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Catherine Weetman 01:01
Hey there and welcome back. It’s episode 101. And this seems like a good time to update the what is the circular economy summary I did for Episode One, back in 2019. In that first episode, I outlined the five components in my circular economy framework. One of the core themes in a circular economy handbook, those five components our first product design. Secondly, safe sustainable materials, number three circular processes, number four, recovery flows. And number five business models. I see these as the intervention points, the areas where you can start to develop circular solutions. So you get more value from fewer resources, and you eliminate the concept of waste. For businesses, it’s often easier to start with strategy. And so when I talk to organisations today, I focus on three simple strategies that are better for people planet, and profit. to unpack that a bit. These strategies make positive impacts for sustainability and create more value for all your stakeholders, customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders, and crucially for future generations. If you like these three strategies, target the sweet spot between sustainability and stakeholder value.
Catherine Weetman 02:36
Today we’ll explore those strategies and dig into some of the ways they create value, financial benefits, improving resilience, reducing risk, and providing solutions your customers will love. I’m going to share the second part of my conversation with Sarah Archer, who’s a speaking and marketing coach, writer, comedian and performer. Sarah helps people like us create content that makes our audience stop, engage and fall in love with our message. But first, let’s do a very quick recap on where we got to in Episode 100. Sarah asked me how I became interested in sustainability and the circular economy. And what made me take a big leap from having a long career with big international brands to go solo and help organisations embed circular and regenerative approaches into their strategies. We talked about why people feel powerless and a bit stuck. And how the problems including climate, nature and social inequality feel too complex and overwhelming. We talked about the power of of small actions that can give us all a sense of agency imagining a better future, deciding on a few steps to help us move towards that and how making those changes, however small, can really energise us. taking those first steps can also help unlock our subconscious. Realising that we’ve been going along with stories, playing a part in a system that deep down we didn’t really believe in. Once you take the first steps to free yourself from those habits, you realise how much better you feel and that can energise you, and power you forwards with the next set of changes.
Catherine Weetman 04:28
Sarah and I discussed the scale and complexity of the problems, and that it’s critical that we go much further than a bit less bad. I worry that we’ve lost sight of reality, that we only have one planet, our living home planet. We know that we depend on our home planet for everything. And yet we carry on with an economic system that’s busy digging up finite resource resources, cutting down trees, destroying habitats, polluting air so Soil and Water, it’s destabilising our climate and other planetary systems, undermining the very foundations of our livable home planet.
Catherine Weetman 05:12
Let’s imagine we live in a house that’s a few 100 years old. It wasn’t well designed, and something’s been digging away underneath it for decades, undermining the foundations. woodworm is eating away at the roof beams and window frames. The water pipes contain lead, which is poisonous. Some pipes are leaking, creating damp patches mould, and rotting the floors. We didn’t create these problems. But if we don’t take time to look under the surface, to get clear on whether our house is healthy, and fit for the future, and then to do the necessary repairs, we’ll be living in a crumbling, precarious rotten structure, drinking water that’s wrecking our health, and facing the risk of the whole thing collapsing and taking us down with it. So what can we do? How can you get clear on what needs to change? And how to get started? How can you start those conversations with your colleagues, and get everyone excited about how circular and regenerative strategies can help you build a thriving, resilient future fit organisation? Let’s join my conversation with Sarah Archer, picking up from where we got to in Episode 100. Moving on to the business benefits of circular and regenerative solutions, and then starting to unpack the three simple strategies that you can use to bring circular approaches into your own organisation.
Sarah Archer 06:47
I think we’ve really started to make the case, but I’m going to push you even further. So for a company looking to lead in the area of sustainability, rather than following what are those business benefits.
Catherine Weetman 07:03
So first of all, you’re reducing the risk of your products and services becoming unaffordable and unavailable, you know, because you’re reducing your dependency on these finite and under pressure resources, whether those are natural materials, you know, because land and water are finite, or metals and minerals. So there’s there’s just massive competition. So the less you need to to produce every year to make your profits, the less reliant you are on that. And the less you’re likely to be disrupted because somebody has suddenly got more money than you to pay for these resources. You know, we’ve seen that happening through that. And we’re now seeing, you know, resource wars around this. So this is big scale, and it’s affecting everything. So there’s reducing those risks. There’s also the risk with these long supply chains of unlawful activities. Further up, whether that’s labour exploitation, or, you know, pollution, or somebody saying that something is recycled when it turns out not to be. And then even better, customers are going to love what you’re doing. And people kind of expect businesses to be doing the right thing already, and are shocked when they find out that they’re not. So the more that you’re, you know, telling people what the journey is, it’s not, it’s not going to be a quick fix. But if you set your mind in a in a direction and set out, you stole your kind of, you know, your guiding principles, and then tell people how you’re hoping to move towards that and what actions you taking, then that can give everybody confidence that you are going in the right direction. And that’s not about greenwashing and so on, it’s being honest with, you know, what you’re doing that you think is an improvement and the areas that you think still need to be addressed. And even better, you know, that’s going to bring good suppliers, good investors, people who are on the same journey as you, and you can kind of build collaborative partnerships through that with everybody pushing in the same direction.
