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Do we need a post-animal bioeconomy?

The linear model of animal agriculture isn’t working and has proven to be detrimental to public health and the environment, according to Isha Datar, CEO of New Harvest. Watch this video to learn about a new way of producing animal products that are genetically unchanged, but do not require vast amounts of land, chemicals, or even the animals themselves.

We’ve covered the topic of cellular agriculture and potential of lab-grown animal products previously, but this now available video offers a good overview and introduction to the idea.

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Circulate on Fridays: tracking fish with blockchain, Indian pollution world’s worst, H&M’s Bionic dress

In Circulate on Fridays, we highlight some of the circular economy news and insights that we’ve been sharing at Circulate HQ this week. In today’s instalment, we’re finding out about the startup using blockchain to track fish, why India is going in the wrong direction on pollution, and how H&M are redefining the term ‘beachwear’. Check it out!

If we want products and materials to cycle within a circular economy, we’re going to need to keep track of them. BBC news shares the story of Jessi Baker , who founded Provenance, a startup that applies blockchain technology to do just that. Jessi was inspired by the buying practices of her mum, who always placed an emphasis on locally-sourced food when raising her children. Now, Provenance are using cutting-edge technology to create greater supply chain transparency for brands, who say that building trust with customers is a sound business move for long-term sales. Food is the first hotspot for Provenance, counting the UK’s fifth largest food retailer the Co-op as its first commercial client, but imagine the circular economy potential when this tech is applied to other industries.

“Businesses can join Provenance in order to open up information about their products”

Have you listened to the first episode in the new series of the Circulate Podcast yet? If our interview with Elizabeth Yee of 100 Resilient Cities has piqued your interest around how the world’s cities are preparing for an uncertain future, then Curbed has an in-depth piece by Alissa Walker that provides a ton of further reading. The article looks at the pursuit of resilience to climate change in the current political and economic climate, drawing on input from a host of experts and including some stunning – if not concerning – imagery. The circular economy could be key in addressing the impacts of climate change, as Per-Anders Enkvist, Martin Stuchtey and Jocelyn Blériot explored in this Circulate Feature.

Being the world #1 at something is usually an accolade, unless it’s being awarded for the worst air pollution. India climbed to the top of that podium this week, sharing the title with China. However, as reported by MIT Technology Review, it seems that ‘the two countries are heading in opposite directions’. The problem is so severe that it’s reckoned to contribute to nearly 1.1 million deaths a year, according to a new study from the Health Effects Institute in Boston and the Seattle-based Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation. So with nations around the world steadily improving air quality, India seems to be getting worse, not better. There is hope though: The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s 2016 report found that moving towards an Indian circular economy could lead to a 44% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in 2050, compared to the current development path

In a circular economy, there would be no such thing as waste. In the meantime however, there’s a serious waste problem to deal with, and few substances cause more widespread problems than plastic. To combat this, H&M recently announced a new material called BIONIC® – “a recycled polyester made from recovered plastic from shorelines, waterways and coastal communities”. The first product to contain the fibre – which Vogue says is “supersoft and can adapt to almost anything you want to make, from jeans to cocktail dresses” – will be a striking dress that H&M are proud to say doesn’t look like it’s made from recycled material. Until we develop an economy in which waste is designed out, projects like this one are important in reminding people that recycling can be a process that adds or improves material value.


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Why air conditioning as a service could have a huge impact on energy usage

The world needs to re-think how it stays cool and Singapore-based company Kaer Water may have the answers as it aims to revolutionise air conditioning building management by combining a breakthrough technology with a new business model that has already been trialled successfully in other sectors, including lighting.

Rising temperatures and a rapidly expanding global middle class are increasing demand for air-conditioning worldwide, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment agency even predicted that demand will have risen by more than 70% before 2100.


However, if the sources of this increasing demand, places like India, Indonesia and Brazil use as much energy for air conditioning per person as the United States, all of the electricity that they generate would be insufficient to power those cooling systems. In fact, according to calculations by senior scientists at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, those countries would also need every watt generated by the UK, South Africa and Mexico.

That’s where Kaer may have a solution that reduces energy demand and offers better value for building owners. In their air conditioning as a service model:

Building owners purchase chilled water from Kaer at a fixed rate dollar per refrigerant ton hour and pay only for what they use. Kaer then takes over a building’s entire air conditioning system – inclusive of the chillers, cooling towers, pipe work, operations and maintenance. Kaer rebuilds or redesigns the system and takes on all future costs related to its operations and maintenance, including the bills for water, electricity and repairs. Kaer focuses on lowering the rate of energy consumption.

