A journey lasting 17 months, covering 22 countries and 100 innovative initiatives… That’s how the world tour of the circular economy looks, undertaken by Jules Coignard and Raphaël Masvigner as part of their Circul’R project, supported by SUEZ. Here’s an interview and initial assessment after six months on the road. Credit: Circul’R
Can you tell us a little about your story so far?
Jules: I hail from the Basque coast, and I studied at the Toulouse Business School after a business preparatory class. In 2012 I joined Airbus, first in Toulouse, then in Mexico where I had a management position in procurement at Airbus Mexico. That’s where I met Raphaël.
Raphaël: I myself hail from the Ile de France region. After a preparatory class, I matriculated at Sciences Po Paris as part of a dual degree with a Brazilian establishment. I did my Master’s in São Paulo before joining Airbus in São Paulo for an international corporate volunteer placement (VIE) in the marketing department. I spent the second year of my VIE in Mexico City, in the marketing department of Airbus Mexico.
How did the Circul’R project come about?
Raphaël: When Jules and I met, we quickly realised that one of our common interests was the environment. We also had a shared desire to launch our own project. During our discussions, we realised that the two major environmental challenges we face are the depletion of natural resources and increased waste. However, as we saw over in Mexico, many solutions to these challenges do exist. We talked with various stakeholders, specifically the Institute of Circular Economy in France, and we decided to work on a project dedicated to the circular economy, which aims to use resources intelligently and produce less waste.
What objectives did you set for this project?
Jules: Our objectives are threefold:
– To identify 100 circular economy initiatives – we have already seen 60 in six months!
– To put the promoters of these initiatives in touch with each other, so as to develop a worldwide network of leaders in the circular economy, to create synergies and to strengthen dialogue between all these operators. In the long run, we hope to create a digital platform to support this network;
– To raise awareness among the public at large about the circular economy, since we know the role consumers can play in helping companies to evolve.
Raphaël: in terms of awareness, we try to organise a conference in a university in each country we visit, so we can talk with students. We have already organised 10 such conferences, and the discussions are always very fruitful, and quite different from those we may have with entrepreneurs, for instance.
At the same time, we make a video report in each country and write about the initiatives that have really impressed us.
After several months on the road, which initiatives have impressed you the most?
Jules: one of the furthest developed initiatives we have seen is the Interface company in the Netherlands. It has managed to post turnover of €1 billion with a concept of infinitely recyclable carpets. It supplies the carpets to companies by way of leasing, and has set itself an ambitious goal of zero environmental impact by 2020…
Raphaël: in terms of emerging countries, we realised that the circular economy must work in tandem with poverty reduction, and that some models are able to combine both aspects. This is true of Redisa in South Africa, which collects and recycles tyres while creating jobs in the townships of Johannesburg. They have already collected 250,000 tonnes of tyre waste, and created 170 small businesses and 2,500 jobs in the townships. This is an example of a model that combines the circular economy with the social economy.
How do you plan on continuing the adventure once you return?
Jules: during the four months following our return, we will organise workshops particularly in the companies that supported us, in order to highlight the innovative initiatives we discovered. We will also continue our university conferences, and organise a photo exhibition.
Raphaël: in the longer term, we would like to turn this adventure into an entrepreneurial project. We noted that in emerging countries there are several successful business models regarding the circular economy, but they lack funding. Though these funding requirements are sometimes small, such sums can be difficult to amass in the countries in question. We are therefore thinking about how we can link together investment funds and these project promoters.
We would like to say a big thank you to Jules and Raphaël for talking to us, and we wish them all the best in their great adventure!
To follow their journey, visit www.circul-r.com and Twitter (@CirculR)