Sarah Archer 09:03
I love that. That’s great. And okay, so we’ve talked about circular economy, we’ve talked, we’ve we’ve used these terms, we’ve used the term regeneration, some people might still be going well, what does that actually mean? Is it just about vintage clothes and upcycling furniture? What what does that actually mean? And I want to sort of talk to that.
Catherine Weetman 09:25
Sure. So I like to talk about three strategies. And what we’re trying to do is keep products components and materials in the system in a loop if you like. So the first strategy is designing everything to last longer. Ideally, through being repairable and even upgradable and designing things to have, you know, emotional attachments, not emotional obsolescence, so that people will care for them. The second strategy is finding ways to get more use from under you utilised objects. So if we take the example of a car, typically in Europe, a car’s parked up for 23 hours in every day. So by having the car in a sharing system, we could get a lot more use out of that car. And therefore we need fewer cars in the system overall. And there are lots of ways of doing this, you know, you could you could hire a car, you could take an Uber, there’s even an app that allows people in a neighbourhood to share a few cars between them, and to book out the car. So you can kind of have collective ownership. So there’s, you know, this kind of sharing strategies. So that could be renting paper use, or literally sharing, there are libraries of things where you can go and borrow entertaining equipment, you know, high five for a party, power tools, all that kind of stuff. And then the third strategy is building systems to keep things in circulation. So once something’s come to the end of its useful life, how do we get it back into the system, by doing the least amount that we have to we don’t want to be recycling things because that takes up loads of energy, often used uses loads of chemicals, and can have just as big a footprint, and you know, end up with more expensive materials. So ideally, we can have a product that just needs refurbishing, or maybe even remanufacturing, where certain components are replaced. I’m talking to you over a remanufactured laptop that I got from Circular Computing a couple of years ago. So it’s a high end laptop, a Dell, it looks brand new, is 97% of the performance of a new one, cost me about half as much and its footprint is much less. And Circular Computing have now got a British Standard Kitemark that gives everybody confidence in knowing that this is going to be you know, just as reliable, if not more reliable than a new one, because it’s actually gone through more testing than a new one.
Catherine Weetman 11:57
So there are all these kinds of strategies, where we can just keep every product, or the component, you know, in in the loop for a lot longer. And of course, designing things differently, enables you to do all of that much more effectively and efficiently. So if we’re designing with that in mind, with refurbishment with remanufacturing. And finally recycling in mind, then we might be using slightly more expensive processes, like using screws that can come out instead of glues, designing material using materials that aren’t bonded together. So it’s easier to separate things at the end of life. So there’s a long way to go. It’s not, you know, it’s not a quick fix, but setting out on those three strategies and then thinking what’s the first thing we can do to move towards that, and baby steps can include just taking one part of your product range or one segments of the market and trialling something, and you know, kind of seeing what happens, what what are the unintended consequences, how we’re going to get around that? What does it do to our cash flow, all those kinds of things need to be explored. But, you know, the later you start, the more likely it is that you’ll be disrupted by somebody else having got there before you.
Sarah Archer 13:08
Those really clear Catherine really clear strategies, and I particularly loved what you said about, you know, making it, you know, creating an emotional attachment to things so that people want to look after it. And I know you and I have been talking about a story that you’re looking to share where this really I think comes to the fore you know, and you know, something that I always say, and this is something, you know, that marketers actually use, but we can actually use this in a good way is that something that has a story attached to it has a higher perceived value than something is something else. So you know, those are those things that are auctioned off at Sotheby’s because they belong to a celebrity or something, you know, go for incredible amounts. And I wondered if you could share the story of, of the furniture in this context so people can see a practical example of how this actually works.
