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Look4Loops (Canada) - the broad business opportunities of circular economy

What is the circular economy?

Switch from linear to circular, from growth to prosperity

The Ideas Shot dialogues come with a new guest in our climate change topics: Colienne Regout, founder and executive director of Look4Loops, in dialogue with Adina and Alec. Talking about climate change we of course also got to talk about how people and business activity, more or less sustainable over time, has led to worsening climate change. Colienne introduced us to more details on the circular economy so that we understand how exactly we can run more sustainable businesses and how we can have the right mindset in this regard.

Circularity exists primarily in nature. A tree starts from a seed and grows to maturity, its leaves nourish the soil, its branches shelter birds and animals and at some point, this tree will die but its remains will continue to nourish the soil and give birth to other trees. That's nature, it's simple and organic. 

In economics, however, things seem to be exactly the opposite. If in nature we speak of circularity, in economics we speak of linearity: you take raw resources, make something out of them, use the end product and then throw it away. During linear processes a lot of value is lost and a lot of species are affected, including human one.

The problem is that we live on a planet with limited and finite resources. The idea of the circular economy, in simple words, is about changing the way you think about goods and manufacture products so that as few resources as possible are wasted. We need to think about how we can reuse and optimize resources. We need to slow down the rate at which we waste resources. Then we talk about recovery. What happens at the end? Let's say we have used a product for a long time and at some point, it can no longer be used. How do you make it all part of a regeneration process so that it goes on and on? That's what we have to worry about. 

Current business models, Alec tells us, developed at the begging of the 18th century, are those that have eliminated the idea of circularity and replaced it with that of progress, which will outweigh any other idea in importance. 

The COVID pandemic reminded us that we are mortal and finite as a species and as individuals, and also showed us that economics based on continuous growth and progress is not sustainable for either the planet or the human species.

Even when we talk about circularity, we still accept the idea that the economy is linear and progressive. We still want progress, we still want growth, without being aware that all resources will run out at some point. We need to understand that finiteness is contained in growth, not separated. 

The really huge challenge is indeed, according to Colienne, "to replace the obsession with growth with the idea of prosperity. I think we can enjoy life while protecting resources so that we don't overwhelm the ecosystem."

The responsibility for sustainable living is therefore on everyone's shoulders. Companies, people, governments. The idea is to rethink many of our positions on growth and progress so that we become sustainable. Adina's question is as simple as it is complex: what do companies and businesses of the future should look like in this sustainability paradigm?

Colienne comes up with an interesting idea that implies a strong unity of thought:

"It's difficult not to think about what comes before and after your business. We don't live suspended in a blur of space but in nature and at some point, we will have to bring back some value so that this ecosystem we live in stays alive. In my opinion, we need to see our businesses as a whole together with the surrounding environment and nature but with many points of intersection.”

There is today, Alec tells us, a lot of pressure on companies and businesses to think differently, to have an ethical framework with regard to the environment in their business model, to no longer think only from the perspective of profit but also of how their activity affects the environment and external stakeholders. But this pressure is not enough because it does not actually guarantee any results and no change in how sustainable businesses can be or not be. 

We need to rethink the way we ask the question, Colienne tells us. "Companies should ask themselves: what is their purpose? What are they doing what they are doing for? What is the basic purpose of the business? The idea is not to be green but to be part of the solution, not part of the problem."

The circular economy can create millions and even billions of business opportunities. Circular economies have created jobs and at the same time reduced costs, because they use resources rationally. 

The point is, as both Alec and Colienne say, we need to make a deep switch in the way we understand the purpose of the businesses we run. Yet, this huge economic path is hard to change overnight.

We need to completely and profoundly change the idea of growth, business wise: the business plan of the future is the one that limits growth in order to achieving prosperity and the one that integrates happiness and satisfaction into the idea of the business.

Finally, although the responsibility is ours, it can only be taken jointly by all companies and all people, not individually. The paradigm shift must be a result of a shared initiative, not isolated, not individual. 

There is neither an ideal company nor an ideal product of the future, concludes Colienne. It's all about collaboration. Companies need to focus more on stakeholders in the future, not shareholders. Good ideas come from many sides, they come from collaboration, they come from opening up to more and wider perspectives.



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