Circular Economy: are you the pig or the chicken?

Cécile van Oppen By Cécile,
on 20 September 2017

Somewhat irritated, last weekend I read the special section of the newspaper NRC on the Circular Economy. And then I was annoyed by my irritation. Very circular, you would think, but it’s a fast downwards spiral.

I would rather shine a positive light on all the examples our country has to show in the area of the circular economy. Because how great is it that after all these years, ‘pioneering’ big corporates are also starting to act? And yet I must admit that I first threw away the newspaper, declared it ridiculous and had to breathe deeply 3.14 times; I read the article, and found it secretly quite cool that ABN AMRO was suddenly declared the ‘leader’ – I never would have imagined that three years ago.

But I still had that initial reflex.

You know what it is? I am a circularity pig, and I’m very proud of it too. I make calls with a Fairphone (although sometimes it doesn’t work for an hour a day). I invariably travel on public transport (and I’ve even expanded my mobility package with a folding bike for longer distances). We built our office out of waste. We even reversed our entire business model so that we can say straight-faced that we represent impact, and we’re not just using circularity as a business opportunity. We believe that our model must be different to reach the circular economy, and if I earn less as an entrepreneur than being on a payroll, that’s fine!

The circular economy will not come into being if everyone continues to do what they’ve always done. A change in people’s own attitudes and behaviour is essential in the transition to a circular economy. I keep the wise words of Kermit the Frog in my mind: “It’s not easy being green.”

I am committed to the circular economy. I’m the pig that supplies the bacon to the circular breakfast. I’m all-in!

But the reality is that we can’t serve a ‘nice breakfast’ with bacon alone; for a ‘bacon and eggs’ breakfast (not very responsible, but it’s about the metaphor), we also need the contribution of chickens.

And those chickens won’t behave any differently in the short term. The parking garage on Gustav Mahlerplein will remain filled with gas guzzlers, and I doubt whether the bank’s business model (in the short-term) will change significantly as a consequence of CIRCL. Yet I still want to give ABN AMRO a big round of applause, because they have done it. And the best way to learn is to do.

But I still have this irritation, and not only with myself. Because I notice that in many different forums the circularity pigs are forgotten a little – one by one, every person who has worked hard for the past five to ten years on pioneering the Circular Economy. And I can imagine that my fellow pigs had the same feelings when they read NRC’s special section.

In his innovation theory, Everett Rogers makes a distinction between the ‘leaders’ and the ‘peloton’. Among the leaders, he makes a distinction between the 2.5% who are really up front (let’s call them the pigs) and the 13.5% that follow (the chickens).

The reality is that we are only at the beginning of the transition. We must not forget the work of the pigs (and put them occasionally in the spotlight). Let’s have a nice nutritious breakfast together: the circularity pigs and the chickens!

 

Then we need to keep going… because there’s still 84% of the peloton to win over.

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