Catherine Weetman 14:07
So I’m guessing that you’re talking about a company called Rype office, R-Y-P-E that started in London. And Greg Lavery, the guy who founded it was a sustainability consultant and had been working on industrial manufacturing strategies for the government and so on. Back in the, you know, 2010 onwards, and we met at a sustainability event, it’s at Cambridge University. So I’d been listening to him one year talking about the manufacturing strategy. And then the next year there he was talking about this new business that he’d started because he got so frustrated by not seeing other companies doing it. And he realised that office furniture was a really good way into Circular Economy business, because so much was being thrown away. And office refits were becoming ever More frequent. And what they’ve done is taken high quality office furniture, and refurbished and re manufactured it. So it looks like new. But they’ve used really creative design skills to kind of reuse the existing furniture, bring in new furniture, make furniture from waste materials, but make it all look fantastic. And some of the furnitures come from really interesting places, you know, well, well known companies. And there’s even some furniture that was featured on on the set of a James Bond film. So there’s lots of stories behind this. And he was telling me about a firm of lawyers who’d put in, you know, they’d got a kind of conference room with a great big table in there. And it needed replacing it was it was battered, so they had a furniture made out of recycled materials. And it was obvious that, you know, there’s all these different colours in it. And that gave them a conversation piece with clients that were coming into that room. And they found that it kind of broke down some of the barriers, and started to get people to be more trustful of the lawyers. So it went a lot further than just a nice story as a conversation starter, it really started to help people understand that these guys had, you know, some some deeper values and a purpose, beyond profit, and so on, and that they were trying to do all sorts of things to make their business more sustainable. So, you know, it was, it had so many different strands of benefit.
Sarah Archer 16:36
I love that. And I’ve seen pictures of this stuff, and it looks really sexy, it looks much more sexy than the original stuff, you know, and this the sort of like, homogenous stuff that you can get from from, you know, brand new, so, I love that. And yes, stories, where we always talk about stories, you and I, but, you know, when they you can attach a story to something physical and tangible. And I know from when I worked in corporate IT, people used to complain about the waste, you know, companies used to get, you know, and I was in public sector, they’d get chuck a load of furniture into the skip, that was completely fine. And people used to get upset about it. So it’s, that’s a potential quick win for companies. And then on, you know, on top of doing all the other stuff that we’ve talked about, yeah,
Catherine Weetman 17:23
that’s, that’s, that’s a good point to make. Because people’s mindsets have changed. You know, back in the the 80s. And 90s, we were a bit more persuaded that success was about, you know, symbols and tokens. And when I was at Kellogg’s, you know, people used to nickname the head office, Trump Towers because it looks so, so flashy. And that was kind of a symbol of success. But it was also a bit embarrassing to have to be there, because it looked like you’ve just got money to throw away. So you know, how, how efficient were we as a business if we were chucking all this money away? And now I think people are starting to question the values of the business, if this is the kind of show off the stuff that a business is doing. So it can really undermine the trust between employees. And the management team. You know, if you’re kind of making these decisions, where a little bit of effort could have kept something in use for longer, we could have had that money to spend on, I don’t know, staff training or, you know, working with the community, or whatever it is investing in the business, instead of just this kind of easy. Well, let’s just check this out and buy new people don’t like to see that waste, and it and it starts to build distrust, I think.
Sarah Archer 18:40
Absolutely. And towards the end of the last thing that we were talking about, you mentioned about recycling, and the cost and the footprint of recycling. Now, so many of us have been conditioned to believe that recycling is a great thing to do for the environment. And it’s one of those myths, I think that that we’ve bought into or being, you know, told to boards or suggested to buy into. And I wonder if you could elaborate a little bit more about some of the other myths that people might believe that are actually causing problems rather than helping.
Catherine Weetman 19:24
So I think it’s worth unpacking the recycling a little bit more because there’s another issue that’s starting to bubble up, which is around the the toxins in the materials. And just this week on LinkedIn, I posted something or shared shared something about a class action in the US from baseball players who’ve been playing on astroturf, and a now got the dog got a similar quite rare form of cancer. There are all sorts of toxins in plastics and if we’re going to be you In those, whether that’s in recycled fabrics that we then were next to our skin, or in food containers or in, you know, beauty products and shampoo containers, then we risk those toxins ending up in our in our systems. So I’m not saying give up recycling and send it towards a landfill. What I’m saying to businesses is recycling is not the answer, it costs a lot of money, there could be all sorts of unforeseen consequences coming up from using recycled materials. And it needs lots of energy and chemicals. So at the end of the day, all you’ve done is kind of keep the products pumping through the pipeline at the same rate, you just replace some of the materials, but you’ve made very little progress towards shrinking your footprint.
