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6 May 2021

Part I: Is a Circular Economy Viable for Entrepreneurs and Brands, and How?

Jairek Robbins

Sashka Regina recently hosted a podcast episode at the Future Forward Hub on the circular economy and entrepreneurship. This episode featured Jairek Robbins, Stefan Mack, Martin Saahs, and Otto Reizinger. She started by giving a brief background of each of the guests and we captured the excerpts from the discussion.

Otto Reizinger worked with Sashka in Germany but Otto left to take a long sabbatical in order to think about what was important to him. He discovered that he was passionate about sustainability and circular economy. His earlier stints in the fashion, jewelry and retail world gave him a firsthand experience of how damaging those industries were upon the planet. He is now determined to help corporations and consumers consider circular economy and sustainability in all they do.

Stefan Mack is the department head of Small Medium Enterprises and Entrepreneurship at the University of Applied Sciences in Salzburg.  He is passionate about connecting students to others from whom they can benefit. He is zealous about entrepreneurship and his students will testify that he always advocates for a different way to approach things. His methodology entails pushing the envelope so that his students can think outside the box. 

Jairek Robbins can easily be said to have his middle name as “sustainability.” He has attempted to work in as many jobs as possible to gain insights into the minds of leaders, employees, tribes, chiefs to see what makes a business work or what makes humans work, or doesn’t. This makes him extraordinary, especially when you discover this almost killed him! Jairek works explicitly but not exclusively with CEOs and founders of multi-billion dollar corporations on issues like business structures, processes and also the mindset. For example, how a CEO needs to give up control in order to implement a circular economy and sustainability so that what you do not only serves you but also serves the planet and its inhabitants. 

Martin Saahs is the co-founder and CEO of two brands- one a winery and the other a beauty care line in Austria. While talking about the preparations for this podcast, a friend told me to include Martin since he is actually implementing a circular economy in his companies in Austria. He has been awarded the Demeter organic certification which is not only hard to obtain but also hard to keep. 

Circular economy is an alternative to the traditional linear economy. With the linear economy, you use resources and dispose of them. In contrast, a circular economy endeavors to keep using resources for the longest time possible before they are discarded. This allows maximum value to be got from those products, and once they reach the end of their lives, they are recovered for use in making other products. 

Why is a circular economy important?

Besides creating economic growth, a circular economy will;

So, Otto, let’s start with you. Why do you suggest that we ban the word “waste” from our vocabularies? 

It is because there is no such thing as waste. I suggest that we begin to think more about what we call waste, and by applying the principles of a circular economy, we can look at the causes instead of managing the effects through what is called waste management. 

If we apply these principles and waste is designed out of all products, services and processes, the materials will keep flowing through and biologically or technically our perception of waste will change. That is why I was suggesting we banish the word waste. So, everything has to be a resource for something else. That is how a circular economy actually helps.

As soon as waste becomes a resource, it obviously takes on a new meaning. I would like to change the perception of what people regard as waste.

When I say I don’t want to talk about waste, it is what it is. For example, when you look at Mother Nature, she has organized everything in a way that there is no waste. This has been the case for all the time life has existed (a billion years). I could call nature a successful model of a circular economy, for example. One species in nature is always the food of another one and all plants and animals are always dying and going back to the soil safely. There is nothing put in a landfill by nature. Our perception of waste has to follow the same route. 

Humans are the only species on earth that generate waste, and I would like to change our perception around this. 

Excellent stuff…now turning straight to Jairek, we know that businesses have foundation costs necessary to keep them afloat, and they have different regulations governing them in different countries, which makes a circular economy feasible or less feasible in different countries. In your view, what do you suggest for business owners to work through the mindset of not being able to make the positive impact that they desire because of these impossible legislations? How can they get around it, and what are the first steps they could possibly take?

Great question there! Well, there’s a couple of pieces one can think about. A great friend of mine did 500 years of research about how the world works. They looked at economies, they looked at legislations. For the country he focused on, it was the people ordained by God who made the laws, and it was the landowners who had all the money. And so what was going on was the landowners who had the money were donating or paying the people ordained by God to ensure that the money never disappeared from their coffers.

Now that system has gone on forever since there’s been people ordained or put in charge of making laws and there’s been people who owned the land and made a ton of money. And so part of the structural thing is, and we are seeing it in the U.S. right now, as different groups become in charge of new wealth, they start paying and investing in lobbying for the creation of laws that favor them.

For example, if you look at many of the laws, they are being driven towards the tech industry right now and as these come into effect, they are going to favor the people who have a ton of money. 

The reason why this is happening is that the politicians are making a ton of money, and this can be changed. In other countries, it isn’t allowed to do this kind of stuff, and I agree it shouldn’t be allowed. And so when you look at the psychology, there’s one school of thought that says, why should I even try to change that because I wouldn’t put a dent in that even if I wanted to.

However, there’s another psychological school of thought that says I am going to take that hand I am dealt, whatever the hand is, I will try and figure out how to play this to get the best possible scenario out of the pieces I have available to me.

