I was invited to the Circular Economy EU Stakeholder conference in Brussels on the 7th of March 2019 to give the closing speech.
Circularity is here to stay, over the past year I’ve seen more people and companies joining the transition. On the other hand the circularity gap has decreased from 9% to 8.6%. We need everybody on board.
So I feel one year later these 5 suggestions still have value. Read below or listen on YouTube.
1. Be Curious
About 2,5 years ago I stepped into a class room to talk to 8–11 year-olds about the circular economy. Having no kids myself and no experience with the education system, this was completely out of my comfort zone. But when you are intent on pursuing an idea, finding out if it works, it is worth while to step outside of your bubble.
As I went on to set up programs on circular economy for kids from the ages of 6–14 and develop a platform for kids to trade their used stuff, most of the people who joined me were all new to my network.
Bubbles can be very comfortable and certainly effective if you have a common purpose. But bubbles can also be limiting if it leads to us and them points of view. If it leads to delaying action because you feel the other needs to move first, or if it feels like all the action is happening just within your bubble. Well it is not. Don’t be afraid to burst out of your bubble once in a while and create new ones.
And so my first suggestions is to be CURIOUS. There is a lot of talk about collaborations. As the word suggests it’s about working together not waiting on each other. It’s about truly connecting and listening, not acting on assumptions or putting only your ideas, demands and stipulations on the table. Rather be ready to adjust your initial plans, because it’s really in the space in between, that is new to all of us, where the solutions lie.
2. Be Aware
My second recommendation is to be more AWARE . Yes, business has a role to play, policies are necessary and consumers need to make the right choices. But guess what, in essence these are all people, this is just you and me putting on different hats at different times. Let’s truly look in the mirror. Look ourselves in the eye and think about what we as a human first can do within all these different roles that we play. That’s doubling and perhaps even tripling your impact right there when applying this holistic approach.
We referenced a few times to Greta Thunberg. All of us impressed by her courage. The directness in her messaging. All things we observe up here, in our heads, but has her message really touched your heart. Do you feel the house is on fire? Are you panicking. Yesterday one of you said: “It’s like we are moving the deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s time for action, not redecorating.” Greta and her family practice what they preach. We need more of this authenticity, of true alignment between our words and our actions.
3. Be Generous
Any societal change is linked to cultural change and again ultimately personal change. We’ve heard the words human capital a few times and this is not just cultivated by education and experience. It starts with our basic humanity, that doesn’t need a business case or a roadmap to get to YES! Let’s do it. YES, I share your vision. YES, I want to help.
And so my third suggestion is to be GENEROUS. The needed shift that lies in front of us is huge. Implementation is need, acceleration is needed. A key way to this acceleration is generosity. Big, but especially small. Not everything has to be incentivized. Not everything is outside-in. I truly hope that especially in this room, you have an intrinsic motivation to act, to help, to contribute and take initiative.
In a little over a week, one of our programs 7DaysCircular will start at a high school in Hoofddorp, The Netherlands. There, 250 first year students, 13 year-olds, will embark on a learning journey about the circular economy, just like the class before them did last year. During a week they will not just learn about circularity, but also about collaboration within a bigger system, about design thinking and prototyping, about social impact and entrepreneurship and about being proud of your accomplishments, telling your story and shine.
This project is primarily powered by generosity. Generosity from the companies that open their doors and facilitate guest lectures and workshops at no additional cost to us. Generosity from the team at the foundation, who still put in a lot of hours with little to no monetary compensation. It’s not that we don’t have bills to pay, or that we don’t understand that to be sustainable ourselves, we have to move to an earnings model. It’s because we believe the opportunity to experiment, to execute and to learn by doing at this stage of transitioning is priceless. Like me, many people are making it work, by maybe having another job on the side, that leaves enough time to make a difference.
4. Be Playful
And so really there is no hiding anymore. You have what it takes to start. But now what? Do we have our goals clear, how will we measure impact and monitor progress. This is the phase in which I really want you to tap into your inner child. Transition is messy, you will fall, you will fail, but you will get up again. So get out there and be more PLAYFUL.
A few months ago we produced a mini-documentary, asking kids what they think about the circular economy. One of the questions I asked was: “Why is change slow?” Their answer was:
- People are not aware of the alternative of a circular economy, they don’t know their options.
- It’s still too expensive, and
- It needs to be made easier, more convenient and become normal.
Now this is the answer I got directly, not after extensive research to collect data and analyse patterns. Point being: if they know, we probably also already know, intuitively, morally. So don’t make ‘not-knowing’ a barrier to act. Start experimenting. It will always result in you either achieving your goals or providing you the learnings for the next step.
5. Be a Star
And so now you are on the move. You are ready to play. But who are your playmates? The topic of circular economy is vast. And like a night sky it can be overwhelming and make you feel small and insignificant. But don’t bear all the weight of transition on your shoulders. Because it is not on you, it’s on us. It’s not all about the global, the macro and the long-term. There’s a lot of beauty and joy in the micro. We all have a unique set of interests, skills and networks to get things done in the short term. And we need that diversity of action and learning.
In the same way explorers navigated using the brightest of stars, find the constellation that inspires and empowers you most. Who are the people around you that resonate with your idea, that say yes to what you are proposing.
So if you are ready for action and willing to play, be a STAR. Shine bright, share your story, knock on doors, invite people to join you. Amongst all the possibilities, the stars that resonate with you will align and make your circular wishes come true.