The circular economy is one of those business phrases that is so de rigeur that you wonder if, like fashion, it really has staying power. But dig deeper than the buzzword and it is clear that the circular economy is a concept that is ahead of its time and will be key to the long term success of any production based business.
The logic behind circular thinking is that as key minerals, metals and other resources become ever more rare and markets become more volatile, it will benefit business greatly if they design their products in such a way that the materials in them can be recovered and reused.
In this video, Judith Sykes and Mark Shayler of Useful Simple Projects describe the work they are doing with organisations such as Samsung and Proctor and Gamble to look at material recovery and service models that support circular design solutions. It is a good overview of what needs to be done if the circular economy is to become a reality, and it is just this kind of in-depth work that is needed in order to turn circular economy from idea to reality.
This is Unilever’s launch film to accompany its latest initiative “Project Sunlight”, launched on 20 November 2013, Universal Children’s Day, in Brazil, India, Indonesia, the UK and the USA. The project is designed to appeal to people everywhere, and in particular parents, encouraging them to join what Unilever sees as a growing community of people who want to make the world a better place for children and future generations.
Now for the critical analysis. As for the messaging in this film, it is a pretty traditional consumer marcomms effort. The main difference is that a standard Unilever advert would be aimed at the familiar domestic problem (dirty hands/clothes/kitchen/children), followed by technical domestic solution that brings safety/cleanliness/happiness/love/security to the consumer. In this film, while it aims to tug heartstrings in the same way (using soft baby fingers, dewy eyes of parent and child), it is out of its depth with geopolitics.
This film tries to bust out of the formulaic lifestyle bubble by graphically showing a harsh world of war and environmental destruction, but then it falls back into its familiar product mindset and says, “don’t worry, you can rely on us and our technologies to solve these unpleasant problems”. For me there is too little pause between the “burnt out, war torn devastation” to the “clean water happy old people” for it to in any way make the audience consider what role they might have to play in the solution. I feel it will leave viewers shocked but comforted that there are techno fixes that will solve things. Which is debatable…
In general, I really admire what Unilever are doing with sustainability and the Project Sunlight launch blurb (found at http://www.unilever.com/sustainable-living/news/news/slp1113-projectsunlight-launch.aspx) says that it wants to use its enormous global reach to change people’s behaviours, and they certainly have a massive global audience, so fair dues to them for having a go.
My latest academic crush is Martyn Poliakoff, materials scientist at Nottingham University. It could be the hair – which is really rather fantastic – but I have been totally sucked in by his brilliant video series that explore the different elements of the periodic table on youtube. In this one – his most popular video – he ventures into the gold bullion vault in London which houses £197 billion worth of gold. As a materials expert, Martyn laments the waste of all this gold held in such a “mausoleum for dead gold” when it could be “alive doing exciting reactions”.
I’m with him on this. In my recent “what’s in your mobile phone” post I despaired of how many raw elements in electronic waste are non-recoverable, and this despair was compounded when I heard a recent radio programme called “Crossing Continents” on Radio 4 that starkly described the volatility of gold mining in Indonesia.
BBC broadcaster, Linda Pressly said in the show: “Up to 20% of the world’s gold is produced by informal mining, with millions of people in the developing world relying on it for a living. The quickest and easiest way for them to extract gold is by mixing finely ground rock with mercury, a highly toxic metal, and burning it off. In Indonesia, [we found] gold workers and communities who are already showing signs of mercury poisoning. There are paddy fields with the highest concentration of mercury ever tested in rice. Experts say this is a slow-burn disaster, which could lead to irreversible harm to the health of people across the globe”.
And for all that it either goes in to a mobile phone that ends up in someone’s drawer in a year’s time or locked up in a big vault never to be used again. Doesn’t that make our financial value system and “the mausoleum of dead gold” seem just a bit pointless?
On a brighter note – a great initiative called FairPhone was launched today. Their mantra is “By making a phone, we are creating a movement to build a fair economy.” Take a look at http://www.fairphone.com.