And so the very first thing we do psychologically is just gauge where this person is and how we can be in position to help them reset their mind so that they can start believing that it is possible to win the game. Then we also look at the pieces and figure out how we can put those pieces together so that we can get them to win the game.

My dad read a book a long time ago in 1984 that said there are some things that are just not possible. For example, if you are 5 feet tall, you just aren’t going to win the NBA championship or win the slam dunk competition since there are people who are 7 feet tall who will wipe you out. And then that year, a gentleman named Spud Webb who was just about 5 feet tall won the slam dunk competition! The writer went back and rewrote the chapter in his book saying barely 3 weeks after he had written that it is impossible for a 5-foot person to win the slam dunk, someone went and did it, so he now admitted everything is possible!

The truth is, not everything is possible. But, if you start with the mindset that says it is possible, and I am going to do what it takes to figure this out, and then you go ahead and figure out how to put the pieces in the right place.

If you do the opposite and say it’s not possible for me and it is never going to work, then it is futile. You’re done before you even start, no matter how good the idea, no matter how great the position, no matter what.

And so psychologically, we’ve got to get them in the right position so that they believe it, and then we get their behaviors aligned and in motion so that they actually do the things that make a difference. 

The other thing we do besides talking about mindset is talking about behavior. You can have the best mindset in the world but if you are running in the wrong direction, then it will never work! So we have to start linking positive behavior to the right mindset. We help people figure out which sets of behavior will make a positive difference. 

There are a lot of people who are incredibly busy, but not very productive. Meaning they are spinning like on a hamster wheel on which they keep going round and round. We get them to remove all the busy work and focus on the one or two things which will move their business forward. 

What we do starts in the mind, and then moves down to the body and behaviors and movements. We help them figure out where they need to place the most attention to actually nudge the business across the finish line. We help them get focused on the most important things rather than scattering their attention upon so many things which lead them nowhere.

 With this approach, we get people to do things even in environments where regulations aren’t so conducive. In a moment where you feel it is impossible, all that is needed is to believe that it is possible and then select the right behaviors which will get things in motion. 

Related: 10 Ways to Add More GOODNESS to Your Life RIGHT NOW!

Love that, love that! To move forward, you need the right mindset and the correct behavior set to get it done. Now, Stefan, you work with small businesses that are trying to make a contribution. And you also see them struggling with limitations whether of mindset or behavior. In your opinion, what should visionary entrepreneurs who are undertaking a visionary mission such as attaining a circular economy be sure to implement with regard to a circular economy?

To me an entrepreneur is a mirror, a neutral person who rearranges the balls in a new way. I train my students not to be afraid to go into dark topics in order to see their (the students’) entrepreneurship come out. For example, I ask my students to go to jails and talk to the entrepreneurs there about how those entrepreneurs feel about the things that got them into jail.

I liked what Otto said, and I want him to change the term “waste” to “resources” because resources have an economic fuel. For example, if a mineral water maker sells 100 bottles of water, they have to buy back 100 empty bottles and that would be a great experience.

I am wondering when people will realize how valuable waste can be when viewed as a resource and then go out and collect it like no man’s business. 

In summary, I have problem with saying visionary entrepreneur because in essence, any entrepreneur is a visionary. I also have a problem with the way the circular economy is being viewed because it isn’t involving the people who create the waste. For example, a company which packages products in plastics should put money into getting back those plastics because they invested in creating them.

In the small family businesses I work with, I always try to find out the variables in their minds while working towards changing their mindsets and making them visionary. I like the ideas discussed by Jairek, because you cannot imagine what it is like to work with someone who is supposed to take over a family business and they say they have a great idea but it isn’t acceptable in their religion. It is so hard to watch. I am lucky I work with honest people who know what the problem is, and they have to change generations in one mind. 

Thank you, Stefan! Martin, you are actually implementing a circular economy with your two brands. Looking back on your journey after listening to this discussion so far, were these the challenges you faced when starting out with biodynamics and circular economy? Was it frustrating, did it seem insignificant, and how does it feel now after implementing circular economy? 

From my point of view, working with this philosophy of circular economy had a lot of problems for us in the beginning in our family business. My brother took over the winery almost 20 years ago and asked me to work there with him. We quickly realized that we have a lot of resources in and around our vineyards that we weren’t using at the moment or had never used before.

For example, most of the ingredients we use in our cosmetics were compost or “waste” for lots of years because people pressed grapes, used the juice and threw everything else away. I said I am going to create Demeter-certified cosmetics from organic grapes, but there was no chance to buy Demeter-certified grapes or grapeseed oil because there was none on the market. 

In the beginning it was a challenge of course because we had to create all those processes, get certified, conduct laboratory tests, and so on. We have more or less solved all those issues we had. In the beginning, it was really never about the circular economy.

Stay tuned for Part II of this amazing interview next week on our blog!

To Your Success,

Jairek Robbin



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