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Circulate on Fridays: circular economy R&D, Kelly and Hawking on what the future holds and more…

Every Friday, Circulate provides a roundup of some of the best circular economy articles, videos and podcasts that we’ve seen during the week. This Friday, Stephen Hawking outlines the future we need, Kevin Kelly describes the future we’ll get, and other good stuff.

Circular economy R&D in action

It’s one thing to get your head around the circular economy as a framework, and another entirely to begin to put these principles into practice. Design plays a crucial role here, and practical testing and iteration are key for any business scaling up new products, innovative business models or reverse cycles. Design agency Seymourpowell demonstrate this in a video released today, covering their work with Newlife Paints, Akzo Nobel and Veolia. For over a decade, Keith Harrison of Newlife Paints has been refining the process of collecting and combining surplus, discarded paint to produce a high-quality recycled product. However, scaling this up for the mass market has required changes to the reverse supply chain. The video shows how Seymourpowell helped develop a process that enables the paint to be extracted and recycled recycled four times faster and at one-seventh of the cost of the previous methods.

Hawking: ‘we need a re-think’

More and more frequently, people are calling for a re-think of our current economic system. One influential voice that joined the chorus this week was Professor Stephen Hawking, who took to the Guardian to muse on the role of money and wealth in today’s society, in light of June’s Brexit vote and the ensuing economic uncertainty. Facing the ‘global and serious’ challenges of “climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans”, Professor Hawking celebrated, and called for the growth of, so called ‘cathedral projects’. These important and massively collaborative initiatives are needed to build a prosperous future, and will force society to “adapt, rethink, refocus and change some of our fundamental assumptions”. The shift from a linear to a circular economy is an almost incomprehensible challenge, and will certainly require this type of collaborative effort to make the transition.

See the future

Get comfy. This recently released seminar from the Long Now Foundation clocks in at over 90 minutes, but it’s worth it. Kevin Kelly, author and founding executive editor of Wired, sits down to talk through his forecast for the next 30 years. It’s all centred around digital technology, and coincides with the release of Kelly’s new book The Inveitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future. The book came to Circulate’s attention a couple of weeks ago via an extract shared on the blog Boing Boing, in which the author imagines a future where you don’t own anything (a subject also covered in the talk). Although the preference for access over ownership is a driver of the circular economy transition, depending on your outlook, a completely ownership-free future is either exciting or terrifying, highlighting the need for dialogue and an appreciation of the whole system change rather than individual behaviours or technologies.

Moving from products to service is part of a broader trend, a shift to this new world where things are liquid. This liquidity is something that shapes and informs all the other trends. We have things that are flowing, we have the ability to decentralise things, we have the sense that things are always moving, in flux.

– Kevin Kelly

Get up to speed on regenerative agriculture

Regenerative agriculture practices remain an under explored area of the circular economy, which is perhaps surprising considering some of the elegant and established case studies that exist.

Photo credit: World Agroforesty Centre via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA
Photo credit: World Agroforesty Centre via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA

There’s lots of talk of important incremental change in the technical cycle, but practitioners like Leontino Balbo Jnr and Alan Savory demonstrate how the real benefits of a circular economy like in a holistic systems re-think. Eric Toensmeier is another expert who outlines this opportunity. In an interview published this week, Toensmeier shares his insights on ‘carbon farming’, a regenerative agriculture practice that has potential to work at even greater scale than it does today, offering multiple positive benefits for farmers, biodiversity and in addressing environmental constraints. Bringing a global perspective and examples of improved farming techniques, agroforestry, new grazing practices and polycultures, the piece highlights how regenerative agriculture models can outperform the linear alternative.

Lead image: Dean Hochman / Flickr CC BY

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The Author

Joe Iles

Joe Iles

I'm Editor in Chief of Circulate and Digital Architect at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

When I'm not discussing the circular economy, I also love talking about digital media and online trends, memes, music, bad films and good beer.

You can find me on twitter @joeiles or email joe[at]circulatenews.org

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