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Transcript: COVID-19 and the Circular Economy: Creating Resiliency with Walter Stahel

Transcript: COVID-19 and the Circular Economy: Creating Resiliency with Walter Stahel

SEE THE SHOW NOTES AND LISTEN AT: COVID-19 and the Circular Economy: Creating Resiliency with Walter Stahel

Katherine Whalen [00:00:01] Hey there, Getting in the Loop listeners. Ever wondered what can be done in your industry to help create a more circular economy? To mark the one year anniversary of the Getting in the Loop Podcast, I've put together a short e-book to help you navigate key circular trends in textiles and apparel, ICT and electronics and packaging, and it includes links to related reports as well as relevant Getting in the Loop podcast episodes. It's yours to receive when you join up to our podcast newsletter at CircularSectors.GettingInTheLoopPodcast.com. So head over to our website to get your copy of the Circular Sectors Navigator. That's again, CircularSectors.GettingInTheLoopPodcast.com. 

[00:00:48] 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. 

[00:01:03] Hi there, Katie here. Welcome to the Getting in the Loop Podcast. And today I am thrilled to welcome the first reoccurring guest back to the podcast, Walter Stahel. So those of you who have been listening to the podcast for a while may remember that we talked to Walter back in September of 2019. And today we've brought him back and we're so happy that he was excited to come back, and he's going to be talking about some current events. This month, we're partnering with the International Society for the Circular Economy ahead of their inaugural conference, which will be held on July 6th through 7th and, of course, that will be a digital event. Over the next couple of weeks, we're going to be bringing you some of the keynote speakers for the conference. So you'll have a chance to meet some of them ahead of the conference. And today, Walter joins us to talk about the International Society for the Circular Economy because he is the honorary president. So in this episode, Walter and I will, of course, be talking about the International Society for the Circular Economy. You will also hear Walter's thoughts on a circular future post Covid19 and why he thinks circular economy and resilience go hand in hand. 

[00:02:26] A little bit about Walter,  well, I should call him Dr. Walter Stahel. He is the founder and director of the Product Life Institute in Switzerland, which is the oldest established consultancy in Europe devoted to developing sustainable strategies and policies. He is the honorary president of the International Society for the Circular Economy, a visiting professor at the University of Surrey in the U.K., a full member of the Club of Rome and author of numerous publications, including his recent book, The Circular economy, A User's Guide, which he came on the podcast to talk about back in September of 2019. I'll have the links, of course, about the International Society for the Circular Economy, as well as Walter's previous episodes on the Getting in the Loop Podcast at our web site, GettingInTheLoopPodcast.com. And now onto today's episode. 

[00:03:25] Yeah, well, I'm so excited to have you back on the Getting in the Loop Podcast, Walter. You're the first reoccurring guest. So it's a big honor to have you back again. 

Walter Stahel [00:03:36] It's my pleasure. 

Katherine Whalen [00:03:37] Thank you so much. Yeah. So, I mean, the listeners have heard you talk all about Circular economy in, I think it was episode 24, 25. So I'll have a link to those in the show notes, of course, for this episode where they can you know, of course, find out a bit more about you and hear about the book that you released last year as well. But before we kind of get into the topic of today, I just wanted to see how you're doing in Switzerland. Is there a lock down with the whole Covid or what? How are you? How are you staying safe? 

Walter Stahel [00:04:16] Well, Switzerland has for the last six weeks, we have been locked down, stay at home. All the shops and restaurants and cinemas, everything is closed except for daily needs, food, basically. And people in beginning reacted in some very strange ways, for example. Every bit of was a rush for toilet paper. So everybody started hoarding tons of toilet paper. I don't know why, but and now, after four weeks, we had beautiful weather which means we have no rain. Now we have a drought. It's very warm, it's maybe 20 to 24 degrees every day. So it's basically already summer, except that you shouldn't go out, except if you have a dog. And people now start to show mental signs of fatigue, especially people living on their own in a small flat with with no balcony or no garden, even better. And so there is some kind of Covid19 fatigue at the moment that people want to go out, police are giving fines if you go out without any reason or if you start to sit together and drinking beer in parks. But the other thing is there's no traffic, no trains, no planes, very little trams and busses because people are discouraged to use public transport because of the virus. So it's very strange. And I think I remember the good old days after Chernobyl, but Chernobyl is something you could measure, the radiology. You could show people do the Kager counts. So this time, I mean, it's unreal. Some people start to say, well, it's all a hoax. It doesn't really-- There isn't the danger. Why don't they let us out? And so, unfortunately, the only way to prove there is a problem is the death statistics. And so that is still every day, day and night, so, so many people died. But it's an even dead starts to get too abstract. I remember when I lived in England in the early 70s, every news started with the announcement that another two or three soldiers have been killed in Northern Ireland. And after a few months, people got so fed up that the pressure the government to get the people out of Northern Ireland became immense. And I think at the moment receded. We are seeing something similar. People, they no longer really, some people, especially young people, they no longer really care how dangerous it is, just let me have my normal life back. That's in Stockholm, Sweden. You are a property avoid some of these mental problems. 

Katherine Whalen [00:07:58] It's a-- Yeah, it's an interesting kind of situation being in Stockholm right now and over the last couple of weeks, because you have two groups of people. So you've got the people who are changing their daily sort of habits and being inside and really avoiding contact and trying to maintain, you know, a one and a half to two meter distance from other people in the street. And I'm sort of in the I'm in that category, so I haven't really been outside my house that much. But then you have other people who don't seem so fazed by it. And then it kind of leads to this bit of clash between the two types of people as well, because, you know, I'm walking in the street maybe going to get hit by a car because I'm trying to avoid people who, you know, don't seem so concerned about it so that it's a very interesting time period. And I have not experienced anything like this and hopefully won't in the future. But I mean, who knows? So, yeah. 

Walter Stahel [00:09:03] Boldy, the pandemic is if you go back to SARS in Hong Kong and MERS last in Lebanon and now the Corona 2019, the period between each entertainer is getting shorter and shorter. 