Machine learning and big data enable Kaer to optimise its systems, where they have achieved reported cost savings of over 70% through reduced energy consumption and better management.

It has been demonstrated that even the simplest optimisation can have a significant impact. The company reduced the Singapore campus of INSEAD Business School’s energy usage by 35% in just six months.

Kaer’s activities are currently restricted to Singapore and Malaysia, but it’s global potential is apparent. In Mumbai, 40% of all power consumption is accounted for by air conditioning, while even in cooler countries like Britain, 20% of the total electricity produced is used on air-con and refrigeration.

Source: Business Commission

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Could wind turbines be added to millions of UK lampposts?

Mini wind turbines have been designed, which could be fitted to millions of UK lampposts and connected directly into the National Grid as a significant source of renewable energy.

More than 20% of the UK’s 10 million lampposts are suitable to be converted into producers of wind energy, according to David Gordon, chief executive of technology firm Own Energy, who created the turbines in collaboration with IT company NVT Group.

Own Energy view the turbines as a significant business opportunity, which could scale quickly, predicting that the venture could produce a turnover of more than £400 million within five years. Besides, the UK, the partnership has also had discussion with public and private bodies in Ireland, the US, Canada, Mexico and South Africa.

No timeline has been announced on the project so far, but it is an initiative that fits in with an increasingly important theme where architecture and the built environment are integrated more effectively with energy production.

The initiative is also predicted to create jobs, both in terms of the building and maintenance of the buildings, up to 300 within a decade according to Own Energy.

There are, of course, also unanswered questions, including the cost of implementing this new infrastructure and potential disturbance caused by a line of lampposts with turbines on them. However, there’s enough innovation and new thinking at play to make it an interest story to follow over 6-12 months.

Source: Wind turbines could be fitted to millions of UK lampposts

Lead image: Licensed under CC – credit Flickr user: reynermedia

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Circulate on Fridays: Farming from shipping containers and open source

Get all your circular economy relevant reading and viewing in one place every weekend with Circulate on Fridays. Today, we’re focusing on open source, the potential impact of a new EU circular economy finance platform, and why the future of farming is in shipping containers!

“Walter Stahel, the Swiss architect and industrial adviser, has been since the ‘70s one of the fathers of the idea of a circular economy, for which he argues with a ‘river and lake’ metaphor. Thus far, the economy is conceived as a river, in which we should try to double the flow rate per capita every ten or twenty years no matter whether in this eternally doubling flow the content of beneficial nutrients or detrimental toxins grows faster. Instead, a circular economy would be rather like a lake. Citizens and policy makers would rather preserve and improve the quality and accessibility of this lake, without increasing the affluent and effluent river more than absolutely necessary.”

Marco Morosini explored the circular economy concept in detail in a Huffington Post this week, it’s usually an article well worth reading when Stahel gets a mention.

Autonomous vehicles are widely predicted to play a significant role in people’s travel arrangements within the next couple of decades. With that in mind, the open sourcing of Udacity self-driving vehicle simulator software, announced this week, could provide a further lead ffor collaborative design and engineering in that space.

Keeping the open source theme in mind, the Open Source Circular Economy Days is taking place once again this year between June 8-12, and the team behind it has put a call out for people looking to set up local events.  

The European Commission has established the Circular Economy Finance Support Platform with the goal of “bringing investors and innovators together and to keep up momentum in the transition to a circular economy”. Find out more about that story in this Sustainable Brands article.

Will Ireland be one of the first nations to completely cut out fossil fuels? The Irish parliament has passed a bill that stops the country from investing in non-renewable sources of energy.

Meanwhile, a startup called Local Roots has designed mini farms combining the benefits of disused shipping containers with urban farming. They’re not the first example of innovators to identify this opportunity, but the simplicity of their approach to transforming a 40-foot container into five acres of indoor farm is worth learning more about.

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Disposable plastics banned from Delhi

While a number of cities, states and countries around the world consider mechanisms by which to manage some of the growing challenges relating to the plastics, India’s capital city Delhi has made the headlines by placing a blanket ban on all disposable plastics. Far from being altruistic, the city’s decision has been made out of practical necessity. 

Okhla, Gazipur and Bhalswa, Delhi’s three main landfill sites are “a depiction of mess that can be created for environment and health of people of Delhi”, according to India’s National Green Tribunal (NGT) chairperson Swatanter Kumar’s statement at the tribunal“. Waste-to-energy plants produce electricity, but the burning of plastic waste pollutes the air, when it isn’t burned, plastics inevitably leaks into and clogs up the city’s waterways, in particular, the Yamuna, which is the second largest tributary river of the Ganges.

