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Circular Insights #36 – quality, not quantity

Circular business ‘sprint’ beta | Circular rebound – good or bad? | Less is More | Financing Net Zero | Circular and Future Fit | Podcasts 66 and 67 | Recovering minerals from EV batteries

We need circular economy solutions that improve our quality of life AND shrink our footprint!

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

  • Want to get started with a circular economy strategy for your business? Maybe my 4-week ‘beta’ challenge will help…
  • Blog: circular economy rebound can be either good, or bad
  • Less is More by Jason Hickel – book review
  • Listening – Global Optimism interviews HSBC CEO on how to finance Net Zero
  • Listening – CXO podcast on how circular helps companies be future-fit
  • Circular Economy Podcasts episodes 66 and 67
  • Circular Innovation – recovering minerals from EV batteries

I’ve been working on my next book, wrestling with how best to structure it, and finding lots of things I want to include from stuff I’m reading. I can highly recommend Less is More: how degrowth will save the world, by economic anthropologist Jason Hickel – described by Kate Raworth (author of Doughnut Economics) as a ‘powerfully disruptive book for disrupted times’. More below…

I’m also working on a 4 week ‘Sprint’ course – though maybe I need a different name for that… 4 weeks is a bit long for a sprint. Marathon? I’m not sure that’s going to attract people….! Maybe I’ll just call it a ’20-day Challenge’.

For the course, I’ll use parts of the forthcoming book to help people in businesses who want to understand how the circular economy can help their business become more future-fit, and to work out where to start. There’ll be short videos and daily challenges. Before I launch it out to the wider world, I’m planning a free beta-version, in January 2022, for a small group of SMEs – small and medium businesses – so if that sounds right for you, please get in touch on LinkedIn, or email 

How circular economy ‘rebound’ can be good for people and planet

Circular economy rebound qualitative vs quantitative

Back in October, I posted an article about ‘false solutions’ – interventions and innovations that ARE circular, but DON’T improve sustainability. Often, they solve one problem but create others.

This time, I’m unpacking the tricky topic of ‘circular economy rebound’: when circular solutions end up causing MORE production and consumption, not less.

But is it always a problem? I suggest that some forms of circular economy rebound could be a good outcome for people and planet.

If rebound ends up creating a bigger overall global footprint, that’s a problem. But good rebound could mean taking market share from less sustainable options, or enabling more people to access products or services that improve health and wellbeing whilst creating a smaller overall global footprint. In other words, we need qualitative, not quantitative, circular effects.

I bring in research on rebound, and highlight examples of rebound for clothing, mobility, and smartphones. Read the article here.

And if you didn’t catch it, here’s the link to the false solutions article. 

Less is More: how degrowth will save the world, by Jason Hickel

This book is one of my stand-out reads of the last few years. Hickel’s perspectives on the history of capitalism, and how it’s become such a powerful force, were both fascinating and shocking. He takes us through what is wrong with capitalism and neo-liberalism, listing the many arguments used by its defenders and those who think its benefits outweigh its downsides. Hickel uses reasoning and evidence to unpick those arguments, showing why some are just myths, while others can be resolved with degrowth.

He sums capitalism up as a 500-year process of enclosure and dispossession, whereas degrowth provides an opportunity for healing, recovery and repair. Arguing that the ‘core logic’ of capitalism is to take more than you give back, he urges us to adopt a spirit of reciprocity with the living world – ‘the spirit of the gift’ – so you give at least as much as you receive.

A substantial part of the book describes his ‘Pathways to a Post-Capitalist World’, with a range of policy and broader solutions. Four of these are closely aligned with circular economy principles:

  • End planned obsolescence
  • Shift from ownership to usership
  • End food waste
  • Scale down ecologically destructive industries

Two others chime with areas I’m fascinated by: cutting advertising, and the effect of ‘caring’ on our social and ecological wellbeing. Hickel tells us that ‘participating in care activities is shown to be more powerful than material consumption when it comes to improving people’s sense of happiness and meaning, vastly outstripping the dopamine hit we might get from a shopping binge’. That reminds me of a Greenpeace report I’ve highlighted in several talks, with a nice chart showing how long the shopping buzz lasts: [spoiler alert – it’s not long at all!)