Katherine Whalen [00:09:25] Yes. 

Walter Stahel [00:09:25] And the biologically speaking, the viruses of these three events are 95 percent identical. So I think through mutations, unfortunately, we will get more and more of these things. 

Katherine Whalen [00:09:43] Yes, yeah, yeah. That's what it also seems like. But maybe it's just trying to, what's the word, to put it out of my brain or to take them optimistic view. But yeah, it's again, I mean and also brings me to what-- Do you know kind of when--? Has there been discussion when the restrictions will be lifted in Switzerland or because by the time that this podcast airs, it's probably going to be. I don't know end of May, beginning of June. So I'm just curious, we're now recording at the end of April. So I'm just curious, has there been a discussion about what it's going to going to look like in the next couple days? 

Walter Stahel [00:10:27] Basically, the restrictions really be completely lifted once we have a vaccine. 

Katherine Whalen [00:10:33] Okay. 

Walter Stahel [00:10:33]  Which according to Bill Gates is 18 months from now. 

Katherine Whalen [00:10:38] Yeah, okay. 

Walter Stahel [00:10:39] Because once we have a vaccine then we are safe. 

Katherine Whalen [00:10:43] Yeah. Yeah. 

[00:10:44] But before that there is no safety, because I don't know if you know the word quarantine comes from medieval times in Venice, because when where the pestilence in Venice, they put 40 days, quarantine on any ships coming in to the port. And, of course, in those days taking ships rather than airplanes this actually worked. Today, of course, if we do the same thing with airplane passengers and lock them up for two weeks when they get somewhere that the whole tourism  industry will break down. But that is what's happening on the continent, at least. If you even we have neighbors who are Germans and they want to go back to Germany, they will have to go through a two week quarantine when they go back. So we have become, I think, very aware that it's the thousands of people traveling every day that are spreading the problem. 

Katherine Whalen [00:12:05]  Yeah. It's going to be a very interesting future and really sort of, I think, changing our habits, especially if you know what you're saying what I also agree that this type of threat would like virus mutations and things is kind of here to stay in the long the long haul over, you know, the foreseeable future. So it's going to be an interesting future and, of course, I want to hear your thoughts today on the future of Circular economy kind of and where Circular economy fits in there. But before we kind of dive into that, I wanted to talk about the International Society for Circular Economy, because you were both involved in it and you are the honorary president, I believe, as well, right? 

Walter Stahel [00:12:57] Yes, it seems like. 

Katherine Whalen [00:12:59] Yes. So maybe for the listeners, because this is the first time that I think I have mentioned it on the podcast before, but I haven't really explained and talked about it so much in detail. So could you give a bit of background about the history of, it's called the IS4CE to the listeners, Walter. 

Walter Stahel [00:13:20] With pleasure. It's a very young organization. We haven't had any conferences or meetings yet. Probably actually meeting through webinars, through Zoom because--But it's-- What is the society about? It's an international academic society based at the University of Exeter. The core development group was only established end of last year. I see forese is ton's this transdisciplinary exercise centered on but not exclusive to the potential of the digital revolution to improve our understanding of systems aimed at circularity, and its fundamental effects on the relationship between people, resources, business and enterprise. So you can see this is a definition that encompasses almost everything. But I think the main difference is the potential of the digital revolution on system sciences, on complex sciences. And of course, the digitalization is at the same time a threat and an opportunity, that the threat is that we are losing, completely losing our privacy. The opportunity is that we will have Internet of things will be much easier to communicate. But the jury is still out. Who will win this race? Government yesterday decided that we are not going to have 5G telecommunication technologies because the radiation, 5G is basically microwaves, 4G was long waves and microwaves, you know, all know what happens if you put your wet cat in microwave to dry it, it comes out cooked. But it hasn't suffered. So the that the health impact of some of these new technologies, such as 5G, are not really a researched and certainly not understood. And so there is a political choice. Do we believe in progress and everything will come out fine? or do we have to protect the population, the health of the population? Just the same problem we had with the coronavirus. So the objective of the circular economy, the international society for Circular economy, has poor objectives, key objectives. One is to continue to refine the contemporary scientific theory and evidence base of Circular economy in tandem with the research education business nexus. The second one is to provide a network to connect and convene higher education globally to stimulate new research and educational initiatives. So you can see it's very much an academic education university focused, reaching out to the other partners. The third one is to share significant findings through high quality research publications, conferences at mainstream media. So it's less doing the research ourselves, but more reaching out to spread research results to other people, other groups of stakeholders, and the last one to promote educational offerings to business, government, academia and other stakeholders. So, I mean, it's universities and of course, universities want to do educational offerings or teaching or whatever  now it used to be face to face. Now it's more and more webinars and seminars. I'm not sure how. One of the big things you have always been pursuing in Europe has been the whole of Europe, especially also Scandinavia is the equal chances for young people to succeed in life. And this is, I think, very much question now by this digital teaching we are doing, because if you. A family with a small income living in a small apartment with two or three kids and one or both parents are working from home and the kids are supposed to do their homework, it's absolute hell. 

Katherine Whalen [00:18:59] Yeah, there's a lot of confusion and chaos. 

Walter Stahel [00:19:02] Not everybody has four or five computers. In a Germany, this has been recognized. The government yesterday said, okay, we'll give older kids that are locked in their apartment 150 euros, so that everybody can afford a computer. Of course, there was an outcry. You can't buy a computer for 50 euros. 

Katherine Whalen [00:19:30] You can buy part of a computer, maybe a fifth of a computer, if you're lucky. 

Walter Stahel [00:19:36]  But on the other hand, the people that have money at Peak Apartments. There's no problem. Everybody has his own room or her room and  computer. So this is-- We are coming back to some ghosts of the past that we thought we had overcome. And I hope that we will integrate our  degree, but we will go back to school even on Fridays, because the I think the school offers a better chance fought to get give every child the same chance to succeed. 