Catherine Weetman 20:48
So it’s, it’s about going back to those biggest strategies. And then in terms of some of the other myths, I guess, where I’m seeing what I call false solutions are in these new generation materials. So it might be that somebody’s switching from using a plastic or another material made from finite products, like metals and minerals to a biological material. You know, we saw that a hype around biofuels and so on. But the problem with that is we don’t have loads of land left to go and convert to agriculture, we need to be doing less agriculture. So those things are okay, if they’re using the byproducts of something that’s already essential for food. And we have to be careful that we’re not subsidising something that we that we don’t really want more of like using sugar cane, you know that in a way that’s subsidising the sugar industry, which is another addictive product. So again, it’s kind of thinking through the what ifs on that. And then some of the other things are ending up with a blend of materials. So if you blending what are called biological materials, so food fibres, timber, or biological, you know, they grow. And then what, what’s called technical materials and circular economy, terms is anything that’s come from the Earth’s crust, so metals, minerals, fossil based plastics, when we blend those together, we end up with something that can’t go back to nature, that’s now full of toxins, and, and, you know, possibly heavy metals and so on. So we must try and keep those two flows separate. And that means designing products differently doesn’t mean that you can’t combine them. But when we have, say, blended textiles, that becomes very difficult to recycle into a new textile. And we can’t compost it, because it’s full of, you know, plastics, polyester, or whatever. So this is a really key thing. And a lot of the exciting new, more mistakes more sustainable in inverted commas, materials, particularly in in textiles. It’s either using more land by using timber, so cellulosic fibres, or it’s a blend of something, and that means it’s not recyclable. And then it’s still got all the plastics. And so those are the kinds of worrying things where there’s a whole load of PR, but it’s not really sending us in the right direction. And it could be even making something worse.
Sarah Archer 23:16
So this is one of those things where people were going, Oh, my goodness, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what you know, what, like, what, what am I supposed to do then, so So there are some good things coming through then. But we’ve got to be careful about how we use products together, even source materials together.
Catherine Weetman 23:36
And I can send a resource or afterwards if it’s something that I’ll be discussing on a future podcast, but there are toolkits now emerging around freely shared toolkits to help companies choose better materials and design differently. And one of those toolkits is, is especially aimed at replacing plastics with other things, whether that’s replacing a plastic that degrades with something that will be more recyclable into into the same thing again, which is a good thing, or moving away from plastics towards something that’s a better material. So there are things that we can do. And from the from the sort of, you know, person in the street perspective, I think it’s about, you know, thinking first, do I actually need this? How can I buy something that’s going to last longer, don’t worry too much about the materials. Just think about buying something that you’re really going to love and treasure, or buying something that when you finish with it, it still has value so you can sell it on. So thinking about this longevity is is the most important thing.
Sarah Archer 24:42
Yeah, and I saw that article you shared on LinkedIn. And if you get the chance to follow Catherine on LinkedIn do because she shares some really interesting stuff. But I play football on astroturf. And I was like, Oh, no. And I was thinking actually, Sarah, you haven’t played every day like training. So I think you’re gonna be alright. But it’s, it’s this sort of stuff that you’re like, Oh, my God, I didn’t know, I didn’t think. And it’s that sort of awakening to some of these issues. That is, you know, it’s, it’s good for people to understand that it touches you, whether you think it does or it that, you know, it does touch you. So that’s really useful. Okay. Now we’ve we might have covered this, but I’m going to ask you speak about this stuff. And I suspect that some of your audiences are sceptical not bought in. What are some of the challenges that you have encountered in getting people and companies on board when evident, but there might be some other stuff?
Catherine Weetman 25:46
Well, it is a really big change. And that’s scary for everybody. You know, no, nobody likes change that’s uncertain and requires big shifts in the way that you think about things. And people find it difficult to imagine the future, just as we saw with COVID, and before that with digital, but we can look back on examples of what happened there. And I think with COVID, many of us could see the kinds of things that we should be doing, that people were stepping away from. And we saw the consequences of that. So it’s about finding those examples where you kind of had a glimpse of the future thought we should do a and everybody else decided to do the easier path of B, and how long that went and kind of use those stories in your own business to kind of get people to think clearly. And to really spend the time getting under the skin of this. It’s not it’s not a quick fix, it is really complicated. And I remember from my days at DHL, there were a few years where I was doing risk risk management for major client projects. And I remember, everybody was happy to do a couple of hours brainstorming about the risks that we might face on this project. And that was the easy bit, you know, mind mapping it all, the difficult bit was getting people to put the time in afterwards for planning to either keep an eye on whether those risks were getting worse or moving away. And then to develop action plans, you know, ahead of the risk happening. And that was a really hard bit where, you know, I just became unpopular, but because I’m, you know, like a dog with a bone. And that was what I was being paid to do, then that’s what I did. But I remember people just wanted to get on and do it not to think about the bigger picture. So is this kind of, you know, having a process and making sure that you’re having the conversations and that, you know, those conversations are going to be difficult. And if they’re not difficult and kind of, you know, keeping you awake at night and resulting in some animated discussions and even arguments, then you’re probably not going deep enough and kind of accept that this is that’s part of the process, it’s going to get messy, it’s going to get you know, it’s a wicked problem, you know, you’re not going to solve it in a half, half day off site. But it’s about, you know, setting the direction, and then thinking, what’s the first thing that we can do and what’s the next thing and so on?
