Ken Webster: “Business opportunity to close the loop”
We had a chat with Ken Webster, Head of Innovation at the Helen MacArthur Foundation and famous among other things for coining the phrase “circular economy”.
An important message from Webster is that there are a lot of business opportunities to identify in the growing circular economy, not the least when it comes to refurbishing and all other aspects of giving products a longer life. To give reusability a higher priority in circular economy, he places responsibility on producers and regulators.
When circular economy is discussed, there’s usually a lot of talk about "recycling”. What does it take to move some of the attention to "reuse”?
This is basically a system design question, but of course there are many helpful opportunities to increase reuse. One is a shift to selling service or performance rather than the object and then it’s the producers or their agents who have the chance to see benefits in repairable, refurbishable, long lasting and upgradeable models. It’s not easy to do from a business perspective brought up on "more, cheaper, faster and forget it", but a circular economy starts at the question of where is the point of sale? If the answer is that the sale is not the object but what service the object provides, then many things get a lot easier.
Of all the actors with some kind of stake in the ambition to give IT products a longer lifespan, is there any in particular you think needs to step up?
The producers and their business models are most important to me, plus regulators making sure that the material’s full cost of extraction, production and dealing with e-waste is paid. Everything boils down to business opportunity. There’s an opportunity for businesses to close the loop, slow the flow and narrow the resource palette.