Katherine Whalen [00:20:19] Yeah, it's interesting in terms of what this pandemic situation has also highlighted in terms of a lot of inequalities that we kind of put under maybe the rug for a little bit and they have now risen up again. I'm just thinking of my home country in the United States, of course, as well. That's showing that they've done some studies and it's showing that it's self isolation and this kind of quarantining is fine for people who can afford it. 

Walter Stahel [00:20:55] Exactly. 

Katherine Whalen [00:20:55] Yeah, yeah. But I'm thinking back to the International Society for a Circular Economy, as you said, it is a relatively young organization because I first was brought in touch with you and Ken about it back at the beginning maybe of last year, 2019 and so kind of behind the scenes, everyone has been working to form this society and to get it up and running to have its first inaugural conference that's happening this summer on I believe July 6th and 7th. 

Walter Stahel [00:21:35] Yes. 

Katherine Whalen [00:21:35] So it's two days. So, of course, it's just like everything we've been talking about, too. It's also going digital. So it was supposed to be an in-person conference, but because of the current situation, it's going on line and maybe you can share a little bit about what's happening on those days or what's the sort of point of the conference like what can you give a little bit of a taste of what's going to be happening? I imagine there's going to be some keynotes and there's also some conference papers being presented. 

Walter Stahel [00:22:19] Yes. Well, let me give you a short definition of the conference purpose of IS4CE is to synthesize and evolve the intellectual frameworks, knowledge, evidence, experience, based to the pin, the shift from a linear, extractive economy to a circular, regenerative and restorative economy. Now, in the International Society 4C, there is the word international. And in that sense, going digital, going virtual, the conference has the advantage that everybody worldwide can take part. Because normally if you have, if you work for a multinational company that has offices everywhere, there is only the time slot between 3:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon in Europe, where people from Japan and California can attend. One just before going to bed and other just after having got out of bed, the Europeans just having coffee and cake.  And carrying digital has the advantage that everybody can watch their broadcasts at a civilized power. But, of course, the difficulty is how do we maintain that the discussion? Because then it's more teaching without discussion. The discussion will can, of course, follow later on by e-mail or whatever again digital means. But it will be. It will be possible once we know how it works. At the moment, we have no experience either as audience or as speakers how do you go about. And the other thing which I have experienced when I was a guest professor at Tokyo University in Japan is that giving a lecture to a camera is not much fun.

Katherine Whalen [00:24:51] No. My colleague just did his entire PhD defense yesterday, actually, virtually online. He passed, by the way, but yeah. Exactly, it's not so much fun. 

Walter Stahel [00:25:06] There is no interaction. You don't see the the faces of people that lit up or the country that suddenly get very angry. And so you cannot come back and reinforce a point or explain it again. You are really teaching to a mirco. And you-- Sometimes I'm not sure if the micro is on. And you're not sure if it really matters. You could just walk away. Nobody would notice. Yeah, so the I think one thing that's come out also it's from the Covid19 pandemic experience is that we need social interactions. Communication is not I talk to you now and then in two hours time, you talk to me. And then we both-- it doesn't work. And actually, even animals in the zoos on the continent, they have noticed that some animals get completely frustrated, for example, monkeys. They love playing monkey games when somebody is watching. 

Katherine Whalen [00:26:27] Yeah. 

Walter Stahel [00:26:27] But if there's no audience, they get frustrated. They get somehow paralyzed. And I've heard yesterday, same with elephants in Thailand that take the tourists around. And if there are no tourists, they can't go for a walk. I mean, like, you want to go for a walk. And so they get very lethargic that they probably don't know what they should do it. So it's the whole society, but also animals and people is based on communicating and exchanging views and shouting at each other or smiling or laughing. And I'm not sure if that is going to work. We will see. The conference in July will be digital. 

Katherine Whalen [00:27:27] We're working hard to make it so that, like, I know that Ken and you and all the you know, the members of the kind of the organization committee, we've been having phone calls to make sure that we can have, you know, these interactions even still digital. And I think, you know, in some ways it's even, obviously you can't replace that person to person interaction completely online. But this way it will, as you said, enable probably more people around the world to participate and join in as well. 

Walter Stahel [00:28:07] I think so. 

Katherine Whalen [00:28:08] Yeah. So-- And I'll be--. 

Walter Stahel [00:28:09] Sorry, it's really an international conference. And, of course, from my CO2 emissions point of view, it's probably beneficial for the climate. 

Katherine Whalen [00:28:22] Yes, of course. Yeah. 

Walter Stahel [00:28:24] I'm not so sure because, you know, these IT centers, they use a lot of electricity. And the countries where electricity is produced with coal or brown coal such as Germany, not to mention any country or Poland, the CO2 balance is not very good for digital conferences.

Katherine Whalen [00:28:55] Yeah, it's a it's a tradeoff between how many people and how many how many kinds of storage and storage capacity this each center has and things like. Yeah, of course. So it's not as black and white, of course. 

Walter Stahel [00:29:16] No, but this reminds me that one thing we should do, the organizers, is to try to get an  accounting, CO2 accounting of a digital conference, because I think that this doesn't exist yet so far. 

Katherine Whalen [00:29:34] Yeah, that could be-- that's a good suggestion. 

Walter Stahel [00:29:38] And compare it to the CO2 balance if the speakers and the participants, but mainly speakers had arrive by plane or train or boat or whatever. 

Katherine Whalen [00:29:57] So I'm thinking, I'm curious because I, you know, I'm thinking about my listeners and some of them might be wondering at this point, like are-- Let me rephrase that. Some of the listeners might be wondering, is this conference applicable to me? Like, should I join? And maybe you could just say a little bit about who you think this conference is beneficial for. Because, I mean, the listeners that we have for the Getting in the Loop Podcast, they come from all over the world and some of them are students that are interested in circular economy. Many of them are people who are working in companies that are trying to start up circular economy related projects. Of course, we also have academics and professors and things like that who also follow the podcast. So maybe you could say something about because you've mentioned that it's a it's mainly for academia. But I also know that I've had some discussions with Ken who said, you know, people we want to also get a practical take on it. And there will be key keynote speakers who come from a more industry background as well. 

