Dear Circularity22, you were a real treat and a great gateway to reenter the conference scene. To paint a picture of the experience, you can think of it as a (post? mid?) pandemic corporate sustainability debutant ball—sans the white gloves and gowns, of course. As the new kids on the block, INDEED entered the doors of the InterContinental Buckhead hotel fueled with curiosity, eager to learn, excited to connect (with new faces) and reconnect (with one’s that had only been seen virtually).
By the end of the 3 days, it felt as though my brain was saturated from all my new learnings and my perspective on the state of circularity, especially in the US market, had greatly matured. The sense of collaboration among the 800+ attendees was strong, and this was supported by the format of the (mostly) panel-style dialogue. Perhaps not a coincidence that there was very little “listen to me and my PowerPoint on this stage” and lots of eye-level, collaborative discussions in which the audience jumped-in to richen the experience. This dialogue spanned across industries, disciplines, and territories, which I also found fitting as this is exactly what activating the circular economy requires; it’s all about connecting the dots in places the dots didn’t previously connect.
From my perspective, there were 3 main takeaways (read: re-learnings):
- Circularity buy-in is only possible with the right storytelling, to both your customers, governments, and organizations
- Partnerships are your friend, literally.
- Design your business models and solutions around your customers
Articulation of circularity is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest unseen challenges of the business. Without being able to say what you’re doing (or going to do) in a way that is concise, easy to follow (think talking to a 6-year-old), relevant, and memorable, how can you expect people to change? This point was brought up quite a few of sessions I attended, but for the sake of brevity I will elaborate on one. In the session entitled “Ripple Effects: The Impact of EU Policy” the audience and panel collectively discussed the EU and US policy dynamic. Many agreed that the EU’s policy (especially France) on Right to Repair and the Green Deal are indicators for the future of policy in the US, especially regarding consumer transparency and repairability. However, just because experts agree on this, doesn’t mean this is the right message to get traction from an American audience at large. Understanding this dynamic (and using it to make educated predictions) is more of a hidden superpower that needs to be rebranded to gain traction in the mass market. One of the panelists, Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFix it, had first-hand experience on this as he partnered with Microsoft to push repair legislation in the US. Would this push have gained traction without the support of a big taxpayer in the state of Washington? Hard to say, but if you ask me, this corporate partnership push for change tells an entirely different story, nonetheless.
This brings me to my next point: partnerships are your friend, literally. The spirit of collaboration was unexplainably alive at Circularity22. I hypothesize this was partial because many attendees and speakers at the event are already working together to activate circularity, both on and off the stage. A great example of this was highlighted in the session “A Regenerative, Inclusive Transition at Scale: The Circular City Coalition” which was brilliantly moderated by John Holm, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at PYXERA Global.
To build a path to circularity we need to build ways in which the path is possible.
John conducted a symphony of collaboration for inclusive circularity alongside partners from Enel North America, Work, Metabolic and Rheaply. The panel agreed that climate waste and DEI are, and need to be seen as, one collective problem. Therefore, there must be a level of access for everyone.
Speaking of people, that brings to my last, but certainly not least takeaway: Design your business models and solutions around your customers. This was a point from my colleague, Eunji Park, who spoke in the session “How to: Repair — Enabling Product Life Extension”. As an advocate for the consumer, Eunji helped the audience to understand that solutions aren’t solutions if they don’t consider the consumer behavior and what they desire. This was particularly fitting as in the same session the audience enjoyed a debut of “Concept Luna”, a repairable laptop designed by Dell. When the panelists were asked what they would like to see next year at this time, Eunji articulated it perfectly by requesting that “humans are integrated actively into the circular business model and not just passive beneficiaries”.
So Circularity22, that’s a wrap. And while we patiently wait for Circularity23 in Seattle, we (the INDEED team) will carry the lessons learned with us to our own ecosystem so that they can continue to have a ripple effect beyond the conference rooms of Buckhead. Until next time!