Doughnuts and selfies: why accessible language is key to the circular economy
2 December 2020
‘Who do we want to be when the world comes to Glasgow?’
Referring to Scotland’s hosting of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), Kate Raworth, economist and author, posed the question to her computer screen and almost 2,000 invisible attendees, myself included.
At that moment we were all living the reality of COVID-19, accepting that Scotland’s chance to host the prestigious and monumental COP26 was another casualty of 2020. Instead, we were attending Scotland’s Countdown to COP26: an online, one-day conference organised by Scotland’s Innovation Centres and The Herald.
I listened to Kate Raworth explain the concept of Doughnut Economics in only fifteen minutes. An economic concept so complex yet presented as common sensical. Raworth spoke of the reality of humanity’s ‘expandatory mindset’; how the biggest problems facing our species – climate breakdown, a global pandemic, political and social unrest – are worsened by our continued quest for progress and growth without true consideration for the health of our planet.
Raworth explained how our only chance of dealing with the reality of these issues is to move our economy in line with our planetary boundaries. To meet everyone’s needs without exceeding our resources, all of humanity should be sitting comfortably in the light green ring of the Doughnut shown in Figure 1.
Raworth’s inspiring talk got me thinking about language. She asked us to embrace the conceptual Doughnut – ‘the only one that is good for us.’ She described the Doughnut as ‘humanity’s selfie.’ This familiar language (who doesn’t like doughnuts and selfies?) opened the door wide, making clear that this was a space for novices and experts alike.
An intimidating language
Working in Resource Futures’ Circular Economy Team, I am lucky enough to engage with a plethora of passionate individuals: from established business owners who recognise the need to implement circular practices into their existing business model to build sustainable and successful futures, to innovative entrepreneurs with ground-breaking technologies and inspiring new models for what a zero-waste economy could look like.
One thing that strikes me is no matter how experienced the businessperson, they can feel intimidated by the language of the ‘circular economy’. The language can make them feel like outsiders. I meet many people from my hometown of Glasgow who tell me they do not know where to begin or that these ideas ‘aren’t for them’ after hearing only complex terminology.
Let’s keep it simple
Yet the reality is that as a city, Glasgow is already ahead. Glasgow has the ambition of being one of the world’s first circular cities and has conducted a City Scan to better understand the flows of resources in and out of the city’s industries.
The complex conversations around ‘city scanning’ can make many people shy away, but as someone who worked in Glasgow’s hospitality scene for many years, I think of it more as a ‘stock take’. If you are working in a bar, you need to know what drinks your customers like, how quickly they are drinking them (usually very quickly!), what needs to be bought in before the weekend rush and not to over order.
When I started working in consultancy, I realised that sometimes we have a habit of making our industry more complicated than it needs to be. That is why I am so fond of the simple infographic below, showing with only a few pen strokes why we need to move from a linear economy to a circular one.
Raworth explained the significance of language: ‘We talk about the economy as if it’s a thing, but it’s actually a social construct… we invented it and we can reinvent it’. It is the same with the circular economy. Waste valorisation, extended producer responsibility, deposit return schemes – all these terms sound intimidating, but in truth they are just better ways to do the ‘stock take’. A better way of understanding what we use and how we use it, and to reduce what we waste.
Priming the conversation ahead of COP26
COVID-19 has given us another year before COP26 arrives in Glasgow. One more year to be certain of who we are and what we have to offer in the radical reimagining of a reality within planetary boundaries. A safe, just, balanced world with wellbeing at its heart. It is said that ‘People Make Glasgow’, and if we want the people of Glasgow to embrace the reality of a circular economy and showcase the environmental and social benefits of a city thriving within its planetary boundaries, then we need to be open and speak the language of the city.
At Resource Futures, we work to realise a world where resources are used sustainably. That can only happen when circularity is normalised. Our industry needs to meet clients where they are, understand their values and present the reality of a circular economy in a way that inspires and encourages. We need to be with our clients on this journey, learning from one another. That way, when COP eventually comes to Glasgow, we can create an environment where global leaders and Glasgow locals feel welcome. Cheers to that.