The course consisted of many short videos with leading experts on various circular economy ideas and research directions. There was also alot of interesting online discussion spurred by questions that the instructors posed on various circular economy ideas.
One expert we heard from is Gwen Cunningham who is doing interesting work on Circular Textiles (or textile-to-textile recycling). Circular Textiles extends to things like remanufacturing carpets, but Gwen is particularly interested in remanufacturing clothing products so we can give them a second birth as a new high value clothing item (rather then downgrading them to cheap rags, mattress filler, insulation material, etc...). There are many technical and supply chain challenges in circular economics that are particular to the the type of product you are trying to close the loop on and in the case of clothing fabrics sorting them into homogeneous types of fabrics and breaking them down so they can be built up again are some of the main challenges which Gwen discusses in one of her short videos from the course.
In many industries that adopt a circular economics approach to product development, the business model can potentially shift from consumers buying your product to leasing your product instead. In the case of circular textiles, it would be possible to offer customers the opportunity to lease a pair of jeans for, say, a year or two and after that time have your jeans disassembled, the textiles broken down into their basic constituents, and then reassembled to be leased again by you or someone else. It is fairly easy to see that circular textiles allow for the possibility of creating a much more sustainable fashion industry rather than the industry we have today where a small percentage of clothing is reused, but most of it is either downgraded or landfilled.
It would appear that in North America we are somewhat lagging in our circular economy research and development activities compared to Europe. Integrating circular design and economics into our industries is going to be an important way to achieve our sustainability goals. If you want to learn more about some of the foundational ideas of circular design and economics I would recommend you check out videos from the recent Disruptive Innovation Festival that was designed to coincide with the Circular Economics course and was another reason why I thought this was one of the better online courses to participate in. Videos from the festival are still available to view for a limited time so register now and check them out if you are interested. The festival twitter account is also still quite active with interesting posts.
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