Going “circular” refers to the change from our current take-make-waste linear economy to a borrow-use-return circular economy, also known under the banners of ‘zero-waste’ and ‘cradle-to-cradle.’ The concept has sparked a movement among companies, governments, NGOs, and entrepreneurs to create new products, processes, business models and other solutions to reduce waste and better utilize resources.
Now, the phenomenon has produced a feature-length film. Closing the Loop — the world’s first feature-length documentary on the circular economy — will officially debut on Earth Day, April 22, 2018. It aims to be an optimistic film about innovative solutions, although it also includes some dire warnings. As John Elkington, famous for coining the “triple bottom line” of sustainability says in the film, “If we continue with the linear economy, we are, to use a technical term, totally screwed.”
“After years spent working on sustainability, I am convinced that we are on the cusp of a major revolution - nothing short of the next industrial revolution. The time for fear-mongering and demonising companies has past. Now is the time for innovative solutions and positive action. This is nowhere more true than in the do-or-die challenge of creating a circular economy,” said Dr. Wayne Visser, the presenter and a co-producer of the film.
Visser’s knowledge of the circular economy began in the early ‘90s as a student and grew as he became familiar with the works of Paul Hawken and had the opportunity to interview Cradle-to-Cradle authors Michael Braungart and William McDonough. For many years, Visser was engaged in the so-called “new economics movement,” which often debated the dilemma of economic growth.
Waste not, want not
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“In principle, we cannot continue our exponential growth (the “great acceleration”) on a finite planet. On the other hand, growth is not only a pathway out of poverty, but remains an aspiration of all societies, both rich and poor,” Visser told Sustainable Brands in an e-mail. “When we admit that our addiction to growth is unlikely to change any time soon — neither politicians, business people or the vast majority of consumers will strive for zero-growth or economic shrinkage, for political, economic and psychological reasons — the circular economy, with its goal of decoupling economic growth and environmental impact, becomes the only logical way to avoid self-destruction. It also leads us into a qualitatively different kind of growth, e.g. of renewables, climate positive products, etc.”
After authoring 28 books, Visser decided that film would be a more powerful medium to get this message across. At the same time, he noted that many sustainability-focused documentaries provide strong diagnoses of problems but are weak on offering solutions. He sought to present a documentary that could convey both the urgency of the challenges we face and the optimism he feels thanks to the breakthroughs in technology and the hard work being put in by individuals and organizations such as those featured in the film.
Visser and Telly® and Emmy® Award-winning filmmaker Graham Sheldon use examples from Europe, Latin America and Africa to explore five key strategies for achieving circularity - reduce, reuse, recycle, renew and reinvent - in Closing the Loop. The featured cases include:
- Barloworld – a South African industrial conglomerate, with the second-largest Caterpillar equipment remanufacturing plant in the world;
- Biogen – a UK renewable energy company which generates all its energy and bio-fertiliser from food waste
- Dutch AWEARness – a pioneer in circular textiles from The Netherlands, including workwear and suits that can be recycled 8 times
- Interface – a US carpet manufacturer with an ambitious Mission Zero strategy for eliminating negative environmental impacts by 2020
- Novamont – an Italian bio-plastics company, renowned for making the Lavazza compostable coffee capsule
- REDISA – a South Africa tyre recycling project, which empowered numerous entrepreneurs along the used tyre value chain (although it is no longer running there); and
- Quito City – a C40 City using solutions ranging from TetraPak up-cycling and zero-waste car assembly to sustainable farming and eco-tourism in tropical cloud forests.
Further insights are provided by experts from the likes of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard, as well as from the corporate sphere by practitioners such as Mike Barry, Director of Sustainable Business (Plan A) at Marks and Spencer (M&S) and Christopher Davis, International Director of Corporate Responsibility and Campaigns at The Body Shop.
The varied experiences highlighted by the film demonstrate that there is no “one size fits all” approach and making the shift to circularity will not be easy. However, Closing the Loop argues that the move to a circular economy is not only essential and urgent, but also entirely possible. The film encourages viewers to draw inspiration from pioneers such as those featured in the film and scale up similar business models, product innovations, and customer solutions around the world.
Screenings have been scheduled in Belgium, Malaysia, Kosovo, Croatia, South Africa, and the UAE, with more being planned for Ecuador, Germany, Mexico, Singapore, Switzerland, the UK and others to come. The filmmakers invite anyone interested in hosting a screening event to get in touch with them through the film's website, closingtheloopfilm.com.
“We can now use 30 years of climate change as a true innovation engine,” Braungart said. “We can reinvent all our materials to be ‘good’ from biological or technical systems. We now have the expertise. Together, it’s now time to act.”