Walter Stahel [00:31:13] Yes, and we are at the moment, I think at a turning point with regard to the Circular economy and where it will be going because the did the last 50 years. Or 43 years that I've been working on it. It was always a material focus and focus on what I call the area of R, which is to re repair, reuse, repair, re manufacturing of objects. The tode with the objective to to achieve a longer service life of objects. And now things are moving in two ways. One is you have maybe seen that the North, through Northrop Grumman, launched a successful its mission extension vehicle into space. And they have it's a it's a satellite that talks onto other satellites and re or takes them to a higher level in space so that it will continue living because otherwise they'd through friction. They will end up fall down and they they will reorient it. So they have actually the first successfully the first aging satellite move to a higher orbit and put back into service. Wow. That was had been written off because it was no longer functional. And so in this sense, this case gives completely new dimension to what what it what you mean by repair at the remanufacture or reprogramed preprogramed. The other thing is that the market is changing, according to Deloitte. The market for preowned second, that's more smartphones grows faster than the total market of smartphones. And according to another consultant. Smartphones are the most traded secondhand goods, whereas a few years ago, nobody, especially young people, would accept to have a smartphone that was older than six month. And something similar is happening in the states, in the Midwest that the farming center of the after us the farmers get fed up with. John Deere is the major manufacturer of equipment that dates Internet of Things that is fully computerized because they can no longer repair it themselves or have it repaired. What normally breaks down? Of course it did. When you needed most in the harvesting season is the computer system. And then you have to have a technician to come in from the factory or from wherever that normally takes three days before. And you have to pay the technician for three days before you simply call the local blacksmithing mechanic. And it took a few hours that he would repair the thing so you could continue working. So these are the statistics that you can measure. This change is that the at the auctions of second that John Deere equipment in the Midwest. Normally 20, 30 year old equipment. The prices have shot up. Some of the prices are now almost as high as for your equipment because farmers won something they have to control of. And that's interesting because that is contradicting the whole thing that we are going digital. Because digital means somebody else is in control of your tractor and that this is not necessarily why you buy a tractor. So there are counter measures and of course, there's also behavioral sciences that we have to. Hartly talked about it so far. That there is cultural influences and all this will hit on the on the market, on the demand side and therefore on the supply side. So I think there is we have to send a conference. You have to explain people why this is different. It's easier to to sell to the researchers because on the research side, there is what I call the Circular economy Circle or physics or energy circle or metallurgy. Things are moving incredibly fast. For example, a pre church group can't remember where they are based has found somewhere in a cause compost heap enzyme that can the polymerase pet bottles. So it actually can make new pet bottles from the out from the old stuff going through the modern Marende and other at the Los Angeles National Laboratory Livermore. At Berkeley have developed a PDK, a first polymer that his. Designed so that you can really use it. So it's very easy to do poly MRI's and then you you get older, you get the plastic, pure plastic and all the rest additives fall out. Attender, pure plastic or kendry polymerization. And you get new object, whatever you want. So there are several. Movements in that sense that we can present. And I think industry should be very interested in this because what is happening now is a shift. Order. Wasted resources side that we are really moving from. Waste or recycling to recovering molecules and reusing molecules. There will be different players doing this. The legacy side will still continue for some time. But the future is in the fully circular Monat mess. And at the same time, there is. A shift from the material side of the Circular economy economy to the immaterial side and part of the material side is the liability question that instead of finding new technologies paid for by the state or municipalities to sell after the waste legacy problem to three defined liabilities so that the producer is remains liable for his products or materials, are there for us to take it back and pay himself to develop new technologies that will then very quickly convince people, profit minded companies, that that there is a better way to do it. I did the other push because it's all about motivating people. In a society of abundance, that people accept that with corporate 19. But normally people can buy whatever they one day if they have enough money. They can throw it away if they want. But. How do we motivate people and policy makers to take action? And I think one of the key. Levers that we haven't used that so far is the embodied water at the embodied CO2 emissions that were used in the production that are that are preserved. If we extend the service life. And if I know, for example, that in a pair of jeans, you have eleven tons of photo. So if you throw away your a pair of jeans, actually throw away Levit tons of fourth's around in areas where water may be Schalke at least in some summer. Look at this, Australia. This could motivate people to use things longer in the building. You have billions of tons of CO2 emissions. So rather than refurbishing a building and bringing bringing it up to the latest technology of insulation, that's a comfort if you can show how many million tons of CO2 you don't emit. That you would otherwise admit this could convince Pollet policymakers, politicians to make this all those mandatory if they want to fulfill the CO2 climate promises. And it could convince the owners of the buildings to have to refurbish Phrae Re manufactured, whatever you want to call it, completely. Because then if they get a carbon credit, that's, again, immaterial, invisible side. Then they get money for not pulling it down and rebuilding it. And if that carbon credit is considerable, then this would be even financially her bonus incentive for companies not to demolish any more. 

[00:42:14] I think that I'm sure that there will be a fair amount of discussions at the there'll be some discussions at the conference regarding this and sort of the the opportunities and drivers for for for these types of approaches. And I think I also wanted to add something that you said earlier also really resonated with me, which was also the about the cultural and behavioral insights as well. So the demand from from consumers to have these more circular options is something that I imagine we'll also talk about a little bit at the conference. And I find that can be also a good motivator. And it's also why a lot of companies might also be interested in attending the conference. 

[00:43:09] Yes, there is. I was the last conference I attended was mid-February in Brussels on accountants and taxation, and I was invited to talk about sustainable taxation, not taxing labor, talking resource consumption. And I was astonished that there was somebody from the French minister of finance and somebody from the commission and what a few years ago was completely. We have the idea is now seriously. Looked at and even the commission can see the positive impact incentives that could come from that for the CIRCULAR ECONOMY and the French ministry. He's also in favor of it, but they instead of taxing nonrenewable resources, they are going to tax the digital world that Google that the e mails, all this, because there's so much of it that millions of every day of. Of emails and podcasts. So if you only take one cent per. Digital transaction banks in everywhere, you could actually stop take asking any other taxes. Value added taxes, whatever, you would get enough money to run the whole show. And, of course, then the digital world would. You had me would notice it, but the people sending out millions of spotter's messages every day. They they would suddenly realize that it wasn't trusted. It could. It could have very beneficial impact on the digital world. 