Sarah Archer 28:14
Absolutely, I think it’s about committing to the to the journey, without actually even knowing the destination. But let’s say taking it one step at a time.
Catherine Weetman 28:26
I want to add a bit to unpack those three key circular strategies, and how they create value for businesses. The first strategy, extending the product life means moving away from fast fashion tactics and planned obsolescence, and instead, helping things stay in use for longer. We do that by designing durable, repairable and ideally upgradable products that our customers will love. Businesses can develop profitable new services, for example, supporting resale and maintenance. This appeals to more customers, because people will aspire to own the best in class product that’s backed by a long warranty, and that helps them create demand for pre used products to my favourite example here is the Fairphone. A rugged modular smartphone, easy to repair with a single screwdriver. And for the Fairphone three, with an option to upgrade the camera module. I’ve only just retired my 2016 Fairphone two. So even though it was at the higher end of smartphone prices, the value for money over seven years was much better than a phone you’d have to swap after two to three years.
Catherine Weetman 29:42
The second strategy is all about getting more from less by designing products and business models so customers can share and swap rent things and pay per use. More customers can use the same object. So we need fewer things in the system. And that shrinks The footprint, businesses can develop new profitable rental and on demand services, so they get a greater return on every product they’ve made. An example here is to libraries and libraries of things. These are brilliant ways for communities and businesses to get access to the tools and equipment they don’t need every day. That saves people money and space, and often means a top quality higher performance tool is a better option.
Catherine Weetman 30:31
The third strategy focuses on eliminating waste, both for products and processes. We need to treat everything as a nutrient. When we finished using things, we need systems that simplify recovery. That opens up opportunities for reusing, repairing remanufacturing and finally, recycling and regenerating materials for the next batch of products. At a process level, it means finding ways to circulate nutrients and convert waste into byproducts. Those circulation services also create value opportunities, so businesses get more profits from the same products. You might not know that remanufacturing is already commonplace in the United States. Companies like caterpillar and Cummins have been remanufacturing for decades, and it’s the most profitable part of their businesses. I’ve already mentioned some favourite examples. First, my remanufactured Dell laptop from circular computing. It has virtually the same specification and performance as a new model, but costs half as much and has a significantly smaller environmental footprint. Secondly, the beautiful office furniture made by Rype office, including remanufactured furniture, and furniture made from waste. The benefits of that including carbon savings can go straight into your specific sustainability reports. You can listen back to my conversations with Steve Husky from circular computing in episodes 24 and 77. And with Greg Lavery from Rype office in Episode 33, the links are in the show notes.
Catherine Weetman 32:21
I see these three strategies as the opposite – the antidote – to the strategies we typically see underpinning business as usual, our take make waste system. Most businesses seem to have an overarching aim to sell more, to grow their revenue to get bigger every year. It feels like everyone’s buying into a story of success that isn’t fit for the future. It’s a kind of business myth. Just a story. That success depends on selling more stuff to more people every year. I prefer to call it a waste economy. So let’s summarise the benefits of these three strategies. Producers can use all three strategies, and it’s essential that they start with at least one of the first two, extending product life and expanding access. designing products and business models to support circularity is critical and makes the third strategy much more effective and profitable, unlocking even more value. Service providers can help with all three strategies and are already creating viable disruptive businesses by closing the circularity gap. For example, by renting, repairing, and even remanufacturing products made by other companies. You can invest the extra profits in future innovations in sustainability improvements in your employees and in your supply chain partnerships. Engaged workers and supply chain partners are going to support you in moving forward with better products that exceed customer expectations. Customers don’t need to replace products as quickly. So every year fewer resources are used and wasted, helping shrink the production and consumption footprint of your business. Reducing your reliance on materials and other finite resources reduces risks, including cost volatility, and supply chain disruption. So your business becomes more resilient, and future fit.
Catherine Weetman 34:35
So there you go, another episode of the circular economy podcast. I want to thank our awesome guest interviewer this week, Sarah Archer, host of the Speaking Club Podcast. And as always, thank you for listening. You can find out more about Sarah Archer and how she can help you get your messages out there. And check out all the other links we mentioned in the show notes at Circular economy podcast.com
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