The auditorium at KTH – Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm – was packed on Monday night and Ellen Mac Arthur, invited to Sweden by Cradle Net, KTH and CITIES the Magazine, opened the Circular economy salong. Ellen first became famous when she broke the world record when she sailed solo nonstop around the world in 2005. When that dream (which she had harbored since she was a sall child) had been realized she took on an even greater challenge – to work for a more sustainable economy by trying to help the world to change from a linear to circular economy (where natural resources are re-used again and again and without ever having to be thrown into the garbage. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, founded in 2010, is based in the UK and has quickly received wide international recognition (My News desk/Cradle Net).
Ellen is an enthusiastic speaker. She can hold the audience spellbound not only by telling stories and showing pictures from her sailing trips around the world but also by her passionate belief in a world based on a circular economy. She has many numbers in her head and it was a little hard to follow in all the twists and turns but her enthusiasm really rubbed off on the audience.
New to me (who has been in the sustainable movement since I was born since my parents had a recycling community in the 1970s) was that there already are several companies which work according to a circular economy model. Ellen told us about some which I had earlier heard about through Cradle net and some new ones. For example Puma who now has a cradle-to-cradle collection and Houdini in Stockholm from whom you can rent your ski clothing. The Dutch carpet manufacturer Desso – a pioneer within the C2C approach – have redesigned their carpet tiles so that they can be disassembled, and the yarn reprocessed to continue cycling the materials. Stef Kranendijk, who was CEO until October 2012 and key driving force in re-thinking the business model for the company, says:
The idea is to become a service industry, relying on a leasing system: then you don’t buy the product, you only pay for its use, which means materials remain our responsibility and of course it’s not our interest to see them wasted, at the end everybody wins.
That seems to be one of the main arguments within the circular economy movement – if a company leases or rents out a product they will be sure it is well made and made to last in comparison to a product which is supposed to break after 3 years. Like an IPhone – they can often not be repaired when they brake – “you’ll want the new model anyway by then”, the salesperson told me in London when I bought my first IPhone 2 years ago. Ellen mentioned a company which buys old mobile phones, the ones you throw in the drawer when you buy a new one. Vodafone UK has introduced a smartphone leasing service:
The package enabled a customer to have a ‘free’ Apple iPhone on a 12-month deal; at the end of the lease term the customer could return the phone and set up a new lease agreement – or they could give the phone back and walk away.
We live in a consumerism society where we want instant gratification – it might be a trend which is hard for us to turn since we are used to satisfy our urge to shop regularly and it would be a great sacrifice for many of us to give up that habit. If that is the case a circular economy model might still be a way forward if we also are concerned about how coming generations on this planet will survive and people in other parts of the world. If we do get more sustainable and better products for a better price ,as Ellen suggested on the seminar, then I really maybe a circular economy model could be the way to go.
What I realized during the seminar was that the model will not substitute a materialistic – comsumeristic society – it embraces material production and consumerism. Even IF the planet will be able to host a population like ours for a longer time than is believed today (if we find much more sustainable ways to live our lives here) I wonder if we would be happier and thriving – both mentally and physically – if we would learn to find simpler pleasures in life. Erich Fromm suggested that consumerism is so widespread in our society today (or 30 years ago) because of general boredom, consumption compensates for the lack of closeness and love – we build a wall of stuff which prevents us from seeing each other’s real personalities and reach each other emotionally.
Maximal production and consumism has become the meaning of life, Fromm said. I really do think we, in addition to finding sustainable ways of producing and consuming stuff, would benefit from questioning our constant need for new stuff. But I think the great challenge before us (and the reason why I am eager to move toward circular economy models and radically rethink the design sector and the whole production line and consumer culture) is well illustrated by a story about a young man Ellen Mac Arthur met at one of her tours in a school in Britain. He and his classmates were supposed to design a product but this young man could not think of anything which was not already invented nad designed until he learned about the circular economy model. When he realized how the model worked he found there was no limit to the products he could re-design to fit the circular design model!
- The Circular Economy | The Ellen MacArthur Foundation (ourcommonfutureblog.wordpress.com)
- The Circular Economy: Driver of Innovation and Social Good (sustainablebrands.com)
- Ellen MacArthur Foundation Aims To Create $10B of Value by 2015 With New Global Business Alliance (sustainablebrands.com)