Katherine Whalen [00:45:18] Yes. I think finding a way to get rid of some of the spam in my work account would be a great start as well. Yeah. Wow, that would be like a win-win situation all around, I think. 

Walter Stahel [00:45:32] Yes, I did. The legal basis for that is that at the moment, the clothes take to gaffer's of this rolled. They pay taxes in some island far away that nobody's ever heard of, or in Ireland. 

Katherine Whalen [00:45:51] Yeah, I'm going to say Ireland. Ireland, which is an island with. But people have heard of that one. 

Walter Stahel [00:45:58] And if you tax did the transmission's did the actions that you taxed them where they are happening. And so then Google, Amazon, they can kinetics, a escape and say no, but we pay taxes on profits or turnover. Now they would pay taxes on transactions. So this is a complete change in the mindset of for taxation is about how you should raise it. 

Katherine Whalen [00:46:35] Yeah. Fascinating. Fascinating. Oh, man. I want to make sure that we talk a little bit also about you. I would love to hear your thoughts about sort of the circular future post covered. I mean, you've given us a little bit of hints about, you know, the digitalization, but also making sure that we don't lose our social interaction and the importance of that. And I just think, you know, in the hand of the future and the way that the world is going to be looking a little bit different. Do you have thoughts on how that will? Impact or influence the circular economy discussion? 

Walter Stahel [00:47:17] Definitely, and to take conclusions from the six weeks of covet 19 that are very easy to make and everybody can see it, is that it does not affect stuff. It does not affect stocks of buildings or vehicles or. Carcetti. Preaches to infrastructure. Are still there. Mm hmm. And so the circular economy is about managing stocks. And it has the circular economy was not affected by the covert like pandemic. The people repairing things are cleaning. Things are even more in demand than before. And that brings me to the other topic of the essential workers. Essential workers. If you had asked a month ago or a year ago, people would have said it's the factory workers producing smartphones or cars or whatever. If you ask today, people will tell you it's the bus drivers, it's the hospital employees, the doctors, the nurses. It's the cleaning lady. It's the garbage people, all the people that are still working despite the fact that it's a dangerous job because it's difficult to really protect themselves against this virus. So the definition of what is essential for society has shifted away from manufacturing. From the flows to the people operating and maintaining stocks and data. If you look at the different stocks, the main stocks, it's natural capital. It hasn't been affected. The forests are still there. The cultural capital hasn't been affected. The human capital has been affected. Healthwise. But the knowledge hasn't been. The skills haven't been affected. So the. The big impact of the Kobe dieting pandemic is on flows. Holda Flo's as have more or less come to a stop. Factories closed down. Transport, airlines, trains, everything closed down. So. So the. This basically means that the flows that the linear industrial economy has very little resilience. Because the economy of scale based on cheap transport that. And global globalization has suddenly disappeared. Yeah, and just overnight, basically. Yeah, yeah. And so if we if the aim, the objective of a society or of politicians is to create a resilient and sustainable society and economy, then for me the answer is very clear. Stocks matter. Flow don't. And then you come back that. But do we still need masks and food and things like this? Then you start to realize the beauty of local or regional production. We have to decentralize where we have production flows. We have to decentralize it in order to make them resilient. T, we have to produce smaller volumes everywhere. Every in every region or at least in every nation. And then we come to something that is again already happening, what I call the intelligent decentralization. We'll have micro bakeries, Microbreweries Micro, a lot of things that were more and more centralized are now done in a very decentralized way all over the world. We have through 3D print and. Robert. You can have small workshops anywhere that produce whatever you need. And the reason why even companies will wait your have already woken up to that is before they gloated the sense of. Globalization was to have to produce fair labor is cheapest because labor was the main factor, cost factor. But now with robots. Robots at the same price anywhere. If you buy a robe or use a robot in Vietnam or in America or in Europe or in China, the robots cost the same thing. So the new cost factor that is variable is transport cost and of transport and the cost of the risk of transport. Just in time. If Just-In-Time doesn't work, your home production line breaks down. And so in this new world of sustainable and resilient, it's much more intelligent to use a digital technology to transfer to the data that you need to produce something with a robot to a robot that is near the place where you need to take good. So now the take to the main cost factor that you can reduce greatly reduce your costs, set your risks, his transport, especially long distance and logistics, which of course, is very bad news for the logistics companies, for shipping companies. We have in Geneva a company that is a major player in the. What you call these big cruise ships. Yes. And they called container ships. Mm hmm. I don't think they have a single ship working at the moment. Mm. Airlines, the airlines look at any airline in the region. I think out bankrupt. 

Katherine Whalen [00:54:40] Yeah. At least they're they're Swedish and they're Danish subs. 

Walter Stahel [00:54:44] One of the two is. Yeah. Yeah. Fly be in England has is is bankrupt as Swiss that our national airline part of Lufthansa. They have I think 80 planes, three of them are working at the moment. Well so we have enough stuff. There's no short in the industrialized countries. There is no shortage of stuff. 

Katherine Whalen [00:55:10] No shortage of toilet paper. 

Walter Stahel [00:55:14] Well, yes. To consumer goods. To consumer goods, which are a flow production. But those we have to secure the production haddrick. In order to do that, we have to secure supplies. We can only do that by ensure rickshaw production so that we produce it locally or nationally. 

Katherine Whalen [00:55:36] Exactly. Yeah. There are saying in Sweden, like, there's no there's not a problem with toilet paper because there's a pink paper is one of the main sort of production. No sort of things in Sweden. So that like we're not going to have a problem with the shortage of toilets. We have a lot of theories. 

