The circular economy is based on three principles: eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials, and regenerate nature. Sounds simple enough, but how do we effectively explain and apply these definitions to our current system?
It is stories that have been missing up until now, according to Alice Irene Whittaker, Writer and Environmental Comms Leader at the Smart Prosperity Institute & the Natural Step. Between the system and individual, sometimes the stories which contain the power to move us to care and become involved, get lost. People receive different information in different ways and the responsibility lies with everyone: businesses, NGOs, and governments to tell stories that resonate with different audiences.
Taking part in an acceleration session at WCEF2021 last week, Alice spoke alongside guests including the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s, Media and Messaging Lead - Ross Findon, Share ReuseThe repeated use of a product or component for its intended purpose without significant modification. Repair Initiative’s project director, Rosemary Cooper, founding leader of the Eileen Fisher Renew resale programme, Megan Arnaud, and founder of Point Off View, Marina Testino. The session centred on the importance of the language used to describe the circular economyA systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution. It is based on three principles, driven by design: eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials (at their highest value), and regenerate nature., and how we can implement clear definitions that everyone can easily remember and understand. It was established very early on that people do not need to be a leader or have communications in their title to play this very important role. The circular economy provides a positive rallying vision – and messages always need to provide a call to action that links to the pressing issues and multiple global crisis’ we are facing.
Ross explained that the circular economy is about flipping our current take-make-waste economic model on its head to one where we eliminate, circulate, and regenerate. The circular economy is a clearly defined solution – a system that provides people with much better choices. To this end, the Foundation has been collaborated with one of its strategic partners, Inter IKEA, to create a glossary of terms designed to empower people to share knowledge in open and transparent conversations. The latest glossary includes definitions for commonly-used terms such as recycleTransform a product or component into its basic materials or substances and reprocessing them into new materials., reverse logisticsSupply chains dedicated to the reverse flow of products and materials for the purpose of maintenance, repair, reuse, refurbishment, remanufacture, recycling, or regenerating natural systems., and finite resources. It also explains the difference between virgin, non-virgin, and renewable materialsMaterials that are continually replenished at a rate equal to or greater than the rate of depletion., biological and technical cycles, and reuse, refurbishment, and remanufacturing.
As we head into COP26, Ross told the audience that it is becoming increasingly obvious that more countries are bringing circular economy solutions to the table and including circular economy legislation to meet climate targets and deal with plastic waste and pollution. There is a definite recognition of the role the circular economy can play in tackling some of the biggest global challenges we currently face.
Rosemary Cooper – Project Director of the Share, Reuse Repair Initiative reminded us, the things that motivate individuals are not necessarily the planet, they are more about need, practicalities, style, saving money, and comfort. However, she also shared that the tent is ‘bigger than we think’ and more and more people are making circular economy choices in their lives. If we can reach these diverse motivations, we have the potential to mainstream these behaviours. There is no one size fits all message, but one that resounded at WCEF2021 was that people engaging in stories is key to ensuring they invest emotionally in the circular economy.
In order to accelerate the transition to a circular economy, it is vital we speak with a common voice, using a common language and definitions that can be easily understood by all. If you want to know more on how to communicate to a wide variety of audiences, to customers, and to audiences outside your sector, the sessions are available on catch-up.