5 unexpected insights we learnt through the Queensland Circular Economy Lab.

Over 90 days, we took 27 leading innovators, disruptors, entrepreneurs and business operators in Australia on an immersive learning journey to create solutions that accelerate the circular economy in Queensland – we call this the Circular Shift. As the first of its kind in Australia, the Queensland Circular Economy Lab (the Lab) was delivered in collaboration with Coreo. It followed our co-innovation programming and the battle-tested applied learning tools and techniques from our award-winning Double Loop. Participants connected with a compelling vision – to apply circular design principles that would transform their organizations and respective industries – with each team navigating uncertainty to pioneering commercial solutions that address the Circular Shift. The Lab was designed to provide an ideal environment for multi-party innovation, where industry leaders could join forces with industry disruptors, and implement circular solutions across their organizations.

The challenge?

To create new circular business models and aligned value propositions, where leaders from each of the participating organizations were grouped into teams, to cycle through the Double Loop and create a triple bottom line positive impact – environmental, economic and social. The key to this challenge was to understand and align on their respective experiences, expectations and motivations. For all teams, this meant looking beyond their individual corporate priorities to partner for success. It also meant looking beyond ‘sustainability’ to identify those solutions that will fundamentally shift the behaviors and mindsets of both consumers and businesses, urging the consideration of the negative externalities that come with a cost, convenience and consumption. Understanding the principles of the circular economy and how to action sustainability through the mechanics of the business model, presented the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity.

“We need to move to a more circular way of thinking and acting,” - Leanne Kemp, the Queensland Chief Entrepreneur

3 months of design-doing.

There was no rest for the wicked during the Lab. Over a series of four intensive workshops, the teams worked to shape actionable circular economy initiatives that could be brought back into their organization and executed in partnership following the success of the Lab. Each team vigorously pursued a distinct opportunity, taking into account the point of view, resources, strategic goals and expertise of each organization around the table. From meat-packaging to household energy consumption, the five themes were set by a foundation partner of each team and evolved as the teams gained a deeper understanding of their collective vision and ambition. Through this, we witnessed the iteration and evolution of each teams’ Point-of-View in real-time. Talk about the double-loop accelerated!

“Shaping a circular economy is one of the biggest challenges of our time, and I believe the creative discipline of design thinking with a focus on co-innovation is the ideal approach for tackling such a systemic challenge.” - Michael Eales, Managing Director, Business Models Inc, Australia.

Speedy Gonzales.

As they were moving through the phases of innovation, each team worked quickly to test their ideas and validate their assumptions along the way – also going back to the problem they are trying to solve. In an applied learning experience like this, it’s crucial to capture and document the “A-ha moments” as they happen – things can change, fast!

“Speed is the new IP, and if it wasn’t captured on a Post-It note, it didn’t happen!” - Grace Ryall, Strategy Designer, Business Models Inc, Australia

After each workshop, participants continued validating and testing their concept internally and across their value chains, to gain a better understanding of the desirability, feasibility and viability of their solution. Each workshop brought new input, research and insights that the teams used to iterate and build upon their solutions. We even had an expert-in-residence, Ashleigh Morris of Coreo, available to provide information and examples of global best practice if the teams needed to ‘phone a friend’!

This was a learning journey for all of us. Passionate about tackling systemic issues, we started this project with the vision to provide tangible and accessible examples of what the circular economy looks like in action. Systems-thinking requires a diversity of perspectives, expertise and disciplines in the room, incorporating the unusual suspects and celebrating unassuming ideas. We certainly had a unique mix of corporates, not-for-profits, government and academia in the room, which made for an alchemic blend of enthusiasm and experience. So you can imagine that we picked up some incredible learnings along the way! Here are five unexpected insights that emerged from the Circular Economy Lab.

1. The kitchen is the energy epicenter of the home.

Gone are the days when the living room was the central family power-house. Beyond the appliances and whitegoods, people are now plugging their devices into power-points in the kitchen to charge their batteries, hook up their speakers and multitask behind the screen. Exploring how the circular economy can transform business models in the energy sector and drive more intelligent communities, this team identified the need for a consumer-friendly solution to the household costs (environmental, financial and lifestyle) associated with the kitchen. Driven by Lendlease and their master-planned community Yarrabilba, the team saw an opportunity to shift from providing appliances and whitegoods as ‘products’ to appliances and whitegoods as ‘services,’ financed through a daily subscription rate – Kitchen As A Subscription (KAAS). Leandlease was joined by appliances and whitegoods manufacturer Fisher & Paykel, The Royal Automobile Club of Queensland (RACQ), Movus, Substation 33, Logan Access and Logan City Council.

