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Series Five Round-Up: Small Parts of a Powerful Movement

Throughout season five of our podcast, we've been talking about the Circular Economy and its intersection with all things digital and software. The last couple of years have been strange and difficult for many of us, and it was inspiring to hear how so many people are dedicating their lives and their businesses to building a better world. And even though our focus was on the digital side of things, our conversations revealed how vast the Circular Economy is – and how the myriad challenges, approaches and solutions involved are completely interdependent. 

We started by talking to Catherine Weetman, author of A Circular Economy Handbook for Business and Supply Chains, who helped us set the scene and define some of the broader definitions of the Circular Economy. Next, we spoke with Lieke from Floow2, who shared insight into her passion for the subject as well as the diverse challenges she and her team have tackled. It was particularly interesting to hear how the Circular Economy can transform even the healthcare industry, especially given the pandemic and its ripple effects. 

After that, we spoke to Tom and Sophie from Dsposal, who discussed the importance of data and data compliance when it comes to managing waste. In episode five, we heard from Jordi of Circularize. The conversation opened the lid on some interesting challenges and questions, such as why all the different layers of a supply chain need to interact and collaborate in the transition to a Circular Economy. These themes continued during our chat with Maayke from the Excess Materials Exchange, which revealed the challenges and potential opportunities in turning waste into something valuable. 

Another common theme began to emerge when we spoke to Pablo from Madaster, who explained the crucial role of software and digital technology in documenting and tracking materials and their usage. Paul from Zeronet then shared how they're trying to solve the reverse logistics problem of getting waste items back into circulation by collecting from people’s homes. In episode nine, Dave from Kaer kicked off another key theme with his discussion on how the company is shifting their business model by turning their product (in this case, air conditioning units) into a service. We particularly loved learning how Kaer aligns its business goals with wider environmental goals, so that sustainability is baked into everything they do. 

Joerg from iPoint talked about digitising product life cycles and supply chain relationships to empower companies to make data-driven decisions about their products and processes. Similarly, Craig from techUK gave us some perspectives from a policy level about topics such as data protection and circular infrastructure, and then Roy from Circular IQ introduced us to the fascinating and multifaceted topic of measuring circularity. In episode 13, Stephanie Benedetto, aka the Queen of Raw, shared with great passion how her business transforms the waste from clothing manufacturers and producers into valuable, sought-after items. Next, Ellekari and Mariëlle from Circular Stories told us about their inspiring journey around Europe documenting and promoting the work of circular businesses and projects. 

With Michael from Topolytics we circled back to the topic of data and how digital technology is so useful in monitoring waste and recognizing its value. With Stephen from Terracycle, we spoke mostly about their circular shopping platform, Loop, which is changing the way we consume everyday items from the supermarket. In episode 17 we met Aisling Byrne of Nuw. Aisling’s story is particularly inspiring because her whole business concept is driven by the community – with the technology being used to respond to their diverse and dynamic needs. Another ‘accidental entrepreneur’, Tom Harper was up next to talk about his experience with Unusual Rigging, which provides technical solutions to the live production and entertainment industry. Driven by Tom’s passion for sustainability and a custom-developed piece of software, the company has made their business model much more circular – and more resilient. 

Finally, Emily and Claire from Reath candidly shared the ups and downs of their entrepreneurial journey so far, summing up what so many people we’ve spoken to this season have revealed: That this is a very new field, and the people working in it are pioneers creating their own path. Throughout the series we’ve learned that the Circular Economy is holistic, and that there’ll never be a single solution to any given problem. Everyone we’ve spoken to is a unique piece of the puzzle, and it was heartening to hear how many are open to collaborating, rather than competing, with others in their industry to achieve goals that are bigger than any individual person or company. 

What the experience has really highlighted is that digital technology is central to the shift to circularity, and those of us working in the sector have both the ability and the responsibility to be part of it. From purely economic opportunities to the chance to be truly challenged and fulfilled on a personal level, we’ve seen the power of being a small part of this positive movement. 

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About the author

Barry O'Kane

Barry is the founder of HappyPorch. With 20 years in the web development industry as a programmer and agency owner, he has a preternatural ability to decipher the systems and processes code that holds many teams back from achieving their goals. Partners say Barry gets to the root of issues quickly and makes it downright easy to deliver good work.    

While he's unbelievably grounded, it's not uncommon to find him sailing through the trees as he paraglides his way round the world.