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Circular Economy.

In 2013, I was invited to participate in an ambitious students project. They started a circular economy idea contest. I was asked for a statement and felt quite honoured to offer one.

Brain It Up by Doing It Circularly

An article on circular economy [1] by Elke Bachler,
published 15/11/2013 via [2]

When I first heard about the Cradle-to-Cradle [3] approach during an Industrial Design lecture [4][5], I was fascinated by its slogan “waste equals food”.

This is what most natural systems are about – what one does not need anymore, another one does. Everything is a valuable resource.

I guess the most dashing example is our natural O2-CO2-exchange. Earth’s fauna breathes oxygen and exhales carbon dioxide; its flora assimilates carbon dioxide and releases oxygen. It is both simple and elegant – like many natural systems if one cares to look at them from the innovator’s point of view.

Everything is a valuable RESOURCE. Just think of a dung beetle. Or dynamic breaking.

While writing both my bachelor theses, I specialized in Biomimetics (translating design principles of nature into human technology) and in TRIZ (or TIPS – Theory of Inventive Problem Solving). This kind of resource-based thinking became a quite familiar school of thought. And it simply felt right, especially being a mother and thinking of generations to come.

However, at the moment only few companies design in circles in order to deploy all given resources. As our economy is quite segmented, for one company to think cyclically means either significant diversification or extensive cooperation efforts. Both strategies are quite risky and not feasible for many entrepreneurs.

Therefore it is most ambitious, as well as most important in my personal opinion, to broaden the approach and call for a circular economy. This kind of economy needs and excites most creative, intelligent design. Yet the entrepreneurial risk has to pay off; creative ideas have to become innovations and create added value.

INNOVATION cannot exist without demand.

Hence it is important to consider the view of the customer – as we all are in one way or the other. The creation of convenient products and services, which allows us for (re-)using goods instead of merely consuming them, might trigger off a pleasant, even hedonistic way of sustainability. At the moment, to live in a sustainable way is mainly focused on reduction and restraint. To provide for a way of living where human beings feel like a valuable part of the ecosystem instead of feeling like a kind of dangerous parasite might be the road to success for manufacturers and service providers within a circular economy.

Stating that, one might understand certain propositions of Michael Braungart, chemist and co-founder of the Cradle-to-Cradle design approach. He predicts that one day our signs will say “Please Litter” because it is not only safe to do so, but prolific. He also states that a cherry tree does not count its blossoms. It produces way more than we would regard efficient – and yet it works out just fine for the tree and many other living beings around it.

We need copious CONVENIENCE instead of oppressive commitment.

If we do agree on the positive effects of a circular economy for companies and customers, it becomes very important to present coherent, comprehensible and imitable projects and standards; comparable to the Technology Roadmapping Process. It must become perceptibly feasible and economically sensible to design in circles. Platforms like » are a valuable part of the necessary dissemination process.

The emergence of different trends, designing methods and communication tools will become very helpful to support the change. The rise of Social Entrepreneurship is underway. Design Thinking can help to create adequate products and services; the usage of Social Media and its innate rules of authenticity and transparency might help when it comes to dissemination and promotion. Biomimetics is turning into a renowned science and design tool, Open Innovation is becoming more than a mere buzzword, and new ways of project and company funding like Crowdfunding and Crowdinvesting are allowing people for taking part.

Pioneers need ACCOMPANIMENT and witty copycats. Otherwise it all ends in hermitage.

It seems that the time of a good idea has come. To quote Victor Hugo (French poet, novelist, and dramatist, 1802-1885): “On résiste à l’invasion des armées; on ne résiste pas à l’invasion des idées.“

I do not know whether my generation will live to see the results of this special invasion. It might take more time. But I sincerely think it is worth the try.


  2. The students told me that “circulution” is a shortcut, combining “circular” and “solution”.
  4. The lecture was part of my innovation management studies at »
  5. The lecture was held by Florian Puschmann and Tobias Kestel »