Walter Stahel [00:55:54] Another shortage is it sits in this flower to make the case that the bread, because everybody working at home started also to cook at home, bake at home. The restaurants are closed. And it's very strange how these things work. But this is we are talking about industrialized countries and got real also at the conference have to highlight that it's the situation is different in less developed, less industrialized countries that don't have all the infrastructure in hospitals, in schools and in water and sewage treatment plants, distribution, water distribution networks. These countries have to they need desperately need a flow economy, a linear industrial economy, produce these stocks, these things once they have to stock. Then it's become becomes important to convince them that they shouldn't go our way to tend to build more, more. But then to focus on learning to operate and maintain this stock properly, it's cheaper. It creates more jobs. And that is always local operation, maintenance of stock is always local. By definition, you create local jobs and you save CO2 emissions, you save waste. So the we are still discussing the program. But. We covered 19 experience has shown. Will show that things are very different for countries that. That have older stuff they need. And countries that even take a look at hospitals in Africa or in certain South America. It's not only that facemask, Santa's breathing disparities that are missing. It's also to the hospitals and to train nurses, to train doctors. And so the that the human capital. Sometimes even water, clean water. You cannot fight the coronavirus if you can't wash your hands regularly. So these kids basic need so far, especially water and kill people. Some countries in the Third World or the less industrialized countries, I think it will be very important that the conference to show the different needs at hand. Problems in different regions of the world, we shouldn't deduct from our experience that this is concerns. Every country in the world. 

Katherine Whalen [00:59:03] Yeah. And coming back also to some of the discussions I've had on the podcast and also what you touched on earlier in this discussion about the cultural aspect of Circular economy. That's something that. I've started to get I've started to notice a lot more being discussed in the last couple of years, and I think you highlight it here very brilliantly as well in terms of talking about there's different situations in the world and we need to be cognizant of those different situations. 

Walter Stahel [00:59:38] Yes. So the-- How much time have we left?

Katherine Whalen [00:59:47] Well, I think I realize that we had booked one hour. So I don't know how much. I can go on for a little bit more. But I don't wanna take up your afternoon as well. 

Walter Stahel [00:59:57] No, no. I'm fine. You know, the advantage of working at home or the disadvantage, I'm retired. I have no kids, I have two dogs that I take out regularly. But, so for the last five years, I've been retired. And I've always worked in Staten from home. So I'm absolutely everything is installed. But it's a mental problem. You need a self discipline. That you don't work seven days a week, 24 hours a day. And I think that is the difficulty we will face because a lot of companies will realize that their headquarters that are empty now. They don't really need to. So to again, this stuff, we have too much stuff because the way of life, we had created a need for more aircraft, more motorways, more buildings. But if we change our way of life, then we basically have what we need. And then what do we companies do with these headquarter buildings? 

Katherine Whalen [01:01:21] No one's ever going to be able to say, I can't work from home again. If anyone who is a non-essential worker who is working from home in, you know, many companies have had no working from home as like a Azealia before. And now it's been proven that it can be done. And so no one's gonna be able to use as an excuse again. 

Walter Stahel [01:01:44] Yes. And more importantly, the the we have discovered schools and kindergarten has also essential institutions, because if the kids are at home, then the parents are very inefficient in working at home. So there is big pressure in Germany and in Switzerland to reopen the schools at the kindergarten because then and I no longer let the kids alone as it Pink Floyd the wall. Now it's let the parents alone send the kids back to school so that the parents can work at home. But then, of course, the school teachers have to revise, even feeding you probably three. Do you have cafeterias? Kids can eat at lunchtime. Whereas in Switzerland, we don't have this. So. But it's very interesting. I'm convinced they have to create 19, whatever this will be in a year or before or after. We will not go back to. Last century, no, sorry, last year, 2020 sounds too far away. Yeah. All the people that booked a cruise on one of these big cruise ships that then spent some of them a month in quarantine on a cruise ship somewhere in a strange place. They will think twice next time if they really want to go on a cruise to an exotic place, because somehow it sounded more fun than it was. 

Katherine Whalen [01:03:42] But those are for the people who have had the experience for a small percentage, whereas I know I just am I'm very curious about the people who who have the cruise booked pool, weren't able to go on the cruise and who now are using this cruise as sort of their guiding light through this. This future cruise that they're going to be taking is like the guiding light. Yes. When they're when when it's over. And so I'm just kidding. You're thinking about the sort of the potential rebound of effects isn't on the one hand, you paint this great picture of resilience and maintaining our stocks and realizing that we don't actually need as much of the things that we thought we needed before, and it's about focusing on maintaining what we what we have. And rethinking the mindset of what is essential and and what is not essential. And how can we be more resilient. But then on the other side of it, I see this potential for. People trying to escape is the first time that they're allowed back on a flight. 

Walter Stahel [01:04:54] And I can tell you that on the cruise ship side, they have no reservations for the future. Everything has been canceled, which means that the traffic age and the travel agents, that they really have a hard time because they are not working day and night to not early counsel all these tips for the clients. They're wrong. Got to go. But try to get the money back. And then the nice thing of going to exotic places I heard this yesterday, the the last Swiss plane that. Had to evacuate people from Kinshasa has arrived back. So now we don't do any repatriation flights anymore. That that flight costs through under fifty thousand francs. And the people that were on the plane have to pay. Not the government. The government will bail. The people that were in Kinshasa. So if you have one time once made this experience or know somebody has done it, even if there are, let's say, 50 or even hundred people on that plane. That's still a lot of money to come back on a plane that you never wanted to be. So the I think in general it's not only resilient. It's that people will become more aware of the risks in a global world, not only the health risks. 

[01:06:37] But if you go to a place like Kinshasa. Had you if you get sick. Do they have something that a hospital that can care for you? And if their politics change because it's the same as in Europe, in Africa, all the borders are closed. So there is a 50 Swiss that were blocked in Kinshasa. They were really blocked and they needed the government negotiations, too. Too late to escape to be let out of the country. And I think these are experiences that most of us have never left because it's freedom. It's shocking and nature, Wolf. Anyway, you won. Now you suddenly realize, well, if you're the wrong place at the wrong time. You're really stuck. Now. Well, the government's P.R. to European Union be able to convince people that no, no, this they say everything will go back. I don't know when the frontiers will open again. 

