We live in a ‘boom-bust’ economy where the so called health of a country’s economy is judged using Gross Domestic Product (GDP) based upon the total value of goods and services produced over a specific time frame.
Linked to global markets and at the mercy of the next world economy wanting to develop infrastructure and create commercial growth as far as the money lasts, we gear up to meet demand, and then fall into recession when the bubble bursts, creating hardship and casualties for those caught in the fallout.
These boom-bust cycles create a linear sine wave and we have continued along this road since the industrial revolution. Our increasing consumerism with the nano- second product life of fashion and trends, plus the built in obsolescence of electrical and other goods, provides a short term GDP focus on end markets.
All too soon products become discarded, creating an increasing waste stream paid for again, by the end user through taxation. As consumers, we are trapped onto the treadmill of buying the latest trend, only to pay for its disposal sooner rather than later.
“If we continue to do what we’ve always done, we’ll continue to get what we’ve always had”
Arguably, the environmental impact of the boom- bust scenario means that the environment fares better when we are in recession mode. Having to be increasingly creative with less means we become more imaginative and inventive. We also use less resources and utilities, and therefore create less waste for disposal.
So how do we break away from this feast or famine circus?
What if there was an alternative to being lured into buying something, only to find that all too soon it’s no longer fit for purpose, and we have to pay again to dispose of it?
There is a revolution afoot, for a ‘circular economy’ where effort is concentrated on maintaining the resources and energy within the lifecycle of the products created. Instead of developing and selling products that are not designed for repair, manufacturers design and build-in product longevity whilst considering the product life cycle, from cradle to grave. This challenges the boom-bust scenario.
By designing products that are of a robust quality, are able to be repaired, modified and upgraded to remain fit for our changing purpose during use, the components can then be re-manufactured back into the process, and the shelf life becomes infinity.
Great! But the really neat thing is that some of these pioneer companies are considering hiring the use of their products as a service instead of an item. The manufacturer no longer designs products for sale to the consumer, instead they sell the use of that item, taking responsibility for its lifetime.
What if we no longer purchased, used, outgrew and disposed of goods, but instead bought into the use of a home laundry service, or a supply of bikes for our children that grew with them?
This may sound far-fetched, yet companies like Isla Bikes have started to introduce such schemes, and a British Standard BS8001 has just been launched providing guidance to organisations around how to apply holistic thinking to product design.
With the economic benefit of the circular economy being estimated at €18 trillion in Europe and the creation of 200,000 new jobs in the UK by 2030*, the opportunity for decoupling our ties with linear resource use and the associated environmental impacts of such are immense.
Breaking out of the boom-bust will not be an easy option, but what an opportunity to challenge the current paradigm and introduce a new circular era.
*World Economic Forum 2017 Register of Global Risks of Highest Concern for Doing Business.
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