How media can influence the adoption of the circular economy concept

Environmental journalist and founder of GoCircular, Maxine Perella, shares insights on how the media can influence and promote the adoption of the circular economy.

I first became aware of the circular economy back in 2010, when the Ellen MacArthur Foundation started to champion the concept. To design waste out of our industrial systems is quite imaginative. But it’s also hugely challenging. If we can do this, it’s a great story. Even if we try, and ultimately fail, it’s still a great story. Why? Because we will have learnt so much going through this whole process. Already businesses are innovating in ways they wouldn’t have dreamed of 12 months ago. The circular economy is a real game-changer. I’ve written about it nearly every day for the past five years and it’s still incredibly current.

Over the years the concept of the circular economy has been getting a lot of air time and it’s starting to mainstream. Popular broadcast media – such as the BBC and CNN – are now picking up on it. But really, the circular economy should be sold differently to the public. The term itself sounds too complex and intellectual. We need much simpler messaging; we need to talk about products having a lifetime of adventure, or carrying memories that can be handed down to different users, rather than how durable or reusable they are. Leave the lifecycle assessment stuff to the boffins.

Big corporates have, without a doubt, been the most receptive to the concept of the circular economy. To their credit, they are really leading on this agenda. They see the benefits in terms of safeguarding raw materials in their supply chains, which is a major driver. Making this work commercially, however…there’s still some way to go on that. The waste management industry has also been very vocal about the role they can play, but the circular economy presents a double-edged sword to them. If they get this wrong, some of their materials recovery facilities could ultimately end up as stranded assets.

The media plays a hugely valuable role in raising awareness about the circular economy. It has a certain responsibility, I think, to get the communication right on this one – as so much is at stake if we don’t change our linear systems. Generally, the media are fascinated with waste-related issues, but the coverage tends to be quite negative. It concentrates on the ‘dirty’ side of waste management such as litter and landfills. The circular economy presents a great opportunity to flip this on its head and report on the sexier side of material use: upcycling, sharing assets, gamification and other internet-enabled solutions like product passports.

Storytelling is a crucial mechanism for raising awareness and this is why the GoCircular platform I founded published a digital booklet last year called, ‘It’s the circular economy, stupid’. It features 10 tips to break the ice on public engagement. It’s free to download, so I’d suggest looking at that as a starting point: www.gocircular.com/research.html