Skip to content

Circular Insights #35 – False solutions

Circular – but false – solutions | Rental – misguided research? | Zero waste – a misguided aim? | COP26 events | CXO Magazine sustainability issue | Podcast

We need to shrink our footprints - don't get distracted by false solutions!

Our latest round-up of what we’ve shared, and what’s inspired us. In this issue:

  • Blog: Does circular mean sustainable? How ‘false solutions’ undermine our progress
  • Renting clothes is less green than throwing them away…. really??
  • Zero Waste to Landfill – the wrong objective!
  • Be the change for COP26 – my talk on the circular economy for UNA Scotland
  • What we’ve been up to, and what’s coming up
  • Circular Economy Podcast – episodes 63 and 64

Does circular mean sustainable? How ‘false solutions’ undermine our progress…

Do  circular economy solutions always improve sustainability? I’m working on a couple of articles challenging the ‘false solutions’ we’re seeing – initiatives that are circular, but aren’t improving sustainability. The first one of those begins by unpacking the root causes of the ‘wicked problems’ causing our sustainability crises, and then calls out some of the false solutions emerging from businesses around the world. Read more

Renting clothes is less green than throwing them away…. really??

Back in July, I was annoyed about a research paper in IOP Science, which garnered headlines saying that renting fashion was the worst option for the planet (covered in The Guardian, Fast Company, The Times and many more.

It turned out they were measuring GHG emissions only – so not including materials, process chemicals, water use, or all the other pollution and ecosystem damage along the process and from the end-of-use waste. They’d also assumed the people renting jeans would drive 2km in a car to collect them That didn’t seem realistic.

The paper started off by talking about the rebound potential of circular economy solutions – in other words, by making something easier or cheaper, the result is that we use more and have a bigger footprint. So, my conclusion was that the researchers were rather too keen to prove that, instead of taking a more objective view of real-life scenarios, such as getting your rented jeans through the postal system.

It feels like what we need is analysis of the key criteria – how many times should I wear something to know if owning is better than renting or reselling?

Zero Waste to Landfill – the wrong objective!

I was delivering a workshop for a client earlier this year, and we looked at some of their sustainability targets. One (achieved!) was ‘zero waste to landfill’ – but that meant most of it was going for incineration instead. Here’s one infographic summarising the issues of incineration, which I used in a webinar on plastics, eco-poverty and the circular economy for E4Impact:

Is your business using ‘zero waste to landfill’ as a sustainability target? How might you help people see the benefits of reuse, donation, or recycling instead?

In my research for the Eco-poverty and Plastics webinar in the summer, I found the World Bank Atlas of SDGs (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals). The page on Goal 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production has some good diagrams and links to credible research.

Thank you letters

Thanks to Dr. Dorothea Christiana FRSA for inviting me to be part of the UN House Scotland COP26 online support events. I’m a member of the United Nations Association UK, and so I was delighted to support the programme. If you missed the event, my 11-minute video – Be the change for COP26 – is here: UN A Scotland and Catherine Weetman,19 October 2021

What we’ve been up to…

I mentioned last time that I was invited back to support the latest UNSSC Circular Economy course, this time giving 2 webinars. The first session was a double bill with Brian Bauer of Algramo, the reusable grocery packaging solution, and in the second one Sandra Goldmark, the author of Fixation, joined me to talk about how you can go circular in your own lives. I’ve created a Circular Changemaker toolkit, based on the flywheel concept developed by Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great. Both Brian (episode 42) and Sandra (episode 41) are previous podcast guests, so it was great to involve them in the UNSSC course.

I was commissioned to write an article and record a 5-minute video for the latest issue of CXO, an online thought-leadership magazine from NTT DATA, a global consultancy that’s part of the Japanese NTT Group, one of the top 5 technology providers in the world, serving 85% of the Fortune Global 100 Companies. CXO Magazine aims to spark conversations in boardrooms across the globe. Issue #4, out now, focuses on The Sustainability Transformation.

In Decouple or Die! How Circular Approaches Can Unlock Business Success in a World of Challenges and Constraints. I argue that we need to radically rethink our systems to live within our limits on this planet. By adopting a circular economy, businesses can decouple their footprint from the value they deliver to society. → READ

My video, 5 Minutes on… Going Circular, answering 5 questions on why moving to a circular economy is such an important part of zero carbon strategies, and how making products for life deepens relationships with customers and opens up new markets. → WATCH

Coming up

Next week, I’ll be talking at Zencargo’s Navigate Beyond event, on Thursday 4th November. After 18 months of disruption, firefighting and uncertainty, Navigate Beyond explores the ideas shaping the future of supply chains. There are 5 sessions and 13 speakers, and I’ll be talking about Making Sustainable Supply Chains a Reality with Luke Kerr, of the Solent Group.

Circular Economy Podcast

Podcast – episode 63 – Hede Razoky of the UpcycleCentrum

Hede Razoky explains how the Upcyclecentrum is a brilliantly simple way for a town to support circular entrepreneurs, improve recycling rates and help its citizens see how the circular economy supports people, planet and prosperity.

The Upcyclecentrum has three elements: 

  • it’s a recycling centre for local citizens
  • it has an ‘experience room’ made from upcycled materials, for use by local businesses and community groups
  • It has a brilliant entrepreneur incubation programme… providing facilities, materials and other support to artisan businesses that turn local waste materials into desirable, high-value products.


As the account manager for the Upcyclecentrum in Almere, in the Netherlands, Hede Razoky has a strong focus on creative entrepreneurship and making connections, for a shared goal of a ‘world without waste’.

Podcast – episode 64 – Pierre-Emmanuel Saint-Esprit of ZACK

Pierre-Emmanuel Saint-Esprit is the co-founder of ZACK, France’s leading company enabling the second life of electronic products, through recycling, repair, resale and donation. Last year, the TECH FOR GOOD report by the Presidency of the French Republic named ZACK as one of the top 3 French circular companies.

Pierre-Emmanuel explains how his MBA in entrepreneurship at Berkeley, California, helped him create a business to fight climate change, and reduce our pressure on natural resources. We find out how ZACK creates social value too, helping people build the skills and confidence to secure employment.

Don’t forget, you can use our interactive, searchable podcast index to find episodes by sector, by region or by circular strategy. Plus, there is now a regular Circular Economy Podcast newsletter, so you get the latest episode show notes, links and transcript delivered to your inbox on Sunday morning, each fortnight. The newsletter includes a link to the episode page on our website, with an audio player. You can subscribe by clicking this link to update your preferences 

We’re happy to help with your circular projects – just hit reply!

Catherine's sign-off

We help entrepreneurs, companies and business leaders discover and use the circular economy – to build profitable, resilient, sustainable and successful businesses.  We believe in a circular economy that is fair, transparent and inclusive, to create a better world for everyone. 

Leave a Reply