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Circular economy

Artwork for episode 133

133 Re-Action – repurposing: a new life for unwanted stuff

This is the 4th and final episode in the special 5th Anniversary mini-series featuring the Re-Action Collective, and we’re focusing on repurposing – using creativity and craft skills to breathe new life into unwanted outdoor gear, clothing and workwear.
We’ll hear from the founders of two small repurposing businesses:
First, Jen Dickinson, founder of Dirtbags Climbing, an upcycling workshop in the English Lake District, which turns retired outdoor textiles into hand-made bags.
And secondly, Beccy Evans, founder of Utilifolk, who gives things fresh appeal and new life by re-working unwanted garments that are no longer fit for their original use, and makes new pieces from preloved and remnant textiles.
Ironically, nearly every outdoor gear brand uses sophisticated marketing to hijack our brain chemicals, encouraging us to buy yet more stuff to do the things we love, to excel and enjoy them. And yet, those same things, when discarded, are destroying the very essence of the places and living things we love so much.
We discuss the ethos and design principles for their businesses, why we need to avoid sucked into the ‘fast-fashion’ and ‘compartmentalising’ approaches of brands that want to sell more stuff, and how repurposing can help people create their own identity, instead of looking like they’re wearing other people’s stuff.
Rebecca Heaps, founder of Tentshare, who we met in Episode 131, says “when we buy 2nd hand, the earth breaths a sigh of relief” – and I think that applies to repurposed things, too. Everything we do to keep our clothes, tools and equipment alive is a way to sustain life on earth – for us, and for the future of our living world. And of course, emotional engagement and well-crafted kit helps Re-Action’s mission to make the outdoors more affordable and accessible.

Artwork for episode 132 - Re-Action sharing

132 Re-Action – repairing: from radical to renaissance

This is #3 in the 5th Anniversary mini-series featuring the Re-Action Collective, and focuses on repairing. We hear from the founders of three UK businesses that are helping people repair their outdoor clothing and equipment: Rosanna Watson at Snowdonia Gear Repair, Becky Kirby at Sheffield Clothing Repair, and Vicky Balfour of Vicky Bikes.
The strapline for this episode was inspired by Rose Macario, former CEO of Patagonia Inc, who wrote a blog back in 2015 declaring that ‘repair is a radical act’. But repairing and caring for our things used to be the norm, until we’ve gradually been persuaded to treat our stuff as disposable, and to think that newer is always better. But many of us are discovering that’s not true, and that repairing, customising and caring for our clothing and equipment is better for us, for our wallets, and for our futures.
Now, repairing is having a renaissance, with millions of people finding ways to do DIY repairs, or find repairers with specialist skills and the relevant spare parts.
We speak to the founders of 3 businesses to discover what motivates people to repair, why repaired items can be better than replacements, and what to look out to make sure your gear is easy to care for and repair.

Artwork for blog on designing for durability

Less, but better: a design for life

The research is clear – people are NOT demanding lower quality, lack of repair options and gradual reductions of product lifetimes. And yet, in a bid to increase revenues in a competitive market, companies keep pushing out ‘new and improved’ products. But designing for early obsolescence – whether physical, emotional or perceived – can backfire.
It’s time for a return to democratic, resource-intelligent designs, that help us do better, with less.

