Saturday, 26 July 2014

Article: How circular economies put need before wants

If you think that a circular economy is an ideal that does not exist already you are wrong, it does but only partially. Taxation is the vehicle by which governments supply funding to communities for housing, health, transport systems, energy, security services and much more. Provision of funding for communities is common place but it is more clearly and comprehensively executed by social enterprises than by any government since civilisation began.

The difference is that governments do not have the time to outline in detail how money for communities is spent.If they were to take control of it I suspect they would become deeply unpopular because governments also do not have the time or resources to understand every single need that needs fulfilling. They are not able to raise enough funds to cover everything as excessive taxation goes down like a lead balloon. They are also  not on the front line daily to ever be able to get to grips with what is really needed, we are.

It therefore becomes a necessity for each of us to take responsibility for every bit of funding we get to make things work smoothly. I believe the primary role of any ethical democratic government should be to ensure that as few people of possible are missed out with regard to being able to function at all. If people do not have access to the means to be able to function then problems soon escalate. Needs increase to the point that it costs ever more time, money and resources to combat them.

If governments don't provide ways for people to afford housing it results in more homeless people which in turn increases the risk of disease, which increases the need for more medical services and the same is true of food and and clean water supply. Governments should not be there to encourage persecution and profiting from other people's misfortune by making it easier for businesses to take advantage of the most vulnerable and deprived.

There is little point in stopping irresponsible lending on mortgages if you are merely going to exchange it for irresponsible lending in another form such as loans at 2000% APR. In developed countries most people can afford 50% interest but the poorest throughout the world cannot even afford that initially. This is why it  is always best not to lie about financial situation. Assuming you will suddenly become successful when you have no irons in coals to make that happen is not going to help either. It's best to be realistic and to work with what is known and provable. History has proved that irresponsible lending of any kind directly leads to economic crisis after economic crisis which in turn results in the poorest becoming even poorer.

A charity's soul reason for existence is to consistently aid people in dire need by practical rather than financial means. They are not there to manufacture or produce products and services for all, so many are are not and cannot qualify as social enterprises. We are fortunate that banks help charities as wisely they can see the long term benefits of doing so. We are less fortunate that advertising costs charities money which could be used to help people directly. Distinct from most charities, what social enterprises do is help alleviate basic needs by answering the naturally occurring demands of ordinary people while running as a business providing products and services to any and all who want them. A percentage of their work and profits is allocated to helping the most vulnerable via a myriad of ways either directly or indirectly.

To me the experts of a circular economy in action are social enterprises. By providing products and services to all while enabling the more vulnerable among us to integrate and function can only ever result in a win win situation. When people are able to function within society they are then in a position to spend and take out loans that they can afford. They are in fact the untapped customer base for the future. Are they likely to choose to buy from those who have helped or hindered their lives though. The answer is obvious so long as they are well informed as to what is a fair deal on anything. Financial literacy soon becomes paramount to all.

The best social enterprises not only keep a close eye on market forces but, more crucially keep an even closer eye on what people need to function more easily. The latter informs them on how to respond to the former and results in many innovative ideas for new products and services to benefit all. They don't tend to enter into false claims such as 'the majority of people have bad breath so it's best to buy mouth wash.' Nor do they produce products designed to fail to make you buy a replacement (planned obsolescence) or invent shampoos that make your hair greasy within a day so you have to use more of it. More commonly, they recycle as much as they can and some, fed up with waiting for energy companies not doing enough to make supply renewable, even go so far as to install their own energy supply so that everything is as sustainable as possible. Social enterprises do not create false needs or desires, but instead respond to what is actually being asked for. To me things should always have been this way and not as outlined in BBC2's documentary The Men Who Made Us Spend To me this is a must watch series. Click on the title to watch it.

It disgusted me to the core to learn that so many unsold new computers, phones and technologies at best gets shipped for recycling round and round the planet when it could be put to immediate use to enable our most vulnerable get connected to the world and function. Much of the content of this series I found shocking. Episode 2, highlighted how we are encouraged to fear for our health to buy products we don't need and tie up medical teams in unwarranted explorations of illnesses and diseases that we don't actually have. It is nothing short of the pinnacle of irresponsibility for businesses and their marketing teams to operate in such a manner. Those that conduct business this way in my view are a menace to our world for there are more than enough genuine needs that combat without creating fictitious ones that disturb us to generate unrest and panic.