Katherine Whalen [01:07:57] Yeah, I think you highlight an interesting point in terms of weighing the risks and sort of just thinking from my own experience as well, like right now my sailboat is stuck in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was supposed to go back in the water, you know, this week, last weekend. And we just can't get, we can't get into the country to even put it in the water so that we can sell it to Stockholm. 

Walter Stahel [01:08:32] And would you be allowed to say it to Stockholm? 

Katherine Whalen [01:08:37] I think we would be allowed to sell it if we could get, like we could physically get to the boat. Because right now, of course, you know, Sweden doesn't really have many, many restrictions compared to other countries. But, you know, Denmark, some Denmark's on lockdown. So what I'm trying to say by this story is that it really is, as you said, it's shifting your your perspective of different things. And I know for sure, once we get that sailboat, I don't think we're going to be taking it abroad. We're just going to be sailing it around internally in Sweden, in Sweden for the foreseeable future. 

Walter Stahel [01:09:20] No, there were there were tragedies. We had a case on television and a patchwork families and of course, Geneva is right on the border with France. And so there are a lot of patchwork families. One parent living one side. The other the other side. And both parents normally have the right to have the kids at least every second weekend or ever, so it can wreak whatever. Now we are suddenly are no longer allowed to cross the border. And had some people disregard it, as they said, we'll have a legal right to see my kids and when they came back after the weekend. Back into Switzerland, they were fined two under Swiss francs, 200 euros. They were notified the next time it's. 1000 euros had the third time it's prison. So it is a situation we couldn't imagine that one day you I mean, the border in my case is 200 meters away and it's a small brook can walk, walk across it in boots. But. It's it's suddenly become the boardroom. And so in that sense, that they did the thing between real and abstract that, again, this border is becoming very. Unclear. If you can't see something like coronavirus. Do we have to accept that it is still there or a border that that is not closed? But it's a border. You are not allowed to cross. 

Katherine Whalen [01:11:09] Yeah, that makes it a bit more. Real, I think, in terms of not even the situation. And. The effect of it, if, uh, even though you can't see it, you know that now physically not being able to cross it makes it more real and puts it in perspective. 

Walter Stahel [01:11:29] So another thing that I know in Sweden, the streets often go hunting their free time. And the states to two things that are very short supply is guns and toilet paper. Now to guns being European, I assume this okay? People want to defend themselves and some American friends say ask. They laughed. They said, no, people want a rifle because if they can't get enough food, they will simply go out in the wild and shoot something. Get. Get your own food, your own steak. And so, again, this this this kind of reflexes that end in Geneva. It's even forbidden to go hunting, which is very strange because in France, you can go hunting just across the border. So all the wild boars all all come to Switzerland. 

Katherine Whalen [01:12:37] It's an escapism. They shouldn't be crossing the border, right? It's close. Someone informed them. 

Walter Stahel [01:12:44] The other thing that is because there are very few cars on the motorways right now, regularly get traffic warnings of deer and whole kind of foxes, animals having a walk on the on the wild side or on the motorway. So if there is constant traffic, they wouldn't even dare about it now. But now a nation is coming back and claiming back. So some of these things will disappear again. Of course. But. But even. Road traffic. I I'm pretty sure homeworking, working, a lot of people will see the advantages of working and especially also companies save money, you can save a lot of money. So, yes, let's do it. That would give everybody a computer. I don't know how much you have to pay for Zoom. Skype is free. 

Katherine Whalen [01:13:46] Yeah. As long as the kids are back in school, then you can get the work done. That's the important one. 

Walter Stahel [01:13:53] Absolutely. So schools have to reopen fast. 

Katherine Whalen [01:13:56] Yeah. Well, time will tell and and see kind of how this this plays out. Of course, it's a ongoing evolving discussion. But and I'm sure that we will have many things to talk about at the conference, the International Society for Circular economy in July. And I'll put a link to the conference website so you can check out the agenda and register for the conference if they're interested there. So I'll make sure that there's a link in the show notes to this episode. 

Walter Stahel [01:14:37] Okay. 

Katherine Whalen [01:14:37] It was a pleasure to have you come on the podcast and talk about the society and the conference. 

Walter Stahel [01:14:46] Great pleasure to be back. Invited back. 

Katherine Whalen [01:14:50] Yes. And, well, maybe catch you for a little bit of a post conference debrief or something. We can talk about that as well. 

Walter Stahel [01:14:59] And we probably won't meet in Exeter because none of us is going to--

Katherine Whalen [01:15:05] But online we can continue the conversation over Zoo or Skype or whatever. 

Walter Stahel [01:15:10] Exactly. 

Katherine Whalen [01:15:12] Yeah. Well, thank you. Yeah. Thank you. Thank you again, Walter, and I really enjoyed hearing your thoughts as well. It's giving me somethings to think about as in terms of maintaining stocks and the future of circular economy, because I also think that the one of the benefits is thinking more about local production and in ways that we can innovate locally.

Walter Stahel [01:15:40] I don't know if, you know, I've been for 28 years, I was director of Risk Management Research for an insurance think tank. Pandemics is one of things that we regularly discuss. But we-- The September 11 was the first time in risk management when you had the freedom to think the unthinkable, such as an aircraft. Hitting a local power station or something. And so then you suddenly realize the vulnerability of of all of us. And there are several things you can do. One is. Always have some money to. Because the biggest risk is electricity supply. You know, you have sunflowers, there are a number of reasons why you could suddenly be faced with their electricity. In Manhattan, it happened twice, once in 9/11, 2001, and the second time with Sandy in 2015 or whatever, and suddenly there was no more electricity. That means you cannot pay with a credit card. You cannot use your smartphone. You cannot refill your car because there is a bomb, a pump battery field station. If you live in a tall building, there is no water coming out because the pumps don't work. They have to go down and carry the water up. So you realize that especially also with computers. Electricity is the one thing that will block everything. Television, radio, emergency services. But the one thing that you can prevent is running out of money by having physical money to. Not a lot, but may be enough to buy your groceries for for a week. Or go to a restaurant or whatever. And if you are if you live in the house, then it's very cheap to buy. Thanks to lost production, a generator. I had the added tank of these loyde. And it this in there, and then you are independent. Then you have your electricity. There's also the heating system will not work without electricity. Right. Right. So, yeah. So if you are holding your own in the house, then think about especially in a cold climate. Buying a small generator to shower in a building that is difficult to say will not allow you to install your child's right. 