Artwork for Circular Economy Podcast episode 131

131 Re-Action – Sharing: Serving more people with less stuff

This is #2 in the 5th Anniversary mini-series featuring the Re-Action Collective, and focuses on sharing and ‘pay to use’. We hear from the founders of three startups enabling people to have convenient and affordable access to high-quality outdoor gear: Anna Smoothy from Cirkel Supply, Rebecca Heaps from Tentshare and Bruce Leishman from KitUp Adventures.
The strapline for this episode – serving more people with less stuff – was inspired by Anna Smoothy at Cirkel Supply. I loved their aim, to serve more people with less products. and that aligns with one of my favourite phrases at the moment, about the need for businesses to do better, with much less.
Sharing, including ‘pay to use’ systems, is one of the 3 key circular economy strategies that I encourage businesses to focus on. Sharing can be a catch-all term for commercial arrangements that make it easy to use something for a short period, rather than owning it. These systems can help organisations to serve other organisations, to serve individuals, or for people to serve other users.
For decades, we’ve been happy to rent houses, holiday accommodation, cars, skis and bicycles, movies and more – and now people are branching out into other categories. Rental and subscription services are popping up for technology, fashion and accessories, home appliances, furniture and more, avoiding the need to buy things you aren’t sure you’ll want to use over the long term. Often, these are disruptive startups using online platforms to provide convenient, flexible ways to access high-quality brands at affordable prices.
Sharing is really coming to the forefront, in particular for younger people who want access to the stuff they need and see ownership as a burden, not a benefit.
Global revenue growth for sharing and renting is forecast to grow at 30% each year, and is key to helping us do much more, with much less. In other words, we get more use – or productivity – from underutilised assets – meaning we need fewer of them in the overall system. This is sometimes referred to as Decoupling. (The UN defines Absolute Decoupling as “a situation in which resource productivity grows faster than economic activity (GDP) and resource use is absolutely declining.”)

Artwork for episode 130 with Heather Davies

130 Heather Davies: the Re-Action Collective

It’s now 5 years since I started the podcast, and to celebrate, I’m doing a 5th anniversary mini-series. I’ve invited several guests from the Re-Action Collective, a group of circular economy pioneers in the outdoor sports sector. Over the next few episodes, we’ll be hearing from them and exploring 3 different types of circularity – sharing, repairing and repurposing.
The Re-Action Collective was formed in 2022, by Gavin Fernie-Jones and his friend, Heather Davies. We met Gavin back in Episode 72, talking about One Tree at a Time, a circular social enterprise to repurpose outdoor gear and ski-wear and to share value with the community and nature.
In this episode, we’ll meet Gavin’s co-founder, Heather Davies, a freelance sustainability-focused content creator and communications trainer. Heather is motivated by a love of nature and the outdoors, and she works with a range of organisations, helping them communicate their sustainability stories and strategies, without greenwashing. She also offers training, including carbon literacy courses.
The Re-Action Collective is all about Making the outdoors more affordable and accessible, and over the next few episodes, we’ll meet some of the member organisations, with business models based on sharing, repairing and repurposing.
Heather and Gavin formed Re-Action to challenge product marketing that tells us we need shiny new, highly technical kit to access the outdoors. They say “We live in the outdoors and we know this isn’t true. We also know a lack of access to basic outdoor kit and absence of community are barriers to people getting outside and active for the benefit of their physical and mental health.”
The Re-Action Collective wants to amplify the voice and impact of circular economy pioneers in the outdoor sports sector, for example running, cycling, climbing, surfing, sailing and snow sports. Member organisations rescue products and revive them through repair, rebranding and repurposing. They then redistribute items through resale, rental and donation and reallocate profits to regenerate the outdoors.
Re-Action is focused on community-first solutions and wants to empower citizens to be more mindful about how they buy, maintain and dispose of their outdoor clothing and equipment.
We’ll hear how the collective works in practice, and how they’ve developed ways to avoid the pitfalls of shared interest groups that end up being hard to engage with, because they generate too much information and conversation.

Artwork for Circular Economy Podcast episode 129 with Alex Holland of SolarPunk Stories

129 Alex Holland: SolarPunk Stories for a circular future

How do we draw people towards a deliciously sustainable future?
In this episode, we’re going off at a slight tangent: to explore how we can bring people into this world, to feel they have agency and to see an exciting, meaningful future where we do better, with less.
We’re going to hear about a way of telling stories – that could be fiction to help people understand circular solutions, or it might be stories to help them imagine how circular products and services work in real life, helping them see how that’s more fulfilling than buying yet more stuff and adding to the problems of waste and pollution.
Alex Holland is the Founder of SolarPunk Stories, and has worked as a journalist in the UK, Venezuela and India.
Alex has an MA in Leadership for Sustainable Development and created the world’s first Tea Pub which was also Crowdcube’s most-shared startup.
SolarPunk is a much more optimistic genre than dystopian fiction – it’s more like the Thrutopian concept set out by Professor Rupert Read in an article for the Huffington Post, a few years ago.
Utopias are too fantastical, whereas dystopias can be useless, even dangerously doom-mongering. Instead, we can create thrutopias: stories that help us see a way through the challenges we face, that help us build a vision for the future we want to be part of: a regenerative, fair and inclusive future that we can be proud of. Stories that help us to imagine, to feel what it would be like, and to design the political and economic systems to get us through.