I would like to challenge all businesses to try to help improve the lives of people a different way by first helping the most deprived in order to create new customers of the future. A way to do so is through donations of products and services to where they are most needed to charities and secondly to become a social enterprise. There's plenty of profit to gain from it but the difference would be that it was gained ethically and not to the detriment of all. It would be a refreshing change for the better I think to live in a world where everyone benefits from trading and supporting each other and where it is still possible to become wealthy through trading in such a way. Prior to social enterprises there were philanthropic businessmen who behaved in much the same way who were highly successful.

Will we a more complete form of a global circular economy it in our lifetime? That rather depends on us all wanting to make it happen and making it possible. I hope you decide it will be worth trying. I certainly believe that social enterprises in every industry sector throughout the globe are showing us already that it is possible and that it works.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Founder's Thoughts: Arty Facts

Wishing to take a break from worldly matters I've decided to return to the arts which is rather ironic as it always concerns itself with worldly matters. The arts have always been an outlet for human thoughts and feelings. It is where we find our fears and dreams and many an insight as to how to make both happen in reality. Unlike sports, the arts has and will always be an early warning system for troubles brewing, but in common with sport it provides an outlet for the relief of tension when they are upon us. Artists, like historians seem to be the keepers of information on past events pertaining to humanity's progress more than any other group.

My own stance is that art's greatest value is in being able to provide a voice to those who would otherwise have none. Via art we can heal by sharing our troubles and fears by working through them as well as expressing our hopes and dreams to find a way of making better things happen. From dance to drama, from music to literature and from to sculpture to painting, photography, print and embroidery everyone can and should be able to express what it is to be alive.

No artwork is ever quite complete without a response to it. We prove our existence by sharing experiences both good and bad and the arts enable us to do so relatively safely compared to other forms of dialogue. We seem to have greater options of control over who we choose to share things with when being creative as well as how we do so. Outside of counselling, art is the only place we explore ourselves and the world around us at the same time.

Artists in Training

The professional training of an artist in any discipline, is a curious process. Unlike any other profession the trainee artiste is encouraged to explore everything and make as many mistakes as possible so long as they take adequate precaution against injuries or death. Some are trained technically from the outset while others are trained to be expressive so that technique becomes secondary if applied at all.

Like anything else the more we do a thing, the better we become at it which goes a long way to explain why simply being expressive can result in being technically brilliant over a long period of time. Conversely, without thinking, a technically adept artist can become extremely expressive.

It is not surprising that artworks cause controversy, much of it is designed to. The artist both consciously and subconsciously questions just about everything. Rather like Socrates most artists tend not to bother with providing answers, preferring to complete their masterpiece by allowing you the audience to decide that thereby quite rightly relinquishing all responsibility for your response. In many respects I feel art's role is meant to be awkward, fickle and contradictory for it's purpose above all is to reflect what it is to be human and in the process query our morality and logic. Hence why all art is said to mirror life. The result of your response to an artwork reveals much more about you than it does the artist to which invariably the artist will respond. In that regard it is a perpetually beautiful circular relationship if at times frustrating for both parties.

Enabled while Disabled

As yet I haven't got round to crowdfunding for my kiln which is a pity as my home is rather awash with unfired pieces now, some more understandable and readily accessible than others. I seem to have got sidetracked by more pressing matters - I can't think why.

I'm not entirely sure what exactly I had in my mind when I made this piece. All I do know is that each time I experience it my response changes because whereas it doesn't change, I am always evolving. Artists are extremely changeable. Few realise why but it is simply because thoughts and feelings are transient unless and until we feed them. Best to be careful over which we feed. As human beings we are always changing as new experiences teach us new things to alter our perspective. If this wasn't true we would still retain the same attitude and behaviour as we displayed the day we were born. Sometimes I look upon a creative effort and pat myself on the back for the skill I have used, on another day I can look on the same piece and observe how much skill was lacking to make it.

We can all feel so sure no one could mistake what we've tried to convey to others only to find we've missed out on how they relate to the world. The result can be and often is that we find ourselves completely misunderstood. Our options is to try again if it seems worthy of our time and effort but it often requires a different approach, technique or angle to connect with beings even stranger than ourselves, even among our own species.

What relevance has this to worldly things? As every true scientist and artist knows every action has an equal and opposite reaction in nature. As human beings I feel we need to be careful to avoid violent extremes.
My personal view is that we should examine everything we do by both its merits and its short-comings before choosing what to do next. We should I think take time to learn how to communicate with those we wish to open dialogues with as a first step; more so from those who are never given much in the way of opportunities to express themselves at all. I think we could learn the most from them but then as an artist with scientific leanings I'm rather partial to exploring the unknown.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Article: Boffin's Booming Bin Business

Recently I was approached to write about where we are at with recycling and sustainability in the UK by a rather lovely foreigner. Rather than scrawl something for someone else I've opted for the freedom of my more wry take on the subject which I hope suits our British sense of humour.

