What if the circular economy is the best news we’ve heard in our lifetimes?

What if the circular economy is the best news we’ve heard in our lifetimes?

Andy Kenworthy wants to bring you the good news, if only for his own sanity.

I am a news junkie. I stockpile news apps like I’m on some kind of current affairs lolly scramble. But there have been times in recent years that even I considered quitting.

There’s the murder, the war, the Pop Idols. But that’s not all that calls into question the future of humanity. It’s the business pages. It’s the stories featuring our economic system crashing into the limits of our planet. There’s more doom and gloom out there than a blackout at a Goth rock concert.

Working on the circular economy is one of the main things that stops me equipping my basement with a Geiger counter and stashes of beef jerky. Because if we get it right a circular economy will mean we get the most out of everything we make. We can finally stop resorting to burning it or burying it in the ground when we've finished with it all. We will reuse everything in continuous, waste-free loops for eternity.

That won’t necessarily help me forget murder and Pop Idols, but it could sort out a lot of the rest.

For me, it’s the only realistic alternative to the current system available. It provides a viable route to continued genuine prosperity. And it doesn’t require enthusiasm for digging communal turnips or an abiding love of folk music. It doesn’t mean I have to train my kids to eat possums.

The root concepts of the circular economy are ancient, even eternal. Our core intuition that our activities should be in balance with natural cycles goes back to the origins of our species. It's been part of human culture at least since Neolithic folk invented social media by painting big cats on the walls of caves.

Apocalyptic feelings about the future have also remained popular throughout history. They share a belief that the end of a certain culture or civilisation represents the end of the world. Or, at least, the end of the world as the people concerned knew it.

But this is our time, our civilisation, so it feels different. The pace and scale is breath-taking. It was only sometime in the late 1700s that people began unleashing unprecedented power from fossil fuels. Three hundred years later and we have all but wrecked the entire planet’s thermostat. I am 43. In my lifetime the population of the planet has doubled. The number of species on the planet has halved.

Next on stage, the Cure, by candlelight…

But the point is this. If we don’t get this sorted sharpish humanity could end up going backwards to an extent never before seen in human history. The good news is that the circular economy offers the genuine chance of a new golden era instead, and we are already on our way.

The Sustainable Business Network has been working on the circular economy for New Zealand for more than four years. We have conducted studies on how the circular economy applies to food and building construction. We have begun the first circular economy awards in the New Zealand. It had the largest entry in the 15-year history of the NZI Sustainable Business Network Awards. We are now taking the first steps in applying it Auckland-wide, taking in New Zealand’s largest urban area.

We recently hosted Andrew Morlet, CEO of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in the UK. It is one of the leading circular economy organisations in the world. We are building an SBN team around this ongoing work. We are creating relationships with academics and policy makers to sharpen these ideas up and apply them. We will soon offer businesses the chance to become part of this world-changing movement directly. We will work together on sector by sector circular economy solutions.

In the coming months you might see the term circular economy applied to all sorts of things. It will particularly pop up around waste and recycling. Our challenge is to ensure it doesn’t become another buzzword used for small changes, or worse, business as usual. Because the news is that time’s up on business as usual.

The circular economy has the potential to eliminate the concept of waste completely. It will integrate advances in the sharing economy, the Internet of Things, Product Stewardship and more, into an entirely new economic system. I believe it is inevitable, but the faster we can make it happen the better for everyone.

So with any luck I might be too busy to read the news for a while. And when I do the music will have changed.

If you would like to know more, go to www.circulareconomy.org.nz