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free the circular economy!


“Open source” originally refers to a computer software development methodology.
It is based on the notions of free access, free modification and free distribution of the source code written by the developer. The goal is to give everyone the possibility to enhance software, which gets even better and reaches more users.

In 2014, Lars Zimmermann set up the OSCEdays (Open Source Circular Economy Days) network, with this idea: what if we applied these same principles to other fields than software?


Meeting during a local event in Berlin, Germany

Meeting during a local event in Berlin, Germany – Credits: OSCEdays


OSCEdays is a global platform where ideas and processes are shared in an effort to offer a collective response to the challenges of the ecological production of new goods and services. It promotes the circular economy and its values by organising local events attended by anyone who wants to innovate in sectors as varied as waste management, sustainable design or responsible fashion. The goal is to favour responsible consumption and sustainable production by creating local communities capable of taking concrete innovative actions.

open_resource magazine set off to explore the rich mesh of this network.


Designing products that are easily recyclable

Artist, economist and multiple-entrepreneur of German origin, Lars Zimmermann is a curious man. As early as 2009, he considered forming an innovative community, whose principles would be based on those of “regenerative design”. This notion comes from the world of architecture and refers to modes of designing material goods, of which every single component part is 100% reusable. In his efforts to develop a market for entirely recyclable products, Lars Zimmermann took this principle even further, by claiming that manufacturing or repair plans, be they for chairs or washing machines, must be “open”. He started off by talking about “open regenerative design”, before realising that he was simply adopting two concepts that already existed: the circular economy and freeware.The OSCEdays community, or Open Source Circular Economy days, was born.

It is based on an “open” philosophy and the design of circular goods and services. Just like open source software, circular products must also be “open”, so that they are easy to remake, redistribute and recycle. To bring the community to life, he needed to bring together groups of designers, inventors, NGOs or citizens who would be attracted by his vision.


Open source bicycles and collaborative smartphone repairs

XYZ Cargo are two- or three-wheel cargo cycles that are produced and distributed according to the principles of the circular economy. Developed by a group of artist-architects based in Copenhagen, Denmark, the bikes’ design drawings are made public, in line with the principles of open source. So anyone can make, modify or reinvent them. Elsewhere, thanks to the IFixit platform, anyone can produce manuals and tutorials that are legally hacked and then shared in order to repair smartphones. In another example, Shower Loop develops and sells a water-saving device for showers and other unpatented solutions that households can use to keep tight control over their domestic water consumption. These projects create open and circular economic models, based on a do-it-yourself philosophy. “These are typical OSCE projects“, comments Lars Zimmermann, whose platform aims precisely to act as a catalyst for these concrete experiments.

Every year, a worldwide event is held in Berlin, which is the home of the team of organisers. It is simultaneously engaged with other very active communities in Bogotá, Cape Town, Chicago, Guéret (France) and Singapore. In 2016, around 70 towns and cities joined in hackathons to collectively solve a major problem, workshops to exchange and share new know-how, conferences and demonstrations of solutions that have already proven their relevance and efficiency. But OSCEdays extends beyond this event and takes other forms too. Anyone can continuously participate in the forum and the guide to circular solutions on the online platform. It is also possible to organise events and develop local communities under the OSCEdays banner, either in close cooperation with the Berlin-based team, or independently. All these initiatives come together to form a fluid, decentralised and open network.


Creation kit for a circular compost provided whithin the OSCEdays community

Creation kit for a circular compost provided whithin the OSCEdays community – Credits: OSCEdays


Building the circular economy with the makers

Today, OSCEdays is trying to step up its impact and to demonstrate the movement’s capacity to change society. The goal is to join forces with communities living in the “age of making”, after this period when we are rediscovering the virtues of crafts and DIY. These new makers get together in collaborative design and production workshops, called fablabs or makerspaces. Their principal purpose is to document solutions that work. From that point on, anyone can test and implement the solutions locally and create new communities. In 2017, “documentation jams”, or intensive collaborative writing sessions, were introduced to speed up the process. For example, Food Systems Lab, a social innovation laboratory combatting food waste in Toronto, uses these events to share its methods and gather other points of view. In these sessions, other makers publish their manual for such and such an object designed using circular practices on the Wikifab platform, often referred to as the “DIY Wikipedia”. They can also work on the documentation of projects developed by other members of the community.

These laboratories, which are open to everyone, all share the same goal: to share forums, machines and skills in order to collectively produce objects and organise diverse projects. As Lars Zimmermann has noted himself, these communities, which are already well established all over the world (the global Maker Faire event was first held in 2006), appear to be increasingly aware of the notion of circularity, especially when it comes to eco-design and recycling. Online exchanges between makers and ecologists interested in the circular economy, two communities that are very close, are becoming more and more common. So why not converge completely in the future?

“The principles of freeware may not be the only way”, argues Zimmermann. “But they look like the most convincing way to me. It’s more a matter of asking questions than giving answers, of making sure that every player, from big corporations to individual citizens, joins the movement. In any case, a whole lot of transparency is needed to create a circular economy”. And a good dose of hacker philosophy too. Or, as the famous definition says, how to make toast with a coffee maker.



This article was published in the fourth issue of open_resource magazine: “The circular economy era

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