to one of these two strategies. Essentially, it boils down to slowing loops and closing loops. I promise this is the only sort of circular economy research jargon I'm going to use tonight. And essentially, if you think of slowing as extending the useful life of products and closing as extending the useful life of materials, then pretty much you've just done my four years PHC in one evening. So I don't know what that tells you about HD to take an example of phones. And what would slowing move closing look like? I'll give this example. So if we take slowing, it means that instead of replacing replacing phones with new ones, we would designed to repair them. So this is a Fairphone and they're a company that's based in Amsterdam and they have created a modular phone where you can actually get to the battery in under two minutes so that you can replace that. Compare that with some of the leading phone brands. Not gonna name any names right now, but when I asked my students to get to the battery and replace batteries, we do this turn out extra sized. It takes them over 20 minutes just to open a phone of a competing brand. And then there are still 20 more steps. I kid you not until you can actually get to the phone. If you don't believe me, you can look it up on the I Fix It website. It's a great resource for repairing of all types of electronics.
[00:10:58] So what would closing loops look like? It wouldn't look like this.
[00:11:02] These phones wouldn't be collecting dust in our drawers. I know I'm guilty of having some phones in my drawer. I'm sure I see some heads nodding. So this is a familiar story, but there's precious materials in these phones. If we were closing resource loops, these phones would have gone back to recyclers such as UNICOR many years ago. You because a company in Belgium and they recycle phones, it takes them for tons of phones to get one kilogram of gold, which you might think is a lot. And then you compare to how much or you needed to get the same amount of gold.
[00:11:42] Does anyone want to guess? Two hundred tons.
[00:11:50] Circular entrepreneurs. They know these strategies. In fact, we found here and learned that they have one thing in common. Do you want to know what it is? Of course you do. That's what we're here tonight.
[00:12:05] Circular entrepreneurs ask. What if I could do one of these two strategies?
[00:12:11] What would this look like? And who would this be meaningful for?
[00:12:18] One of my favorite examples of a company that asked, what if is he up and they're located just a couple of kilometers outside, maybe some of you have even been there. They're located just down the road and stuff in store.
[00:12:32] And they asked, what if we could extend the useful for phones?
[00:12:37] What would this look like? And who would this be meaningful for?
[00:12:42] So the obvious answer is people who have broken phones. Right. The more interesting answer is insurance companies. And that's what I've realized. So now GitHub works with insurance companies to repair broken phones. And the insurance companies are more than happy to do it because it saves them money. I didn't know this before I started researching up and working with them. But apparently when you make an insurance claim that your phone is broken. No one never really check.
[00:13:17] And this partnership that they have with me up, meaning you physically have to send your phones to keep up, means there's a check in place. And it's reported from the insurance companies that this has decreased fraudulent claims by 30 percent.
[00:13:34] So you see there is business value and rethinking how we use our resources. I told you, it's coming back.
[00:13:43] So here it is. I was talking about mosquitoes and how we are trying to reduce mosquito populations. And one of the solutions has been to introduce genetically modified mosquitoes.
[00:14:00] They did this in Brazil and they made a gene alteration. That means that when they would release these mosquitoes, they would breed with the existing population, but the offspring wouldn't actually make it to adulthood. Over time, this, of course, would reduce the population of mosquitoes.
[00:14:23] Well, it turns out that maybe some of those mosquitoes actually reached adulthood and maybe we actually just created a super robust, resistant mosquito that actually is going to make it even worse. And I tell you this story, you're probably thinking, why is she talking about mosquitoes? But I tell you this story to illustrate the fact that when you make even a small change in the existing system, there are sometimes unintended effects. In some cases, it can be positive, disruptive change, like in the case of GitHub and the insurance companies and other cases asking what if can lead to unintended consequences, even potentially negative effects.
[00:15:13] Don't get too fixated on the fact that this is too mobile. This is just an example. They're not the only ones that are doing this, but programs like these, they advertise that you can get a new phone three times per year and maybe they're taking the phone back and recycling them.
[00:15:33] That would maybe be considered Circular economy, but it also is a way potentially to increase production and consumption. And so a lot of researchers are critical of these types of business models being classified as circular because it's actually not reducing and decoupling economic growth from resource consumption. So sometimes asking what if it's not always environmentally beneficial?
[00:16:03] Nevertheless, it shouldn't stop us from asking.
[00:16:09] Last year was last week was a record breaking week, but the client. The climate strikes and millions of people walked around and said, we need to act. We need to act now, because if we don't, our ever finite resources will grow, will dwindle even more. Our ever growing waste streams will get even larger and our ever warming planet will get even warmer.
[00:16:39] It starts with asking, what if?
[00:16:45] So tonight, I challenge you to start asking, what if? Because I know many of you feel the same way as these people up here.
[00:16:55] But awareness without action is meaningless. We need to act now.
[00:17:04] And I challenge you because large companies are trying. They really are. They're trying to ask what some of them are doing a successfully. But you as an entrepreneur, you have a leg up. You don't have an established supply chain already. You don't have an old guy. Sorry. You don't have an old guy sitting at the head of your of your company. You have the freedom to ask what if.
[00:17:36] And since getting started with anything is always the hardest part, I've put together a Web site that has tools and resources for you to start asking what if, you can find it at Trendspotting.GettingInTheLoop.com.
[00:17:53] It showcases different things that the university has been doing and other great work by partners that we work with.
[00:18:03] Circular economy is not a trend. It has to be part of the solution. Going forward, we can rethink how we use our resources. And it starts with asking, what if? We just have to watch out for those mutant schemes. Thank you.
[00:18:29] Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode for show notes and links, go to our website at Getting in the Loop podcast. Dot 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.
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.