2. Seeing is believing when it comes to communicating circular design solutions.

Designing and constructing a new building involves making decisions about the materials that will be used and the spaces that will be created. C Suite is a digital tool designed to quantify the value of the circular economy in the built environment. The ability to visualize circular designs and measure their impact helps to reduce uncertainties and in turn, facilitate stakeholder conversations. Led by Jones Lang LaSalle and EarthCheck, C Suite will quantify the holistic benefit of circularity including reduced material waste, energy efficiency, wellbeing, social responsibility, employee engagement, productivity, collaboration. Brisbane Airport Corporation, who was joined by sustainable textiles company Blocktexx and Netherlands-based data company Madaster in the Lab, will be the initial testbed for C-Suite pilot.

3. Water abundance is not the problem, water distribution is the problem.

Most Queenslanders will agree that water scarcity is a real thing. Particularly in the agricultural industry where water is arguably the most finite resource, coming up with ways to recycle water and eliminate waste is of paramount importance. During the Lab, it became clear that the underlying issue is actually one of access and distribution. Regional farmers in drought-stricken areas need to be able to share resources and strengthen their communities. Enter Ripple. Led by Meat and Livestock Australia, alongside Cisco and Grove Juice, Ripple looks at the how to create change in the face of complex systems challenges, by engaging regional communities to share resources and valorize waste streams, like food waste and water.

4. You can make epic products using recycled PET.

The Container Exchange scheme sees 3 million containers a day being collected across Queensland. The challenge lies in how to up-cycle the materials collected, namely PET and aluminum. Through the Lab, Container Exchange (Coca-Cola Amatil and Lion Nathan), Rio Tinto (Boyne Smelter), Everledger, Evolve Group and Astron Sustainability worked together to form ‘United for Change’ and close the loop on this recycling challenge. United for Change connects these recycled material streams with local Queensland manufacturers like Evolve Group, who are able to upcycle these materials and turn them into higher-value goods, creating new economic opportunity and restoring social trust in the recycling process. The recycled materials will be tracked and traced through Everledger’s sophisticated blockchain technology, providing full transparency into the provenance and chain of custody of containers throughout the value chain.

5. Chickens can eat their own packaging (huh?).

Soft plastics are notoriously difficult to recycle. Given the large amounts of plastic that is required to contain meat products and maintain health and safety, an ambitious team in the Lab saw this challenge as a major opportunity. Team 3P – led by global waste management company SUEZ, in collaboration with Ingham’s Chicken, the Australian Bioplastics Association, the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation and local company Miltek – set out to eliminate soft plastic film from the food product manufacturing supply chain through a phased approach. Using PHA bioplastic film as an alternative material will enable a closed-loop process onsite at Inghams’ Chicken, whereby the PHA film can be used, collected and remade onsite through the co-location of a fermentation facility. If that’s not enough, the film decomposes into a substance that can be used as chicken-feed to nourish the chickens, making for a truly circular solution to soft-plastics.

“The CE Lab has been such a collaborative experience giving the opportunity to individuals from different industries to work together towards the same goal. The workshops are well structured but intense: no time for unnecessary talking!” - Liesl Hull, SUEZ

Five new initiatives.

As the co-designers, producers and facilitators of the Lab, we are excited to have been able to provide the optimal environment for these concepts to be nurtured and accelerated. We are blown away by the solutions that emerged from the Lab. Introducing: C-Suite, United for Change, KAAS, 3P and Ripple.

These concepts were ultimately presented in front of a panel of judges (including Glen Richards from Australia’s Shark Tank) following the final Lab workshop, where teams polished their solutions and brushed up on their pitching skills. With five minutes on stage to present their circular solution, the teams were each vying for investment from a pool of $100K seed funding provided by the Queensland Department of Environment and Science – funds they could use to accelerate their commercialization path. This was no easy feat! The teams had to meet the criteria for desirability, feasibility, viability and circularity, impress the judges and the audience. Since pitch night, the teams haven’t looked back. They have built on the momentum of the Lab and are accelerating their newly formed ventures and initiatives to roll them out across Queensland (and beyond).

The participants of the Queensland Circular Economy Lab are pioneers, creating Australian stories and examples of how industry leaders and disruptors can come together and co-design new solutions to drive the Circular Shift for their organizations. Above all, the circular economy presents an opportunity to create environmental, social and economic benefit. It requires a change in mindsets, attitudes and behaviors, as all systemic challenges demand.

Want to learn more?

Are you looking to take hold of the circular shift within your organization? Want to learn more about the circular economy and what it could mean for your business? Keen to understand the science behind the Lab? Want to join the Circular Economy Network? Reach out today!

Want to learn more about circular business models?

Meet Michael. He's your guy.

Michael Eales business designer