I just finished a nice Skype call with a nice lady from UK who contacted me to talk about circular economy and cultural change. She was interested in knowing how to engage her organisation in a process to implement circularity. Her main concern was about how to get buy-in from different stakeholders in the company so I walked her through the process I have implementing for the last 6 months.
I first explained her the method to transition towards sustainability that has been used by many companies in Europe called back-casting (Holmberg and Robert, 2000) and used mainly by The Natural Step. For this method the organisation first needs to define a vision of themselves in the future and a set of criteria to be fulfilled in the future. Then the current situation has to be assessed against such criteria in order to identify key aspects that can be tweaked to move towards sustainability. Third, solutions to the problems identified and that comply with the criteria have to be designed. Finally, a development path has to be created to implement such solutions.
However, in order to start this process different people need to get on board and the basic way to do this is by motivating them which was the main question of my interviewer. How to do this, and based on the literature and my experience, there are three elements that are required for people to feel motivated: competence, autonomy and connectedness (Ryan and Deci, 2000). So is not only about informing about the process, is about creating the enabling conditions in the company so people feel compelled to join it.
But even before this, another step is required and is identifying the why should an organisation embark on this journey. Usually there are two answers, either it saves costs or regulations require the company to do it. However, my interviewer's company is a not for profit kind of business which makes it a little tricky. So we applied systems' thinking to understand why they would do it and the answer was reputation. But this is relevant for just one group, other stakeholders have other interests so the tool can be used for them too to discover their own driver.
Finally, the whole process has to be based on an open dialogue in order to build trust and create engagement. Active listening is a key skill that will allow her to understand how change is perceived, how the process is affecting everyone and how far it can go. It is not easy, it is not quick, but taking all these steps, using all this tools can guarantee its effectiveness in the long run.
Transitioning towards sustainability will require circularity therefore, developing knowledge, skills and tools for the process is key for companies and organisations aiming at embarking in such process.
Product and service development is a discipline I recently discovered. First at my former job where I was in charge of developing an "innovative financial mechanism" for biodiversity conservation at a non profit organization. The whole process was absolutely new to everyone and we did the learning-by-doing routine and so we did, we learnt but at the end it didn't work. After that I took two courses in my master on product and service development, sustainability innovation and sustainability entrepreneurship.
From a more practical perspective, in 2007 I started a clothes swapping project that I wanted to turn into a business. I gave it a lot of thought, time and effort. As I mentioned in my bio, we did over 60 events, swapped more than 1000 garments and got over 1000 people on board. I applied to many funding calls including Echoing Green in 2009, Ashoka and Wayra but never got the yes. And I am trying it again today as a natural outcome of two years studying and researching about circular economy.
Today I have more theoretical tools at least, I took strategy courses, my innovation courses and I am quite knowledgable about circular economy. And there is a way higher awareness level regarding the need for change in our economic system, both consumption and production. Of course I am in Europe. But now that I am trying to put together another funding proposal to start up a circular business I still feel there is not enough knowledge about how to develop such type of businesses. Some of the questions that I am asking myself and that I am trying to answer now are:
This is a great opportunity for researchers, innovation gurus and consultants to help the transition towards a circular economy, by creating guidelines for entrepreneurs to develop circular business models that replace the business-as-usual ones if this is possible. I think it is.