Spreading circular economy through collaboration
August 1st, 2018 was the earliest Earth Overshoot day ever. This day marks the moment of the year when humans have used all the resources that nature can renew in that same year. Today we are using 1.7 earths per year, resulting in less resources for a growing population — plus an exponential waste production that impacts both people and the planet. We’ve been in the same economic system for too long. Here’s where circularity comes into the picture.
I came across the amazing guys of Circul’R a while back, when I’d just started working at Fairphone. More than just Fairphone supporters, they were like-minded entrepreneurs who were building a circular economy movement worldwide! As someone who’s pretty much obsessed about topics like food waste, plastic over-use and consumerism, it was refreshing to have young people that, just like me, are making a difference. So I’m spreading the word about what they do in the hope that others understand the importance of circular economy. It will probably take a while to see the results of the steps we are taking towards circularity, but we should keep going.
I’m Raphaël, co-founder of Circul’R. Over the past 4 years we’ve been helping entrepreneurs and companies understand how they can use circularity in their business models. I could say that circular economy is my passion. Together with Jules we have been assisting others in transitioning to the economic system the Earth and the environment so urgently need. We are building a global network of circular economy innovators so they can co-create solutions for a sustainable economy respectful of the people and the planet.
Circular Economy workshop at the London School of Economics.
This willingness to protect the planet didn’t just come out of nowhere. Since I was a kid, my parents use to make me aware about environmental issues, especially waste production. One key event was also Al Gore’s Documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”. After watching it, I realized we were dealing with real issues, and that we needed immediate action to avoid the destruction of ecosystems that are key for sustainable development.
As a little boy, I had also a dream: making a world tour to discover different countries, people and cultures. During my studies, this idea kept growing. After graduating, I joined a multinational company, Airbus Group, and went to Brazil. I gave myself two years before leaving everything to achieve this dream.
I was then sent to Mexico to continue working for Airbus. I had the chance to meet Jules there. We started talking about the environment and what we could do to have a positive impact. Although a specific topic wasn’t clear for us, we were sure about starting a project together. At first, we focused on ocean pollution. Digging deeper into this topic, we soon realized that, in order to tackle the waste problem, our efforts should focus on its source: where was waste production actually coming from? From inland and from our current linear economy model where we take, make and dispose. We finally discovered the idea of circular economy. Simply put, it’s about using natural resources in a smart way so we don’t produce any waste.
Back in 2014, few organizations in countries of the “Global North” were working on the topic, and there were nearly no information about what was happening in the “Global South”. However, we knew that entrepreneurs were active there and innovations were happening there and that they could be a great source of inspiration.
Inland China, while we explored the country to find local circular entrepreneurs.
So we decided to quit our jobs to go on the first circular economy world tour: 17 months in 22 countries to meet 150 entrepreneurs that were implementing circular economy solutions like eco-design, recycling, repairing, biomimicry, renewable energies and permaculture.
A hike during our world tour in Los Nevados National Park, Colombia.
During this world tour, I’d say there were 3 main highlights:
Identifying the most innovative and impactful circular economy solutions
Building a network of entrepreneurs ready to share their stories and best practices to foster knowledge and inspire others to take action.
Raising awareness of students and citizens on the topic so that they could take part to this sustainable economy
We were also grateful to see that, thanks to our sponsors, we were able to connect bigger companies with entrepreneurs through smart collaboration. For example, Accor Hotels, one of our sponsors, had a problem with bed sheets in India. Some of these bed sheets were thrown away due to stains or small tears made by customers while eating in their beds. At the same time, we had the chance to meet in Delhi with a social enterprise called Goonj.
Goonj collects textiles from different factories and diverse industries to provide clothes to people in need. We were able to connect Goonj and Accor through smart collaboration, making sure Goonj could collect the bed sheets and give them a second life by turning the fabric into sanitary pads for women in need in India rural areas.
Circular economy shouldn’t just be an option
There is a “circular” movement starting worldwide. It is trendy, but it is also much more than a trend. Circular economy is a great alternative to our current economic model that won’t work for much longer. The linear economy creates huge environmental damages and social disparities. We have a couple of years to change it and it is feasible. The good news is we already have all the solutions to put in place this economy, while being mindful of both the people and the planet.
We believe in a social circular economy. It needs to be socially inclusive and empower people.
A major challenge is to accelerate this transition before it’s too late. Citizens and entrepreneurs are clearly driving the change. Most governments still have a long way to go. However, once again, we can note positive changes: China banning plastic waste importation, the European Parliament banning single use plastic by 2021, etc.
In some countries, such as The Netherlands, circular economy is accelerated because citizens, entrepreneurs, companies and government bodies are working together to implement solutions. It has to be collaborative. In some countries in Africa, a collaborative economy is already in place facilitating the implementation of circular economy models based on sharing. But circular economy also needs to be socially inclusive and to empower people. That’s why we believe in a social circular economy.
Who has agency and how can they use it?
Companies, startups and entrepreneurs play a key role in bringing circular economy to full speed. Here are 3 key things they can do:
We do have all the solutions today to put in place a circular economy. However there is a lack of information and most of the people don’t know about them. We need to ease the access to this information, make it accessible and understandable to everyone and explain how one can take action to drive the change.
Use positive communication. Instead of communicating on the problem, present a solution and tools to put it in practice. We are fed up with problems. But we are aware and ready to take action if we have the opportunity to make a difference. People need to be empowered and confident that they can create a positive impact.
Startups and companies need to be transparent, to inspire and empower their consumers to lead the change. Some companies like Fairphone, Patagonia, Mud Jeans, are doing a great job by raising awareness on environmental and social issues while giving tools to act as an individual. What set them apart is the way of telling the whole story: the challenges, struggles, dilemmas, solutions and results.
For entrepreneurs that are looking to implement circular economy principles in their products and business models, I have two pieces of advice.
First: don’t try to perfect at the beginning. Being 100% circular is quite the challenge. Let’s go step by step, but make it continuous. Innovation and collaboration will help you reach your goal. And be transparent about it! Build trust relationships with your partners and customers. They can be from great help to improve your business model.
My second advice would be: collaborate. Working as an ecosystem is essential. Nature does it perfectly well. Share your knowledge to make circularity grow much faster!
Raphaël Masvigner, co-founder at Circul'R
If you’re interested in connecting with a network of global entrepreneurs on the topic, you can join our Circular Disruptor Facebook group, where 800 people all around the world share public intelligence to drive the change and showcase circular economy solutions.