Circular Design Series

SAP and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation came together to discuss the global circular economy. Brands, independent designers, experts and activists joined forces to discuss how they have made the Circular Economy central to their work. In the frame were topics of plastics, fashion and food.  

A discussion addressing the urgent need to shift towards a regenerative food system based on circular principles.

“We should be in awe of the food system,” eating designer Marije Vogelzang tells writer, food critic and moderator Kitty Drake. “It's amazing that we have so many amazing kinds of varieties of food available to us. But often, people do not feel that they're part of it.” Especially, she says, if you use the word ‘sustainable’ - “they fall asleep!” In Vogelzang’s eyes, the key to moving towards a regenerative food system is making sure people care and feel involved in the first place.  

“I'm sure we can create lots of amazing utopian scenarios, systems, and designs for consumers. But if we do not activate consumers or enable this activation and instead continue to see them as kind of passive components in this world, then that's really useless. Instead, designers should create platforms using paradoxes from the food system which allow consumers to enter or engage and feel like they are part of the food system.” Crucially, she adds, it isn’t about telling them what is right or wrong, but simply allowing them the space to discover (or rediscover) the sense of wonder around food and how we eat it. 

Creating transparency and clarity is crucial, agrees HowGood co-founder and CEO Alexander Gillett, but making it simple is even more important.

“The things that we implement – scales that accurately reflect the food system for instance – need to be standardised and simplified so that people don't have to have PhDs to understand the differences.”

But how do we move towards a regenerative food system? Merijn Dols, Global Director of Open Innovation & Circular Economy of Food at Danone, makes the case for experimenting.

“We need to shift our culture away from a risk averse culture towards a culture of innovation. By only celebrating success, we're actually telling people between the lines not to try. Instead we need to work together, and share as many ideas as we can to get breakthroughs and start to really shift the system.”

Financial systems, he adds, have a significant role to play, too. Dols believes that the announcement of new asset classes on the New York Stock Exchange hold huge promise for the future of regenerative agriculture, especially through agroforestry.

Gillett believes internal changes at companies hold huge potential, too. “Once we make that kind of shift where companies are actively rewarding people within their organisations for making changes, you're going to see the acceleration of changes and the ability to solve problems we face today.”

A big part of that, he adds, is agreeing upon how we start to measure things. “It's more important that we're measuring them exactly right or exactly the same way. People are so focused on this idea of ‘perfect data’ that they forget that right now we're just not using data, we’re using our gut and our feelings. But if companies that are doing a better job start providing more data, then that will become the new norm. Declare the numbers of where you are now and where you're going to be in five years, and we'll hold you accountable.”