From Re-use and Repair, to Sensors and Smart Tech


New writing Two more of my recent pieces for Guardian Sustainable Business are now live. Running in their paid-content section on Sustainable Electricals, sponsored by WRAP, the articles explore the business case for adoption and promotion of circular economy models in the sector, with particular reference to Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE):

The full Guardian series on Sustainable Electricals with WRAP can be viewed here.

The Future in 5 Words… #3: ‘Loopy’

Why Innovation will be… ‘Loopy’ 

At the back end of last year, the new Circular Economy Package from the European Commission came out to a cacophony of mismanaged expectations, eliciting cries of disbelief and sighs of relief, in almost equal measure. It was both lauded and lamented for the sake of a few percentage points either way. In one sense, of course the details matter; however, in another, they really do not. Even as the landfill and recycling targets were published, the game had already moved on.

The emphasis for the Commission and the market at large is now shifting towards engagement of the design community – in everything from consumer packaging and household products, to building projects and industrial plant. This is not about Europe, per se; it is about closing loops and tying up the loose ends of linear thinking and doing. We are on a worldwide creative and intellectual quest for resource alchemy, of which the EU steer will prove part-symptom, part-cause. Why? Well, for starters, commodity costs and constraints are already driving the food-energy-water nexus almost to breaking point in some parts of the planet. Secondly, there is money to be lost and made.

The Circular Economy concept holds real bottom-line and pocket-warming promise, whether by way of global savings revenue of $1tr by 2025, or delivering maybe 205,000 jobs in the UK alone by 2030. Any talk of a resource revolution, though, means seeing waste as more than merely system inefficiency. Smart, sustainable design cannot just be about removal and reduction, but becomes regenerative and restorative. We can only cut so far; we still need to create. This is why, in the future, innovation must get ‘loopy’.

Tomorrow: Why Work will be… ‘Inclusive’

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For a global Who’s Who on Social Media in the Circular Economy, please see our new @SustMeme Top 500 ranking, published weekly with Enevo.

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‘Sustainability: Say the Words!’ is a series of aphoristic ‘thoughts and shorts’ appearing regularly throughout 2016 – feedback welcome via Email, or Twitter: @SustMeme.

Stories from the Dark Side of the Moon

Dump Linear Language for a Circular Economy

Last Tuesday evening, I experienced one of those minor green-geek moments that trips off a train of thought…

The trigger was rubbish, literally. Walking the dog in the dark and drizzle, I got a small feelgood buzz seeing how many households had made the effort post-festivities to put out their waste for recycling. The detritus of seasonal gift-giving and boozy excess sat neatly piled, boxed and binned, sorted and separated, ready for kerbside collection the next morning.

OK, it was a pretty domesticated demographic along the lanes in leafy Lancashire, but all the same I was handing out virtual high-fives all round for susty awareness and behaviour change.

The kicker came, however, when my mind moved on to thinking more about what this means for the Circular Economy (CE).

The fact is, UK recycling rates had already plateaued and were barely crawling towards the original EU target of 50% by 2020, when the new Circular Economy Package from the European Commission raised the longer-term bar still higher, demanding 65% by 2030. Moreover, recycling really represents only one chapter in an epic circular story.

Selling the CE concept at present reminds me a lot of pitching for sustainability at the turn of the Millennium – your efforts meet with lots of interest and good intentions, but much less activity and action. The challenge for communicators and would-be influencers is that although our aspirations might be circular, for the most part we still think and talk linear, or in terms of curves and arcs, at best. In general, the words we use betray us.

For example, in professional parlance we discuss concepts such as ‘end-of-life’ and the need for designers to ‘begin with the end in mind’. Now whilst both are important ideas and have their place, the language remains essentially linear. We are still talking beginning and end. And, if we don’t say it, we can’t see it.

As a result, we have something of a collective blindspot when it comes to what actually happens between the ‘end’ and the ‘beginning’.

What goes on after we bin and before we buy? 

Businesses might create recyclable products and dispose of them responsibly, plus pay attention to specifying and sourcing recycled in purchasing and procurement, but I doubt many truly make the connective loop, either intellectually or commercially.

It is complicated. Links in the circular chain seem myriad; as cog cycles over cog and wheel whirls within wheel. So, expectations of widespread systemic insight are way too big an ask. It would be wildly unrealistic to imagine significant numbers of people – even waste-industry professionals, never mind bin-day amateurs at Number 23, Acacia Avenue – being able to tell the cradle-to-cradle tale of every material and product.

Happily, ambitions of generating global CE savings revenue of $1tr by 2025, or delivering maybe 205,000 jobs in the UK alone by 2030, do not depend on freak universal spikes in encyclopaedic technical knowledge; at least not right now.

What we want at this early stage in the transition to a circular economy is merely a subtle mindset shift. A little uplift in understanding is all the call; some vague sense of a shared vision. And, in order to start ‘seeing circles’, I believe it would help to hear more tales from the backend of the CE machine.

What we need are stories from the dark side of the moon.

FOOTNOTE: For a global Who’s Who in the Circular Economy on Twitter, see the new @SustMeme Top 500 ranking, published weekly in association with Enevo, transforming the impact of waste through IOT and analytics @enevo.

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‘Sustainability: Say the Words!’ is a series of aphoristic ‘thoughts and shorts’ appearing regularly throughout 2016 – feedback welcome via Email, or Twitter: @SustMeme.
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Trillion-$ packaging, to rockin’ megaprojects + ocean clean-up

More of my journalism and blogging pieces have been published in the last few months and I have provided a brief update menu of articles below, with links to original copy.


The-circle-of-packaging-life-760x428Packaging a Trillion-Dollar Circle of Life

The packaging industry is moving into a circular economy of materials rotating in a sustainable loop of smart design, carbon-efficient manufacture, reuse and recycle.

Published in: ‘Future of Packaging’ Special Report, ‘The Times’‘  (30 Sep, 2015)

Olympic_park-760x428We’re Rockin’ All Over the World

Summary: With a grand heritage of Victorian engineering excellence, the UK leads the world in delivering modern-day megaprojects in a radical new way (includes case study for Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay).

Published in: ‘Project Management’ Special Report, ‘The Times’ (2 Aug, 2015)

Boyan_Slat-760x428The Great Ocean Clean-Up Project

Summary: Clearing plastic polluting the oceans is a problem of massive proportions requiring a professional project management approach – this piece looks at a current initiative exciting interest worldwide, spearheaded by teenage entrepreneur Boyan Slat.

Published in: ‘Project Management’ Special Report, ‘The Times’ (2 Aug, 2015)

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