When online platform Circle Lab launched a beta version of its knowledge hub back in August 2017, it was toying with the idea of what open access could mean in the context of the circular economy (CE). Today, more than 1,000 case studies are openly accessible on Circle Lab, with 500 more to come in this month and 3,000 in the pipeline.
The progress the business has made is not only a testament to the global hunger for knowledge on the CE, but is also the product of a collaborative and agile approach fuelled by positive feedback loops. Illustrative examples of the CE in action are tremendously helpful in lowering the barriers to adoption and in making the concept more tangible to cities and businesses.
For example, when a fashion brand learns about how other fashion brands are sourcing recycled materials, it is more likely to be able to envision what circular change could look like in its own supply chains and operations, and so moves a step closer to adopting CE strategies.
But from conflicting definitions to different scopes, Circle Lab also found that information on the CE is extremely fragmented. Often gated behind membership-only communities or behind prohibitive fees, this information is not always readily available, impeding on the fast transfer of knowledge across borders and industry sectors.
With that in mind, the company decided to open up access to its knowledge base and get a first-hand look at the interests and needs of the CE community. Of its first 2,000 users, more than 65% indicated a strong need for more education on the subject; a desire to explore innovative strategies for their businesses; and wanted a network to reach out to and collaborate with.
By framing and categorising all case studies on Circle Lab using seven key elements of the CE identified by the platform, the specific strategies they entail and sectors they relate to, it is now easier for everyone to learn more about and see concrete examples that are directly relevant to their industry and interests.
This framework also provides an easy introduction to those less familiar with the topic, and assists them in navigating deeper into specific strategies that organisations around the world are putting into practice.
Beyond user needs, usage data from the platform during the past few months reflects global trends for new technologies and industries:
- Emerging technologies such as blockchain are gaining in popularity outside the tech industry and now make up some of Circle Lab’s most visited case studies, with the initiatives Bext360 and Provenance leading the way.
- The textiles industry – an unlikely but powerful pioneer in the circular economy, for example with the ‘Circular Fibres’ initiatives and the Copenhagen Fashion Summit – continues to generate significant interest from users.
- The geographical make-up of visitors to the site mirrors regions where the CE is increasingly gaining momentum, with the Netherlands, the UK and the US topping the list, followed by Nordic countries such as Finland, where the first World Circular Economy Forum took place last year, as well as Spain, whose circular cities ambitions are slowly but surely starting to materialise.
As the company prepares to launch an online tool for businesses to assess their circularity, it is eager to include other organisations on its journey through:
- Innovation Cities and companies interested in crowdsourcing circular solutions can host challenges on Circle Lab and make use of its growing community of users, its expertise and knowledge base to cast their net wide. Glasgow is already working on the incubation of three such solutions.
- Content Academic institutions, businesses and individuals have all approached the platform to host their own case studies and other resources; it welcomes any additions to the knowledge hub.
- Community-building Circle Lab’s mission and values have already struck a chord with many other organisations and are helping raise awareness through their own networks.
- In-kind and financial support With generous support from the eBay Foundation, a corporate advised fund of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Circle Lab was able to validate the market for and develop the first iteration of the platform. It is now testing out different revenue models to ensure financial sustainability, and welcomes any advice in the process.
Because collaboration has always been at the core of Circle Lab, it is always open to new and other exciting ways of working together.
Yasmina Lembachar is product marketing and community manager at Circle Lab