Katherine Whalen [01:19:00] Yeah, exactly. But, I mean, it is what you want. Yeah. It's fascinating that you were on this board or you were helping to oversee this, because it makes me think of when this pandemic initially happened. They were saying to that Sweden has like a sort of a handbook that's that's entitled If Crisis or War Comes. And I thought, I've never even considered anything like this before. But, you know, you read it and it's it's talking about, you know, what would happen if Sweden is at war or what happens if this unthinkable thing happens and what kinds of things you'd have stocked up in your house. And I just thought, wow. I mean, I've gotten by with over 30 years of life, not even considering anything like this before. And it's time to start thinking a bit more strategically, I guess. So, yeah, this they're saying I don't know if I'm going to quote it. Right. But it's like you don't know what you don't know but like I'm realizing--

Walter Stahel [01:20:09] The worst thing is the unknown unknowns. 

Katherine Whalen [01:20:12] Exactly. Yeah. 

Walter Stahel [01:20:13] But then you have the known unknowns and you have to unknown knowns. For example, the pandemic is an unknown known. We know pandemics happen, but we don't know when. And so you can't really make. The worst case scenario, but in Genty, when the when the shit hits the fan, as the Americans say, everybody will. He has to rely on himself, first of all. It's like if you go at the mountains to bad weather, if you cannot survive till help comes, you may not survive. And it's the same with nation states we had. We still have no boss. You can't buy in mosques in Switzerland. Wow. Which is completely crazy. Yeah. We have a pandemic law which says that everybody has to have 50 boss at home, but nobody ever told us about it. And you couldn't have put to me anyway. So. But we had we had several trucks with masks that were blocked in France and in Germany. Because, you know, suddenly our nice neighbors decided, no, we need these things, our solar systems. Yeah. Yeah. You know, it was cut it Lori's going probably from Rotterdam, too. And suddenly all the rules, all the game has changed. The rules have changed. And now if it's on my territory, I take it. If you had suggested disgust at the discussion Brexit, people would have said, you are crazy. I mean. Now, I think some people in England think that maybe it wasn't that silly. Because if you are on your own you are much better prepared if you know you are on your own. 

Katherine Whalen [01:22:33] Yeah. You're not waiting for someone else to help with intervention. 

[01:22:38] Yeah. And then we see that also with the difference. I mean, in my own country of the United States, with the difference between the federal government level and the state level, I mean, this whole thing and how it's playing out is crazy in terms of, you know, waiting for federal assistance, but then states having to make decisions and states having coalitions between each between each other because they need to find some support. Yeah. 

Walter Stahel [01:23:11] You know, there is one country that still has wartime reserves and food and everything else that has first time since World War Two. They had to take it to their strategic reserves. Which country do you think that is? 

Katherine Whalen [01:23:30] Is it the US? 

Walter Stahel [01:23:32] It's Finland. 

Katherine Whalen [01:23:33] Finland. Oh, okay. 

Walter Stahel [01:23:35] Well, because they are-- Once burned, twice shy. They live with their neighbors in the east. They know they can not rely on anybody they have to... 

Katherine Whalen [01:23:51] Okay. Now, that makes complete sense. I was there, I didn't think it was the-- I didn't know there was a trick question or not in terms of the things we were talking about the US, I didn't know. I was like, well, that's the safest answer to go with. But yeah, Finland is being very that has definitely like shut themselves off in their response. 

Walter Stahel [01:24:11] Because they know they have to rely on their own, on themselves. The other thing, which is absolutely crazy at the moment, is the price of the wholesale price of electricity is negative. The price of crude oil is negative. Exactly. Yeah. The interest on capital, on investments is negative interest rates. Somehow we live in a completely crazy period. Yeah, just for a shock, I hope, for a short time. The borders are closed. Move. Not supposed to leave the house. What about Labor Day? Yeah, just Verio. 

[01:25:06] Yeah. Yeah. Although there's been discussions about that in the United States as well about how much a quarantine or isolation can you actually impose on your your people to before they question that. 

Katherine Whalen [01:25:19] But, um. Yeah. How long, how long and how long exactly. It's a it's a very interesting time right now. And and at the very least, it's definitely triggering us to reflect on a lot of different things from what is what we thought was never possible is now all of a sudden possible and also trying to real reevaluate our priorities, I think, in life, you know as well, so yeah.

Walter Stahel [01:25:49] What this quality of life. What is well-being? And I think the most amazing thing is that the district over from normality to to this austerity thing happened within a few days. Didn't really click, click, click, click one country after the other. 

Katherine Whalen [01:26:11] Yeah, yeah, it's taken people's mentals, mental space to catch up a little bit more. But in terms of the times in act different things, it's very, very quick, which you didn't have when you saw it coming. 

Walter Stahel [01:26:28] There's no way you could get out. 

Katherine Whalen [01:26:31] Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. Very true. Well, thank you so much, Walter. I don't want to take any more of your time either. 

Walter Stahel [01:26:40] Put Costa in a year's time and discuss what we came out. 

Katherine Whalen [01:26:47] I'll play you back clips of what you say here and what I've said here. And then we can analyze and debrief. But, yeah. But thank you so much. And it's always a pleasure to chat with you. 

Walter Stahel [01:27:03] Great talkingto you. 

Katherine Whalen [01:27:04] Yeah. And I hope that you continue to stay safe in Switzerland. 

Walter Stahel [01:27:10] I'll try to. You too.

[01:27:12] Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode. For show notes and the links, go to our website 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.

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