I love this passage in the foreword of our book from Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Explorer in Residence: “Astronauts in training learn everything they can about the systems that keep them alive during journeys in the hostile environment beyond Earth’s atmosphere. While flying through space, they take care of their air, water, food, and temperature control as if their lives depend on it, because they so clearly do. Less obvious to most people is that we are all aboard a great, blue spacecraft hurtling through an otherwise inhospitable universe. Until recently, we could take for granted the processes that generate oxygen, maintain favorable temperatures, yield water, furnish building materials, provide food, and much more. But complacency is no longer an option. Now we know: the world is not too big to fail.”
To survive and thrive in the world of tomorrow, we need to radically rethink our traditional linear economic model of take, make, use, and dispose. Instead, we should design our products, services, and processes to maximize the value of the materials used and with the ability to re-use and regenerate all parts, thus minimizing, if not eliminating, waste. This is a circular way of thinking.
So why is the Linear Economic Model not sustainable? Our toss-and-replace attitude causes many of the problems this world is facing right now, ranging from pollution, ethical issues in the supply chain to loss of biodiversity. That doesn’t even take into account the expected consumption increase over the next 30 years. Around 3 billion people are expected to join the ranks of the middle class by 2025, mainly in the developing world. This represents the largest and fastest rise in disposable incomes ever. The World Bank has described the coming upsurge in consumer demand as a “potential time bomb”.
We are not taking care of the systems that are taking care of us and the systems are cracking because of it. This is not a story of gloom and doom. Alternatives exist and we only need to look to nature to be inspired. Just consider the resilience and longevity of the natural world, where nothing goes to waste, because natural ecosystems re-use everything that grows in a never-ending circular cycle of efficiency and purpose…
So “Going full circle” means moving toward an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. It replaces the end-of-life concept with restoration, shifts towards the use of renewable energy, eliminates the use of toxic chemicals which impair re-use and return to the biosphere, and aims for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems, and business models.
The good news is that there are already companies who are adopting this way of working and not only companies. I’m very excited to go at VERGE SF 2014 next week since the conference agenda is packed with stories of innovation: innovation to design a new regenerative economic system. Hope to see you next week, but if you can’t attend in person, sign up for VERGE Virtual their 3-day live-stream of keynotes. It’s free, so no excuses.