First though I should like to point out that in my view all forms of recycling are a route toward sustainability, and with modern innovation I believe it offers huge possibilities to safeguard our future in terms of the raw materials that enable us to function in business and indeed financially. The money saved could, and I think should, be invested in community services by way of a safety net against any misfortune that any of us might encounter - not least health care provision, housing, emergency services and national security to support our armed forces. What follows is very much my overall impression of how we in the UK are responding so far with regard to recycling with an strong hints of what else we could consider trying.

Recycling UK style

Here in the UK we are very quaint about everything we do and recycling is no different.

On the domestic front our local councils collect our rubbish once a week; in recent years once a fortnight it is recycled rubbish that is collected where I live. We are asked to separate out our paper from our tin and aluminium cans, our compost from our plastics and I think most of us do so now. Some councils collect glass, some do not. Our councils have dumps for when we have a major clear out. We cart a lot of rubbish to these (usually on a Sunday) from old mattresses, to batteries and rubble. If you go there with a van you will be charged for dumping rubbish more often than not so sadly some small businesses end up fly-tipping (dumping it in the countryside) which costs millions of pounds a year to clear up. Some members of the public at the council dumps separate out their rubbish, some still do not. Council staff, having no time or remit to sort it for them have to resort to unsorted rubbish being buried in landfills as of old which is what happens to all rubbish we don't know how to sort.

What happens to the recycled things the average British citizen is not quite sure. We are told it all goes to recycling plants, but we seldom hear of new ones being built. There are many complaints when they are as despite there being many disused industrial site throughout the UK, recycling plants along with new power stations seem to regularly end up being built somewhere brand new on virgin soil as the cost of cleaning up the pollution of disused industrial sites is often deemed too expensive. It probably seems so... in the short-term. We Brits don't seem to like to think about anything long-term if we can avoid it. 

Most of our supermarkets have overflowing glass recycling bins. Our local Fire station has a bin for clothing to raise money for its charity. And every week arriving through our letterboxes are plastic bags to fill to donate clothing and shoes to other many other charities from Air Ambulances, the NSPCC to Cancer Research and Disaster relief - we are not short of choice. We also have many charity shops who will gladly accept furniture, ornaments, DVDs, shoes and clothing. Some, but not all, will accept electrical equipment and try to get it to work again to raise money and to equip homes for our poorest residents - those that have a roof over their heads, many don't. Many people use Freecycle to donate items for free to any who want them or to ask for items they need but these are usually not antiques.  If things are vintage, retro or antique then items get taken to specialist shops and auctions. 

It would help if packaging of every kind was more easy to sort and not a mix of materials such as plastic, card and foil we find in juice cartons, as many of us are baffled as to which recycle bin such items belong in. The sheer size and quantity of packaging used to protect foods has become ridiculous with containers the size of a fry pan for a single Chelsea bun. Apparently we need it for the increase of information that is required. The fact it is often incomprehensible and that you need a magnifying glass to read it is neither here nor there. There was a time when no such labels existed on packaging at all but with an increase in allergies of all kinds everything merits warnings these days, so much so that soon what the food item is likely to get missed off the packaging some day soon. A sensible option would be to highlight food ingredients on a notice board where it is in the shop in legible type, but sensible ideas don't seem to be fashionable just now.

Industrial innovations

In the building sector there are superb innovations for using eco-friendly products and for building with recycled materials but these are often cost prohibitive for many and not used as standard. Most of our construction industry would need to be retrained to use these products. Old skills are slowly being revived such as building houses with modern versions of wattle and daub, straw, wood, clay and lime. Other modern innovations include sips (boards filled with a special foam) for insulation and strength and insulation from recycled paper.

We have dumps for old cars, and I assume aircraft, boats and trains. What we don’t have are people working as they do in developing countries to extract gold and other elements from mobile phones and other IT equipment. This is not surprising as we don’t believe in sweat shops and are not that keen on working conditions with no health and safety precautions whatsoever even though we complain when they are in place. That’s just part of being British though. We like moaning, queueing, talking about the weather, sport, food, music and fashion – it’s a tradition we like to maintain along with drinking tea.

