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Relaunch of National Network

Welcome to the National Network for Change and Community –the blog for thinking people from local and wider global communities. Evolving out of a community council background in Scotland that has struggled with the limitations of that concept, this blog has opened up the debate about how good citizenship and empowering governance could work better at local level and beyond. That dialogue has gone world-wide.

Ideas shared here look at effective engagement for responsible people who are not just focused on themselves or their immediate environs. They focus less on striving to tether up a ridiculously large yacht on the Cote d’Azur, and a little more, but not entirely of course, on ‘Are you alright Jack? They are the ideas of realists who know how things work long-term.

At the start of our second year online, it is clear that you like where we are heading because of your interest in being associated with us. We know that you like what you read because you say so. But more importantly it is very clear that you are on the way to refining a better concept of citizenship that will work well for a greater number of people than is currently the case worldwide. We know this because the conversation gets better all the time. So too do the commitments, achievements and the get up and go of everyone across the board. For all of these reasons, and others of a slightly more frivolous nature, these are exciting times.

It’s the small, steady steps each of us take that will get us all where we wish to go. We are lobbying for better governance, at local, national and global level. We are proud to be part of that process. Thank you for engaging with us. Keep the stories and the commitments coming. We are helping each other on the way to a better world ahead.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

A circle offers a lot more than linear recycling

TURNING back the dial for a moment, in August last year we reported on a ‘seismic idea’ that was just hitting Scotland.  Called the circular economy, we said then that this was a whole new way of using resources that could fundamentally change living and lifestyle habits across the globe. 

Our story, that has been visited many times, was called ‘Out of the box, into a loop and on a roll’ and noted that this new paradigm plan is fronted by former solo long-distance yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur.  The germ of interest in the idea grew from a lonely vigil on the open sea, when she was harbouring and carefully monitoring her limited supplies. 

She realised that her isolation and dependence could be likened to the life of the planet, so dependent on finite resources.  She reasoned that systems that sustain it should work like organisms, processing nutrients that can be fed back into the cycle.  Back on dry land, Ellen linked in with people already thinking along these lines – German materials chemist Michael Braungart, CEO of Desso carpets Stef Kranendijk and educationalist Ken Webster – they had a positive vision for the future that supported a circular economy.  It’s not enough just to recycle on a linear model that degrades materials over time.  The really radical shift in thinking is to move to ‘designing’ waste, using things without using them up.

Ok, sounds good, but it is fundamentally challenging to just about every way we do things now.  Eight months later, how far has this idea taken hold?  We turned again to the Foundation’s field development officer for Scotland, Colin Webster for an update.  These are his responses:

1. Some big names appear to be getting on board with this idea.  How far has it gone?
The Ellen MacArthur foundation launched an initiative called the Circular Economy 100 in January 2013, our third year of existence.  Firms are encouraged to sign up to this executive training program to share our insight into new business models and design.  Coca-Cola, Renault, B&Q and Marks and Spencer are among those who have done this so far.

Universities have a different route into working with us. We are establishing a worldwide network of leading universities, which includes Imperial College London, who will become thought leaders and champion researchers into the benefits and processes behind the circular economy.

2.  You have organised some in-school sessions in Renfrewshire, Glasgow and Edinburgh.  How did these go, and what are your further plans for the academic year?

In the last year we've been scouring the UK to look for secondary schools interested in rethinking the future through this framework. So far we have reached approximately 35 per cent, with the coverage in Scotland higher at 43 per cent. We keep in touch through continuing professional development sessions, and by meeting them at conferences or events we have organised.

We have also run what we call 'Teardown labs', in which we strip apart everyday objects from other decades and discuss the effect of the economic and social conditions at the time of their design. Then we look at how design today needs to meet the demands of diminishing resources, rising raw material prices, rising energy prices, falling credit and falling employment.  These sessions are always fruitful and innovative. 

3.  The Foundation has set some ambitious goals for the educational programme.  Are you on target with those?
Yes, our target is 50 per cent of all secondary schools in Scotland and England by the end of September. This IS ambitious but we've already reached about 35 per cent.  Teachers are typically very enthusiastic about the circular economy.  The majority see the need to teach a positive message about the future.

3.  Tell us about a recent talk you have given in Scotland. 

Last month I presented at a TEDx event in Edinburgh. The audience was aged 16-19 years, yet the ultimate audience is worldwide through the website.  It was very exciting to be a part of a TED event and it was just one of the many invitations we are receiving.  (You can view that presentation here: Colin Webster)
4.  In the Design Matters section on the Foundation website, there are reports of innovative design ideas like the Printed Wiring boards that dissolve in water and the Instant Disassembly concept.  How do you take these ideas forward?

We link great ideas with businesses and educationalists who are enthusiastic about doing things differently.  The examples you quote are very exciting – they allow people to see how the circular economy could be achieved.  Every day we come across terrific ideas, some of which are challenging, but our question is always 'what do we really want?' rather than 'what appears possible right now?'.
5.  This concept will change the whole nature of consumer-based capitalism. How could we make this transition and keep the economy safe? 
How do we consume a TV?  We're careful about the language we use in this context, so we talk about users and consumers.  Users use products which are ultimately returned. The products they use belong to the technical cycle.  Consumers use up a product – food, for example.  Those products belong to the biological cycle.

So, yes, we do predict that 'consumption' will fall, but people will still want clean clothes, TV programmes, and a place to store their underwear, so they will likely take out a contract to hire a washing machine,  TV and cupboard.  

The switch to a service economy is underway, look at Lovefilm, Spotify and city car clubs.  B&Q have predicted that in five years, 10 per cent of their products will be offered on a leasing basis.  On average we use an electric drill for 15 minutes a year.  Why would we own the drill if we could rent a high-end machine at a lower cost?

Businesses are already adapting their models to fit the new realities of volatile material and energy costs.  Will political incentives change to support the new realities?  Worldwide subsidies for raw material extraction total US$1.1 trillion pa.  We wonder whether governments will switch to taxing extraction of finite resources and support use of renewable resources, such as employment.  After all, people are a renewable resource.  

Now there’s a challenge to current thinking.  If you would like to learn more about the circular economy you can find the Ellen MacArthur Foundation here:

You can read about the initiatives around the world here:

And you can find business case studies here:
                                                                                               © 2013 JENNY MACKENZIE

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