Summary of the knowns and unknowns 4 box category used by NASA and others for strategic planning

Climate and inflation: are we facing unknown unknowns?

Climate and inflation: are we facing unknown unknowns? Or just pretending these risks don’t exist? Being explicit about what we don’t know can help us better understand how climate and ecological risk might play out…. What NASA and psychologists can teach us about risk assessment, and why researchers think we need a comprehensive assessment of the risks for our economy posed by climate change.

Circular Economy Podcast artwork for episode 128

128 Tara Button: products that say ‘Buy Me Once’

Tara Button is the founder and CEO of Buy Me Once, a platform which helps people buy the longest-lasting products on the planet.
If you’ve heard me talking about the 3 essential strategies for circular businesses, you’ll know that one of those 3 strategies is Keeping things in use for longer, through durability, repairability and resellability. I get frustrated by how difficult it is to find good examples of companies doing this, and so it was brilliant to discover Buy Me Once, which is all about finding products that meet that criteria and helping people find them.
Back in 2015, Tara was a frustrated advertising creative, tasked with increasing the chocolate consumption of children, when the gift of an heirloom cooking pot sparked the idea of Buy Me Once.
The platform went spectacularly viral in 2016, allowing Tara to leave Ad Land. Since then, Buy Me Once has partnered with 100s of ethical brands to help consumers buy for the long term, for a wide range of products from kitchenware to bedlinen, home furnishings to electronics, and for clothing.
Tara explains what led her to start Buy Me Once, and the ethos underpinning the choice of featured brands and products.
We hear what is driving the push for more durable, repairable products, and how the feedback from customers can help brands to improve their products.
Tara has also become a disruptive voice, speaking about product durability at events, on TV, podcasts and BBC radio. Tara’s early career in marketing and advertising meant she could unpack the psychology of consumerism, and she has written a very engaging and insightful book on mindful consumption, A Life Less Throwaway, published by Harper Collins. We touch on aspects of what’s in the book, which has some great tips to help us spot the various kinds of marketing tactics before we get sucked into the ‘buy it now’ decision.

Image: Circular Insights #41

Circular Insights #41 – Values and value

Staying true to our values | Signs of circular progress | Leasing minerals |Sustainable living survey | Planet Critical

There’s a ‘value’ thread running through this round up of what I’ve shared, and what’s inspired me. Firstly, our personal values and principles, which guide our attitudes and actions; then my podcast interview with circular economy superstar, Walter Stahel, digging into how businesses can create more value with circular strategies, and how countries could think differently about the value of the commons; finally, a podcast that investigates what’s keeping us stuck, where (and who) is destroying value, and how new ways of thinking can help us create deeper, richer value for humans, and more-than-humans.

Artwork for Circular Economy Podcast episode 127 with Yann Toutant

127 Yann Toutant: getting started with As-a-Service

Yann Toutant is the founder of Black Winch, which helps businesses understand the opportunities, practicalities and benefits of shifting to ‘as a service’ models, and supports them in making it happen.
Yann has been implementing subscription-based models for hardware in the ICT industry for 25 years, including over a decade as CEO of Econocom’s Dutch operations.
Today with his own company, Black Winch, Yann Toutant helps CEOs and their teams to focus on the user experience by incorporating all components of an As-A-Service offer into a single in-house comprehensive, scalable subscription model. Yann sees offering a doorway to circular economy as one of the main drivers, making it possible to centralise ownership and to industrialise circularity at scale.
We discuss why ‘as a service’ is becoming more popular, for business customers as well as for people in general, and then Yann talks about some of the benefits for service-based businesses, and how Black Winch helps its clients take the first, easy steps to ignite that journey.
Yann explains how, for some products, ‘as a service’ is likely to exist alongside traditional ownership models, and what he sees as the motivators for that.