The Circular Economy
Businesses, governments, activists and institutions around the world are talking about The Circular Economy. Most recently at last week’s World Economic Forum in Davos.
The hope, of course, is that collectively we’ll all do more than just talk about it.
Since the beginning of the industrialised world, businesses and consumers have worked in an entirely linear way: Natural resources are extracted to make stuff. That stuff is purchased, used, and disposed of. The repetition of that process (built in obsolescence and re-buying new) underpins the global economy, so it’s no surprise that it has persisted.
Re-Use, Recycle, Resurface
Increasingly, we as a population are coming to understand that Take – Make – Dispose is (literally) unsustainable. The Circular Economy is a movement away from this traditional model. Unlike recycling, which only directly addresses the symptoms, the circular economy takes a more wholistic view encapsulating product design, production, consumption and re-use: Recycling being a last resort. Help is also at hand in the form of today’s economic trends in each of these areas, which are growing more supportive of a new way of thinking.
Global Supply: Resource prices are volatile, and materials costs are rising over the long term, most drastically where those materials are scarce.
Global Demand: Consumer trends toward pay-per-use (eg subscription), modularity and durability. (Check out Fairphone, and contrast it with the iPhone approach). Ease of trading pre-used alternatives (eg eBay or right here on Resurface).
Add to this factors such as Governments worldwide imposing more and more restrictions and legislation around waste and it becomes increasingly advantageous to re-use and to extend the life of the products we consume.
Plastics, in particular, are under the spotlight. At current levels of consumption and disposal, it is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
This according to an open letter from the New Plastics Economy, an initiative spearheaded by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Champions of the Circular Economy concept, the foundation was launched in 2010 with a mission to accelerate genuine progress toward these ideals, in partnership with brands such as Nike, Google, Coca Cola and Unilever.
Broadly, the Circular Economy concept is based on three principles:
- Design out waste and pollution
- Regenerate natural systems
- Keep products and materials in use
Naturally, the third of these is of particular relevance to Resurface and represents a contribution we and our community can make as individuals and businesses.
Audio Consoles and The Circular Economy
Taking as an example the industry-standard Avid Icon D Control, of which several thousand were manufactured and sold.
A considerable amount of resources are extracted in the manufacture of an Icon. Whether that resource is energy, metals, packaging – or more obviously – a shitload of plastic!
The passage of time has shown us, since the first Icon consoles entered use in 2004, that their natural useful life is far longer than their tenure as current product. Key components (faders being the best example) will wear out over time, but can be individually replaced.
Now that we’re five years past the launch of S6 as a successor, Icon is officially end of life. This means no manufacturer support is available, and no cast-iron guarantees exist around future compatibility with new versions of the Pro Tools software on which its functionality depends. This of course carries a risk for owners and buyers.
It is, however, a great (if somewhat niche) example of a resource-intensive product which can remain in productive use, and out of landfill.
Icon consoles are regularly bought and sold on Resurface, most often to customers who view their purchase as long-term. Many of these resource-intensive items are entering a second or third cycle of use.
The added benefit of designed-in durability is that residual values stay relatively high. For those investing in an upgrade to newer technology, the cash contribution from selling on Resurface is typically far higher than the discount available as a trade-in.
Two tenets of the proposed approach to product design which are central to the circular economy concept are De-materialisation and its sister-concept Virtualisation.
Essentially, each involves decoupling the product’s functionality from its physical parts: minimising or eliminating the number of components created in order for any given product to perform its job.
The more dematerialised and virtualised the product, the less power it uses to run, the slower it becomes obsolete and needs replacing, the less material is disposed of at the end of its life.
When compared with a traditional mixing console, the modern day control surface is highly dematerialised. A criticism of Icon and other virtualised surfaces, when first they came to market, was that they were ‘just a big mouse’.
Given their superior power efficiency and minimal component count, control surfaces were way ahead of their time, environmentally speaking.
In that sense, audio professionals who embraced ‘in the box’ and moved to control surfaces have already made a contribution to the circular economy. Certainly they’re part of the solution.
But why stop there?
In the grand scheme of things, we’re a drop in the plastic-strewn ocean – but that’s not the attitude if we’re to effect change. Unknowingly, for the most part, we’ve embraced a technology which is bucking the trend of disposable culture. These big bits of kit will last many times longer than the leases taken out to acquire them.
Meanwhile rumours surrounding the next MacPro are short on detail but do make mention of a more modular and upgradeable platform. If true, perhaps what we’ll see from Apple is something which is at least partly re-useable. Very on-message and a significant, welcome shift in approach which will benefit customers and the planet.
Product life extension is critical to the circular economy. When we’re finished with a hardware product, or our businesses and clients demand today’s equivalent, there’s another business that can derive productivity and profit from it. Resurface exists to make that happen.
Now that we’ve taken that vital first step together towards saving the planet, why not check out our buy page!