02 Leadership Viewpoints

What is the Circular Economy & How Can We Enable It?

How to prosper in harmony with nature.

I was reading my print subscription of National Geographic (yes, it still exists) a few weeks ago and something in it got through sceptical old me. It made me think that: The combined brainpower of my 929 connections on LinkedIn is enough to power up a small city. Imagine how much we could do for a Circular Economy if we made it our focus for the rest of our useful lives.

For those who are not familiar with it, the Circular Economy is the concept of eliminating or drastically reducing the long-lasting waste we are accumulating on the planet. Take a wild guess how much it is.

We take out about 105 billion tons of raw materials from the Earth every year. The major types are minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass. And how much do we recycle? Just 9.5 billion tons, mostly from the biomass component, which would have disintegrated faster anyway.

The worst part of it, the minerals, metals and fuels, 68 billion tons of them, are wasted every year. The stock of long-lasting waste on the planet today has accumulated to about 910 billion tons. Do you get the same sinking feeling I am getting?

The Circular Economy movement, if it can be called that given how little it is moving, is about dramatically reducing the ‘circularity gap’ of input minus output. And it is not just recycling by another name. The difference in Circular Economy design is the cradle-to-cradle’ thinking which means returning the raw materials to the start of the cycle with the same quality, by considering the technical and material/biological changes together. Another difference is that waste is considered a ‘design flaw’ and unnatural.

Its champions say it is not anti-business or anti-jobs. They say it will save a lot of money across industries because recycling will cost less than starting with raw materials. I want to believe them. I hope it is true. It makes sense to me from the evidence of practical life. But even if it reduces costs less than the most optimistic financial models predict, it is still necessary. There is no alternative. And you know it is so because we don’t want to sail blithely through life and leave the mess to be cleaned up by others in the future if they can, do we?

So, have a look at the graphic below, courtesy of the National Geographic, may it be blessed with eternal life. Study it carefully and see which of the flows your work involves. Now, what can you do to reduce the waste in your area? My work is in the communication and mobility areas. In the latter, I am helping an Indian two-wheeler manufacturer get more success with a light electric scooter, which should reduce the consumption of fossil fuel, metals and emissions, directly and by replacing other means of transport. 

This is fiddlesticks, so I pledge to invent and work harder in my area of the not-yet-Circular Economy. Please share my desperate feeling and comfort me by telling me what you will do in yours.

An x-ray of the global economy, courtesy National Geographic magazine.

Read, read, read: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2020/03/how-a-circular-economy-could-save-the-world-feature/

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