Less is More is published in paperback, eBook or audio by Penguin (2021) read more about it here or buy it from your favourite independent bookstore.

Listening – The way to Net Zero is through the bank

Another fascinating interview from the excellent Outrage and Optimism podcast (Episode 125, 2 Nov 2021), with HSBC Group CEO, Noel Quinn.

Aiming to answer the critical question of “How are we going to finance the transition to Net Zero?” As we know, the transition means shifting investments away from fossil fuels, and speeding and scaling up circular, sustainable and regenerative solutions.

‘Group Chief Executive of HSBC Noel Quinn recently committed HSBC, with an impressive $3 trillion balance sheet, to have a completely Net Zero portfolio by 2050, and have their own supply chain and operations Net Zero by 2030. All the while significantly expanding their investment in green finance, creating a philanthropic program and clean technology venture fund.

Joining Christiana Figueres, Tom Rivett-Carnac and Paul Dickenson is co-host Kelly Clark, Director of Finance & Capital Market Transformation at The Laudes Foundation, who is ‘reimagining our current economic system and redefining value to go beyond shareholder interest.’

Listening – CXO podcast – circular economy for future-fit organisations

In my last email, I mentioned my article, and 5 minute video for the latest issue (#4) of CXO, an online thought-leadership magazine. I was also a guest for a CXO podcast episode, discussing the role of the circular economy for future-fit organisations, with Joe Trainor and Maria Vittoria Trussoni of NTT Data. Find it on Apple Podcasts here:

CXO is published by NTT DATA, a global consultancy that’s part of the Japanese NTT Group, one of the top 5 technology providers in the world. Issue #4, out now, focuses on The Sustainability Transformation.

Circular Economy Podcast

Podcast – episode 66 Alyssa Couture – Healthy Fashion is better for all of us, and our planet

Alyssa Couture is the author of a new book, Healthy Fashion: The Deeper Truths. Alyssa examines fashion for mental health, physical health, spiritual health, and energetic health.

Alyssa brings a radical new perspective to fashion, looking at everything from the textiles and dyes we use, to how our clothes can improve our mental and physical health. Alyssa’s work shows how all of this is connected to our environment and improving sustainability.

We start by asking Alyssa to share some of her research on textiles and dyes, and then discuss a few of the insights from her book, including what ‘unhealthy fashion’ is, and how fashion can evolve to be circular and healthier for us, and our living planet. Episode 66 shownotes here.

Podcast – episode 67 Megan O’Connor Of Nth Cycle – a big leap forward for metal & mineral recovery

Dr Megan O’Connor is co-founder and CEO of Nth Cycle, a metal processing company that has developed technology to enable a clean, domestic, and streamlined supply of critical minerals for the clean energy transition.

Megan tells us how she came up with the idea for using electro-extraction, a technology developed by her co-founder for a completely different application, and how she then pivoted the entire focus of her PhD to develop this.

This feels like it could be a game-changer for circular metals and minerals. Episode 67 shownotes here.

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

Circular innovation – extracting minerals from EV batteries

Sumitomo Metal Mining in Japan says it has discovered a novel method for efficiently reusing the majority of the components from discarded batteries, according to Nikkei Asia

Sumitomo Metal has developed a process for cheaply extracting copper, nickel, cobalt, and lithium from EV batteries by crushing them, heating the resulting powder to appropriate temperatures, and controlling oxygen levels.

The method, according to the company, is the first of its sort in the world.  Read more: <>

NB though this is new, and efficient, we don’t know what the energy inputs (and emissions) are.

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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. 

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