Circular Economy, mottainai, kintsugi and data

In recent time I am quite often asked about Circular Economy and Data. What is needed, if blockchain is the next hit, what kind of software or usecases will come.

I guess there is a huge misunderstanding what Circular Economy is and that many players try to “circularize“ their products like they’ve done it with “sustainability“ to stay in biz.

Circular Economy is a system, a mindset and the opposite of linear economy.

Left is Linear Economy, right is Circular Economy

The most important in Circular Economy is the product and how it has to change.

Means: products have to be designed with a different purpose than now. Quality instead quantity.

A circular product has to be made of durable materials or replaceable materials, that are part of the Circular Economy. 

Durable because Sharing Economy will be a huge part of circular and we should use the products longer. This efficient usage is an important part to manage co2 during whole lifetime. Not just looking at the production emissions. Fire & forget.

The product should be reusable. Not a fast product, but a longer lasting and helpful product. When the product cannot be repaired anymore or upgraded to extend its life, or used in another way, recycling and full control of the source materials are necessary. 

Also some kind of modular design would be helpful.

These new products will have a longer lifecycle due to repairability, avoiding obsolescence.

New materials that come from renewable or recycling are preferred. Circular Economy mostly embeds the idea of minimalism.

The longer a product is in use, the better the co2 footprint becomes.

Now to the data part.

Circular Economy is based on transparency. 

For recycling, product data has to deliver the full overview of materials and its components. I prefer to speak in this context about mottainaiThe term in Japanese conveys a sense of regret over waste; the exclamation “mottainai!” can translate as “What a waste!”

For repairability the design info, technical data, maybe 3-d print files, source code etc is required to become part of the product. Again a reference to Japan: Kintsugi as a beautiful philosophy to repair and reuse things. To celebrate them.

Co2 emissions are „just“ a label that can be put into a database or printed on the product itself. BUT this is nothing reliable, see diesel gate from 2015 and many other greenwashing scandals. Also efficiency labels are… just paper. As long no one can verify these informations, they stay marketing nonsense.

Price info is also just of interest for the procurement and manufacturing. Maybe to compare with competitors, BUTCircular Economy has another focus. Our economy and profit orientation needs this data to get the lowest price for biggest profit. The customer has no direct benefit. 

Ownership and documentation history of product / components is „just“ another documentation and mostly not worth the paper printed on.

One automotive tried some use cases to document, trace and make (internally) „transparent“ where the raw materials come from. BUT most of the data can be falsified, the QR code is just the package etc. so in fact you track the package and not the content.

Experiments with molecular trackers did not worked, because material department needs a specific purity of the materials. The trackers were seen from material science perspective as “dirt“ and were filtered out.

Blockchain (it does not matter which one, even if Hyperledger Fabric) is the absolute opposite of the Circular Economy idea. The blockchain concept itself is based on transparency and participation which enables immutability. Control through the crowd.

Every alternative „corporate“ blockchain interpretation lacks on transparency. Hyperledger Fabric gives the company (aka the owner) the control of what data can be seen. This is not transparency but information hiding. 

Second: the consumer has to trust the corporate blockchain system, because it’s intransparent and can be manipulated by the owner.

Additional: Blockchain is energy consuming, requires an infrastructure etc. while Circular Economy is based on minimalism. Blockchain use cases are over complex.

Circular Economy products should rather be cloud independent, having minimal compute capabilities, high efficiently programmed and upgradable. Cloud bound products often violate data privacy and data sovereignty, require a cloud data center, locks in the user etc. Using blockchain is mostly just marketing BS to pretend being one of the hypercoolinnovation dudes. Blockchain is good for cryptocurrencies, transparency use cases and smart contracts. 

Btw same with AI. In most cases the AI could be easily replaced by an excel macro.

Supply chain traceability => see the example with trackers.

Data should support the Circular Economy NOT enabling new biz models with CE as a new cool logo.

One Circular Economy positive use case is life cycle prediction. A product with embedded sensors that show the real usage to the product to the user, not to the manufacturer. Sharing of products could be based on such sensors and smart contracts to optimize the usage of products.

The embedded compute power when not used, should be able to share its compute resources. Embedded distributed computing…

During the creation of products, distributed and/or shared manufacturing should be preferred to avoid unnecessary JIT. Additive manufacturing can become a huge enabler in this area. Shipping parts across the planet to get the best price and to irresponsibly damage our infrastructure is an outdated biz model.