In episode 12, we recap where we are as a human race and as a planet, and how production and consumption have brought us here.
As in episode 3, we speak about how marketing takes us shopping, which in turn lures us into a sense of happiness, however blinkered and ephemeral. Later, we throw products, often perfectly usable, away. However, as Catherine Weetman states, there is no “away”. Consensus on how to clear this minefield is elusive. Dealing with “permanent, indestructible, perhaps toxic” plastic is a case in point. For some, recycling is a solution, but that “is just one step further away from the bin,” says Sian Sutherland. “There is nothing circular about plastic.” More broadly, CEOs are like rabbits in the headlights. Limiting climate change and reducing environmental destruction and social inequality require systemic change. Voluntary commitments are having limited success. On top of this, governments do not lead; they follow. So what, according to our speakers, is the future of consumerism? First, we must change how we – governments, investors, producers, voters, consumers – measure inputs and success. Instruments such as taxes and subsidies must be used accordingly. The doughnut economics model, which dismisses gross domestic product for consideration of the environment, while meeting citizens’ basic needs, could be a solution. Sian focuses on design, working with large corporates so as to move the needle. Of course, laggards will make virgin materials more difficult to recycle, so that they appear cheaper. Catherine prescribes taxes on resources, which are finite after all, and believes independent businesses with disruptive models are critical. For Richard James MacCowan, academia must be enabled to move from grant-led basic research to impact-led applied research. While human beings have always intrinsically referred to nature, he is – through biomimicry – looking at biological processes down to micro and nano levels, and augmenting this with computer models. Traditional knowledge and beliefs, the ancient intelligence of episode 11, must be incorporated. For Catherine, resource-constrained frugal innovation in the Global South can provide lessons for the whole world. In the Global North, continental European governments are ahead of the UK in terms of policy, and Scotland and Wales are doing more than England. Extended producer responsibility is key, but much work still remains. As consumers and voters, we have fewer excuses. Apps now tell us what our purchase contains, how and where it was made and by whom. They provide sustainable options. Gamification and peer pressure could expedite the journey. Throughout the episode, all three speakers give solutions – from the giant Amazon water lily inspiring the watering of street trees to reusable packaging models. If we continue on this path, we may just be re-setting production and consumption.
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Author of A Circular Economy Handbook, Consultant and Host of the Circular Economy Podcast
Catherine Weetman is an international speaker, workshop facilitator, coach, consultant and host of the Circular Economy Podcast. She founded Rethink Solutions to help businesses, social enterprises and community groups to use circular economy approaches to build a better world. Catherine’s award-winning book, A Circular Economy Handbook, explains the what, why and how of the circular economy. The second edition, due out in November 2020, includes a new chapter on packaging, over 100 new examples, and many more updates. Catherine qualified as an Industrial Engineer and began her career in garment manufacturing, before moving onto logistics solution design, project management, business intelligence and supply chain consulting, including senior roles with Tesco, Kellogg’s and DHL Supply Chain. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, a Fellow of The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), a university lecturer and has a Master’s Degree from Cranfield University. She supports the Circular Economy Club as a mentor and Chapter lead for the Tees Valley, in the UK.
RICHARD JAMES MACCOWAN
Founder and Creative Director, Biomimicry Innovation Lab
Richard loves to explore fresh ideas and concepts and is ever curious about the environment around him. He is an award-winning designer and has worked worldwide in cities, manufacturing, food systems and product design. Richard’s passion is to develop innovation models to reduce costs and improve efficiency and resilience in the design and manufacturing process. He taught at some of the top design schools in the world: from The Royal College of Art (UK); The Pratt Institute (USA); Vellore Institute of Technology (India); and the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (Hungary). Richard is also the founder of the non-profit Biomimicry UK, an equine technology startup, Smart Stable Limited, whilst sitting on several advisory boards. He combines design work with research development via the Design Society and the ISO Standards in Biomimetics.
Co-Founder of A Plastic Planet
Multi-award winner, including Female Marketer of the Year, CEW Achiever Award, Entrepreneur of the Year, British Inventor of the Year and the UK Government Point of Light Award; Sian is a serial entrepreneur with a varied background in advertising, Michelin Star restaurants, film production and brand creation design agencies. Now Sian is often asked to speak about female empowerment, entrepreneurship and how to build positive, passionate, responsible brands and campaigns people really connect to. In 2017, Siân and Frederikke Magnussen founded A Plastic Planet; a global social Impact movement with a single goal to ignite and inspire the world to turn off the plastic tap. Recognised in The 2019 and 2020 Fast Company Awards and winners of International Campaign of the Year, A Plastic Planet created the infamous Plastic Free Aisle campaign, opening this catalyst for supermarket change in Amsterdam early 2018. They also launched the Plastic Free Trust Mark for brands, with over 1000 already certified, and the Industry Commitment Mark ‘Working Towards Plastic Free’.