Google’s Eric Schmidt: ‘Circular economy ideas still not good enough’

Not enough innovation is being applied to scale up regenerative strategies that could power the circular economy on a global level, Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt has stressed.

Schmidt, who was speaking at a co-hosted lecture with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in London last week (June 19), said that a lack of systems thinkers with the ability to break out of linear mindsets was holding back opportunities in this field.

“If you take a look at the circular economy, our ideas are still not good enough. We need the next level of innovation to create the subtle strategies needed to scale this up,” he told delegates.

“We need to find people who can do multiple things, who can solve systematic problems – and invest in them,” he argued.

Schmidt pointed to “open-minded scientists” as a particular group of people who could potentially transform thinking and leverage their skill set to accelerate change.

“When you think about the circular economy, information is the key enabler – mapping out material flows, data mining and exchange,” he noted.

Schmidt emphasised the role of the internet in contributing towards this, by providing a global portal to support the reorganisation of energy, resources and business.

“For Google this is a pretty big deal,” he acknowledged. “Our role is to promote this discussion and provide a platform for dialogue.”

According to Schmidt, much of the expertise needed to move forward to the circular economy is tied up in the behaviour and actions of the world’s next three to five billion people who don’t yet have access to digital technologies.

When they do come online within the next five years, he said, this could present real opportunity to empower them to make the right decisions, such as aspiring for higher quality lifestyles that carried “less carbon loading”.

He also warned against putting too much faith in policy or regulation to help create the right market conditions – more likely, transformational change will come from businesses being disruptive or grassroots action.

“This is a B or C issue, not an A issue – it doesn’t drive votes. The governments are not going to solve this for us because their incentives are wrong. We need a bottom-up approach,” he maintained.

Schmidt was clear in his support of moving towards circularity, stressing it was the only option for a sustainable future.

“The regenerative economy is the only way to go [where] ultimately, goodness will have a brand. We don’t have another planet to move to – at least not yet.”

The circular economy is a central strand of our own Resource Revolution. Access all the learning so far from our campaign here

Maxine Perella

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