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.