Circulate on Fridays: why circular economy is a world changing idea

Publication Date: 

Friday, 17 March 2017 - 4:50pm


Joe Iles

Image: © quka /

You made it to Friday, and here’s your reward: a packed Circulate on Fridays, you lucky thing. Find out what we’ve been reading and watching this week!

Fjord’s nicely designed 2017 trend report signposts eight key developments to look out for this year, including ‘ephemeral stories’, ‘me, myself and AI’ and ‘blurred reality’. Circular economy crops up too, in the piece on ‘unintended consequences’. The authors reckon that pressure for a new model of ‘conscious capitalism’ will increase, with individuals and groups calling for greater transparency, responsible innovation and increased accessibility to local, digital services. The ‘World on Wheels’ section also deserves a look, offering some reactions to the automated, on demand mobility revolution.

Here’s another trend you might have heard before ‘ownership is ending’. Futurism investigated the topic this week, although you could say this piece paddled in the shallows somewhat. Although the theory is sound, it’s a big assumption to say that business models such as AirBnB and Uber ‘lead to more effective use of resources’, especially when the case isn’t clear . With AirBnB’s multiple home ownership, an increasing number of Uber vehicles on the road, and an overall lack of research, more needs to be done to highlight those business models that really deliver ‘circular’ value. Our recent piece on IDEO’s design thinking showed how taking a human-centred approach can lead to business model innovation that creates wider benefits.

Naturally we’re biased, but we think the circular economy is a world changing idea. Now it seems that the folks at Fast Company agree, and this week’s piece by Ben Schiller explored the topic and its potential benefits and impacts. The piece focuses largely on the business model innovation opportunities brought about by digital technology and new ways of thinking about access and ownership. Or as Ben puts it, ‘Netflix-ication’: we used to own stacks of movies or music, but now many of us are happy getting access to that service virtually through Netflix or Spotify. There’s plenty more to the circular economy of course, whether that’s new ways of handling biological materials and food in a regenerative way, and other things than resources – like money – need to work in cycles too. But this piece is a good primer on why the circular economy is a model that’s relevant to 21st century business.

Last week in Circulate on Fridays, we shared the excellent new animation from Story of Stuff, this time focusing on the problem of ocean microfibres. To bring this issue a bit closer to home, check out this video featured on the BBC last Saturday . It’s the actual moment plankton ingests a tiny piece of plastic, thus entering the food chain. So the Story of Stuff outlined the problem, you can see it happening under a microscope, but what’s the answer? The folks behind the New Plastics Economy Initiative are working on that – find out more over here.

Photo credit: Taema via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

The headline might be a bit over-egged, but this feature in the New Yorker offers a nice profile of Bolt Threads, the company creating synthetic spider silk for use in clothing. This type of synthetic biology seems like a technology that’s about to explode, so before it does find out what Circulate’s Seb Read thought it could mean for a circular economy.

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