As to saving energy, we seem to be busy building wind turbines and the additional gas and nuclear power station here and there. We could use water turbines under the sea with no danger to the wildlife because marine life is smarter than us anyway and avoid them, but I've not heard of us doing that. We’d rather carve up more of our countryside it seems until the whole of the British Isles hums and throbs to the unsettling noises of power generation. Modern nuclear power stations are said to be ‘mostly safe’. I think we’d prefer to know that they are totally safe but I guess we can’t have everything. I’m not sure that we’ve yet worked out how to get rid of nuclear waste but it seems we’ve decided to leave that one for future generations to deal with. We are exploring fracking now. Allegedly it’s safe. Funnily enough people said that about using fossil fuels and nuclear power so it remains a bit of a concern. The British people love being sceptical about just about everything. What we’re not so very good at is asking probing questions. We tend to leave that to the media and then panic when an issue comes up on the news after a problem has occurred.

Consumptive bad habits

Car usage does not seem to have gone down and most people still prefer petrol engines to anything else including using public transport, walking or cycling. We try to avoid sharing our cars when we can as we tend to chatter, party and argue in them as son as the engine is running. Our attitude seems to be that passengers in a car cause stress and potential injuries. Sometimes we get beyond running the engine when stationary and drive at great speed to the nearest traffic jam so that we can use our full range of expletives. It's a kind of protest against there being insufficient car parking spaces to create traffic jams. A few people insist upon driving under the influence of illegal drugs and alcohol to try to kill people when they find a traffic free road. Anyone who doesn’t use expletives when driving is considered an oddity and abnormal especially those who ride tandems with former news presenters. 

The mood is gradually changing toward recycling and sustainability but not very quickly. We Brits don’t have a tendency to change our habits very quickly unless it’s entertaining, profitable or in a national emergency e.g. because we’re under attack from foreign armed forces shooting bullets and exploding bombs on us...  much like America or any other democracy I believe. I think the best way to encourage people to recycle and opt for sustainable resources is possibly to turn it into an international competition to see who can save the most money and resources in the shortest possible time, but that’s my idea and they are seldom very popular. 

I recently suggested that people (particularly industry) should be fined for not recycling items which is not likely to be a popular idea at all. I also think manufacturers could do a lot to help reduce the amount of rubbish we generate by cutting down on packaging and entering into recycling things direct e.g. refilling milk bottles - as we used to when we had milkmen delivering to every household in the 1970s.  

What things are made from becomes a bigger nightmare for those in business and industry when we consider things like electronics, plastics, oils and metals. Are we to have labels informing us of what everything is made from soon? Our desire for everything to have a label was initially to document and help explain things, but the result is annoyance, apathy and confusion and no time to read anything at all. The fact that the latest technology uses some of the Earth's rarest commodities doesn't suggest that such things will be available for much longer unless we recycle what we have. Even commodities that are abundant such as iron come in many grades and forms, often mixed with rarer elements to become alloys and what we Brits don't know is how much of this ever recycled to prevent any of them running out.

It strikes me that it is only in times of global armed conflict that recycling becomes popular because then it is a necessity. Only then do we learn the value of each and every item and material we produce. Only then do we use our ingenuity to make the most of what we have. Sadly we have become a nation so used to our disposable items of luxury that it's become a massive undertaking to change our attitudes. We look to government to help but like so many nations, belly ache when it tells us what we could be doing ourselves to improve matters. Our parliament is beginning to move toward putting the matter back in our hands as it doesn't want the responsibility for which it is voted into office and paid handsomely for. It is well aware that our population of 60 million people never agrees on anything for more than five minutes and is looking forward to the day when we all beg them to take charge. In effect our politicians seem to be sulking because they don't feel loved or appreciated.  

To me the answer to becoming self-sustaining is to recycle and to use our ingenuity to maintain what we have already achieved. We just need to do so without being wasteful. In my opinion it would require a phenomenal collaborative effort from business, industry, our government and the public to do it, but I believe it is possible. It's preferable to moaning, bickering and worrying; it is preferable to running out of materials to work with. It is preferable to becoming poor - it is also preferable to entering into war again over the Earth's resources which I feel we should, after 2 millennium, all be sharing anyway. Have we forgotten the maxim "waste not, want not"?

 As any Yorkshireman knows... "where there's muck there's brass."

There are plenty of ways business and industry can take the initiative by ensuring that only recyclable products are on sale in the first place - a smart company is one that develops in that direction. I predict it is also set to be among the most profitable too. If nothing else, recycling, make do and mending saves money at every level and if we are to get clear of financial hardship for good it is prudent to invest in new products only when they are vital for a prosperous and secure future. 

PS: Boffin is a reference to a character from 'Our Mutual Friend' by Charles Dickens - his trade? Collecting rubbish.