Plastic bags were banned from hotels, hospitals, shopping malls, major markets and greengrocers by the city in 2009, but despite initial success, the fact that new legislation has been introduced would suggest that it didn’t achieve its objectives fully.

Disposable plastics are a subject of policy protections in other contexts as well. France ordained that all disposable cutlery must be compostable by 2020, meanwhile, single bag use is reportedly down 80% since a small charge was added in the UK.

Identifying the most effective enabling policies isn’t an easy task, and varies widely in each context. The imperative to take some kind of action in Delhi is clear, and placing a charge on the customer is more difficult in an economy where there may be options to switch to vendors that flout a ban and offer free bags. It’s also a challenging context for shopkeepers, who have to pay up to three times more for a cloth versus plastic bag.

Source: Delhi just banned all disposable plastics

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New textile fibre is created using cotton scraps and wood

A cellulose fibre called Refibra, created using cotton scraps and wood, has been launched by Lenzing at the Première Vision textile fair in Paris. It’s one of the first fibres of its kind produced at commercial scale using a high-volume of recycled material.

Created using a similar process to Tencel, a fibre recognised for low environmental impact, Refibra perhaps takes the next step in terms of proving the potential of creating effective fibres using materials that would normally be wasted during production.

This latest technical breakthrough builds on the concepts discussed in our recent piece, What does material innovation look like in a circular economy? It’s another example of the technological potential to re-purpose previously unusable material, and a promising development that has the potential to reduce waste across the value chain and reliance upon raw materials. However, it also needs to be lodged in a more effective overall system, if it is to achieve anything other than mediating the negative effects of the current linear economy.

Source: Lenzing develops new fibre generation to drive circular economy

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Why did Helsinki’s on-demand mobility service fail?

It has been predicted that new digital technologies and the “algorithm age” will usher in a new paradigm for city transport. Rather than millions of individual residents owning vehicles, on-demand, electric, versatile – possibly autonomous – mobility services will facilitate the full spectrum of travel needs, all while being cheaper, more efficient and better for the environment.

It’s a beautiful vision, and perhaps increasingly conceivable in the mind of the general public with the continued rapid rise of on-demand services like Uber and Lyft in many of the world’s largest cities. However, the transition may not be quite so straightforward, and the story of Helsinki’s innovative on-demand bus services – Kutsuplus – provides an interesting lens through which to view the latest changes in mobility.

One of the very first attempts at leveraging data and new algorithm capabilities, Kutsuplus was part of city-wide plans to reduce car usage in Helsinki. It aimed to match passengers headed in the same direction with minibus drivers, offering a door-to-door ride sharing service that was more expensive than the standard city bus, but a significant cost saving on calling a taxi.


Run by the Helsinki Regional Transport Authority, the service began two years before Uber launched the car-pooling variation of its product – UberPool. It was designed to be as simplistic as possible – log onto a website, top up an account, select starting and end points for a journey and then walk to the pick-up point.

Launched as a trial, the project had two main objectives: to assess the technological feasibility and to make a judgement on user acceptance. And on those two counts, the trial was a success. By the time the service was closed – at the end of 2015 – the ridership was above 20,000 users, who were unafraid to express their disappointment on social media and internet forums.  

Why did Kutsuplus fail?

Ultimately, to outcompete other modes of transport, the service needed to reach much larger scale and the public money investment cost reaching that level was the undoing of Kutsuplus according to an in-depth piece on Citiscope.

Originally, the transport authority (TA) planned to grow from 15 minibuses to a fleet of 45 in 2016 and over 100 by 2017. The economics and feasibility of taking advantage of the algorithm and transporting large numbers of passengers transforms completely once the fleet size gets above 100, but at 15, there were a lot of empty seats.

An average European car is parked more than 90% according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Growth Within research and the potential economic, environmental and social benefits of an integrated mobility system, where car ownership were reduced are well-stated, but that doesn’t guarantee that the system will gravitate towards the optimal solution. The benefits of the aforementioned economic analyses are only revealed at scale, and while a €3million running cost represented only a small percentage of the Helsinki TA’s overall budget, the prospect of investing many more millions worth of Euros into Kutsuplus was deemed infeasible by city officials.

