Think of everything you own. Where were these items purchased? How were they made? Where do they go when they’ve done their dash? As we continue to clean up the remnants of the industrial revolution, we can’t help but imagine a more sustainable future that moves beyond a finite measure of value. ‘Sustainability’ has evolved beyond a common phrase to an expected standard of practice, reflecting where we are trying to go but not showing us how we get there. In our search for a sustainable future, we need to abandon the traditional ‘take, make dispose’ model and reexamine how we design ‘things’ and what value is used or created in the process. This means transitioning towards a circular economy and having positive environmental, economic and social impact through sustainable value creation.
Circularity is continuous value
When we talk about sustainable value creation, we’re talking about identifying new circular models that close the loop on resources and benefit not just one system or supply chain but many. We look at this through the business model lens and identify the shifts needed to transform future industry. Be it moving from ownership to access or from product to service – there are a number of patterns that can be observed in the transition from linear to circular. Although, ‘circular economy’ is rising to the forefront of our attention here in Australia, we have noticed that in pursuing a future that satisfies environmental, economic and social needs, the large majority of us still don’t quite fully understand what it means to operate ‘circular’ and how this will transform “business as usual”.
Systemic issues, like ‘waste’ for example, are by their very nature, embedded in society. So much so that even attempting to conceive of a solution to the bigger picture problem can feel quite overwhelming. The reality is that no one person alone can solve a systemic issue – it is imperative that we band together. Participants of the Circular Economy Lab are embarking on a journey of understanding and are interested in sharing and broadening their knowledge of the circular economy. Beyond this, the participants are committed to developing real-world solutions that illustrate circular principles in action, in Australia. This journey begins in Workshop 1 and continues to evolve over the course of the Lab as each team progresses.
What have the Lab teams been up to in Workshop 1?
The Lab is led by industry pioneers who have aspirations for a better future. They each bring something unique to the table that informs the development of the vision for their team moving through the Lab. As a recap:
There are five teams in the Circular Economy Lab with a total of 27 industry participants all up. Each team is focused on developing a solution for a particular opportunity area with the collective vision of accelerating the transition towards the circular economy in Queensland. The Circular Economy Lab involves several workshops over the course of 3 months, culminating in a pitch event where the Lab teams will present their innovative solutions before a panel of investment judges. The solutions unearthed through the Lab should be transferrable and applicable across many sectors, addressing entrenched industry challenges and creating commercial opportunity. Keen to learn about their solutions? Watch this space and follow their journey!
Context: The world around us
Designing for the future means having a keen awareness of changes in the world around you. We asked the teams to consider trends occurring in the world – driven by technology, customer needs, demographics, the economy, the environment, rules and regulations, known uncertainties – and cluster these trends on the Context map canvas. This is one way to frame your context as an evolving artefact that continues to develop overtime. The contextual factors mapped on the canvases of each team looked similar but different. Each were informed by the industry representation of that team, and reflected the unique, individual perspectives of everyone involved. This is an exercise that helps participants zoom out of the detail and consider what contextual aspects are driving their ambitions.
Vision: Designing with the end in mind
It is impossible to build something new and meaningful without first building a vision (unless it’s an accident!). The first step for each team was to come together and share their ambitions and aspirations to develop a collective vision for their project. This involved discussing what each member brings to the table and what they are hoping to achieve through the Lab. Each team member brings their own point of view – this is the starting point. The outcome for Workshop 1 is establishing a clear team point of view that can only be achieved through having an open and collaborative mindset. Since the Lab is designed to be a pressure-cooker environment (speed is the new IP!) teams were encouraged to continue to build on their vision in greater detail, looking at the steps needed to get there and the resources required to make their vision a reality. This constitutes a ‘living vision’ or strategy, which exists through consistent dialogue and communication. This ‘lean’ way of thinking helps participants frame their ideas and test their foundation before designing the pathway towards execution. Each step in the Lab innovation process will encourage teams to search, enquire and test their ideas to inform (and strengthen) their unique point of view.
In this workshop, we asked each team to think about the problems that exist around their focus area and the opportunities that may emerge. For some teams, the focus area was largely centred around a clear opportunity to create something new, rather than solving an existing problem.
For instance, Team 1 discussed how they might transform aspects of the built environment by identifying what defines a space as ‘circular’. This is a broad playing field, particularly in Queensland where the growth of construction and development is significant. Consider all the waste that is produced in the construction of a building, or what is involved in its continual maintenance. What about all the resources that are required to take the design from blueprint to building? This is a glimpse into the questions Team 1 are tackling in the Lab. And they’ve got the right people around the table to do it: Brisbane Airport Corporation, Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), EarthCheck, BlockTexx and Madaster.
Another team tackling a massive industry challenge is Team 4, who are looking specifically at food and agriculture waste streams. Considering the reality of finite resources, like water for instance, Team 4 are identifying creative ways to fortify the agricultural system in Queensland and encourage a community stewardship of these resources. Thanks Meat and Livestock Australia, Grove Juice, Cisco and Freeze Dry Industries for leading the way.
If sharing is caring, then leasing is the new buying. We rent things all the time – houses, cars, fancy clothes. We can even rent a crowd or a bridal party if we need to (no judgement). Team 3 are exploring how new leasing models can shift the way communities think about ‘energy’. Team 3 consists of Lendlease, Fisher and Paykel, Substation 33, Movus, RACQ, Logan Access and Logan City Council. With the Yarrabilba community as the ideal launchpad, Team 3 will be shifting mindsets and encouraging the adoption of new individual and community behaviours.
Of course, at least one the teams were bound to tackle the plastic problem. And it’s a doozy. Soft plastics are those thin, permeable films that are often used to enclose pre-cooked meals, meat packages and veggie trays. Team 2 are brave and ambitious and can’t wait to dive deeper into creating a solution for this problem. SUEZ, the Australian Bioplastics Association, the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation, Plantic, Miltek and Ingham’s Chicken – you rock!
And finally, the other big problem on everyone’s mind – what happens to the mounds of recycling that accumulate daily and can no longer be sent off shore? Team 5 are dealing with this challenge and identifying ways to not only solve the problem for now, but for the future. With the dynamic mix of capabilities at this table, thanks to Container Exchange QLD, Statewide Recycling, Rio Tinto, Everledger, Evolve Group and Astron Sustainability, we can’t wait to see what they come up with!
Where to next?
At the conclusion of Workshop 1, each team had a deeper understanding of their collective aspirations, clearly identifying how applying circular principles could not just solve a problem but create new opportunities. As the weeks progress, we will continue to keep you updated on the teams’ progress and how the solutions are taking shape. In the next workshop, teams will elaborate on their ideas and come up with a clear solution concept to test and explore even further.