A company might have been able to turn Kutsuplus into a successful business model, but the private sector faces the same challenge in terms of reaching scale. Split, a ride-sharing service that operated in Washington D.C. discontinued its service in late 2016. If the market is to be monopolised by companies like Uber, then there are a number of questions that will need to be answered, not least of all the working conditions and pay of the drivers needed to enable the network.

Creating momentum around the investment opportunity that the new economy offers was partly why SystemIQ published Achieving Growth Within earlier this year. With a focus on Europe, it highlights stagnant investment levels in the EU and the potential for circular economy, and 10 specific key themes as new opportunities for both public and private investors. One of the potential focus areas highlighted was greater city mobility integration.

Investing in a model that requires a big system picture perspective to be effective is a different proposition compared against a regular startup or product, where the success and investment return curves are relatively well-established. Either way, the learnings from the failed Kutsuplus experiment should be valuable for innovators in both the public and private sector as they look to take advantage of these emerging opportunities.

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TU Delft offer free introduction to the circular economy

Whether you’re already hooked on the circular economy, are looking for a new business advantage, or are simply curious about how to respond to the current economy’s challenges and opportunities, then TU Delft’s introductory course is a good place to start. 

Circular Economy: an Introduction is billed as a seven-week course, but it’s unlike many other online courses in that it’s self-paced. This means that you can access the content when you like, progressing through the videos and exercises in your own time rather than waiting around for next week’s information.

It’s all run on the edX platform, which hosts MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – from leading institutions all around the world. To date, over 10,000 people have participated in Circular Economy: an Introduction, exploring this new model from experts in the field.

It’s a compelling vision, but it’s not always plain sailing to shift from our current linear economy to a circular one that is restorative and regenerative by design. Because the circular economy framework is distinct from some of the ‘use less and recycle’ approaches of recent decades, there’s new terminology and concepts to get to grips with. So this introductory course starts by asking “what is the circular economy?”, before looking at new business models, remanufacturing, and systems thinking. The MOOC has been created largely by a team of instructors from TU Delft’s design department, so design aspects of a circular economy feature heavily, informed by the excellent Products That Last book released by the university in 2014. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Sustainability have also helped co-create the course.

Course instructor Conny Bakker, of the TU Delft faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, emphasised how this type of learning is a convenient and accessible way to boost your understanding of the circular economy:

This edition of the MOOC is self-paced, which means all the course materials are available 24/7 and you can take the course on your own schedule. No deadlines, no stress. Great content.

Find out more about Circular Economy: an Introduction and how to enrol for free at the course homepage.

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Circulate on Fridays: A new kind of thinking that goes beyond recycling

Where did January go? On Circulate, we looked at how 3D printing is transforming the nature of business, opportunities for India to transition to a regenerative development path, a new industry-backed narrative on plastic packaging and looked at global water challenges through a circular economy lens. Our first Circulate on Fridays of February highlights a new film via The Economist, a completely new way of thinking about home improvement stores originating in Texas and so much more!

Want to get a snapshot of the circular economy initiatives happening around the world today? Jack Barrie’s useful summary includes focuses on circular cities, global collaborative initiatives and more.

“A new kind of thinking that goes beyond just recycling”. Watch the new film from The Economist film, which explores the circular economy in 14 minutes with some excellent footage and useful perspectives.

“Products are arranged not by function—lighting, painting, plumbing, and so on—but divided into “design” and “performance” categories, and then organized by themes: air, water, daylighting, energy. In each area of the store, members of a highly informed sales staff are on hand to discuss projects and solutions. Maybe you came in just to replace an air-conditioning unit, but have you thought about insulating your attic and sealing your ducts? The vibe is less do-it-yourself and more let’s-do-it-together.” Phillip Pantuso tells the story of an Austin, Texas based home improvement store that plans to retrofit and transform the residential building center.

Artificial Intelligence is often cited as a potential key enabler of the circular economy, but there are understandable concerns about the development of super intelligent computers. For anyone who is concerned, the 23 Asimolar Principles, established at a conference in California and endorsed by leading thinkers including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, may offer some comfort. Unsurprisingly, “human control” has made the list!

A report by think tank Green Alliance called Getting it right from the start, has highlighted bioplastics, carbon fibre and 3D printing as the critical “starting points” for unlocking the circular economy’s true potential in the UK.

Find out how the City of Phoenix and one of its more innovative startups have combined to remap the city’s recycling and resource utilities in this story on GreenBiz.

Increasing evidence of the negative impacts and economic losses in plastic packaging produced by sources like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative is forcing brands to re-think packaging. This Guardian article focuses on how M&S, Unilever and others are promising a redesign of the system for a better plastics economy.

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