Lessons learnt from the school of Ellen MacArthur

Circular economy student Chidi Ofoegbu recently participated in the first Schmidt-MacArthur summer school and has since returned to South Africa to continue his studies in this field. He talks to Maxine Perella about the experience

What first sparked your interest in the circular economy?

The prospect of acquiring new skills and evolving a new way of business thinking towards effective and efficient use of resources. After reading up a few articles on the principles of the circular economy model, I was quiet convinced that this idea will be massive for the natural resource dependent African economy.

What potential do you feel it has to transform the way society deals with waste?

The uniqueness of the closed loop approach of the circular economy business model in helping companies to restructure their supply chain reflecting the impacts of each production decision on downstream characteristics will have great impact in reduction of waste generation. More so business thinking of circular economy model that promotes the reuse and recycling of products will help society to begin to see waste as resource for manufacturing and employment creation.

Prior to participating in the first Schmidt-MacArthur summer school, what were your hopes for it on a personal level?

I was of the thought that the summer school will provide me with more insight on the practicalities of the circular economy model. I was hoping to learn of case studies that demonstrates the benefits and practicalities of circular economy model. Also from the academic side of view, I was hoping to gain understanding of methodologies and design of circular economy projects especially as relates to natural resource management.

I was also thrilled by the prospects of networking with the brains behind the circular economy – I was excited with the prospects of meeting people with the same passion and from diverse background. I was hoping to learn how the circular economy relates with crosscutting issues of sustainable development.

Did it meet your expectations?

I am satisfied with what I was able to get out of the summer school. I will say that about 80% of my expectation was well met.

What was the most interesting message you took home from the summer school experience?

It’s working. Though the circular economy business model is quite new and possibly with some uncertainties, but the experience of the people who dared to take initiatives proves that it’s working. We need to rethink our approach towards sustainable use of resources.

Did you meet Ellen MacArthur and if so, what was your impression of her?

I had the opportunity for close chat with Ellen MacArthur. I am amazed at Ellen’s positivity, her courage to dare even the unknown. I believe her positivity is a good motivation for all the fellows, if we can dare to make a change, I believe circular economy model will transform our business world. I must say that Ellen is an inspiration for all who want to affect their world positively.

How do you feel the summer school experience will benefit you on a professional level?

The exposure, knowledge and experience I got from the summer school will make me a better professional. Having the opportunity to learn a new way of approach towards efficient and effective resource utilisation during the summer school, I believe this will enhance my career development.

Considering that my background is in forest and natural resource management coupled with the fact that most of the African countries economies are dependent on natural resource utilisation, I strongly believe that the summer school has offered me a platform for amazing career advancement.

How will the lessons learnt from the school inform your research on the circular economy going forward?

The summer school has been beneficial in providing me with ideas; skills and insight on how to successfully complete my circular economy innovation project (CEIP). The interaction I had with my mentor (Dr Paul Burgess) and other mentors during the summer school gave me the basic information and knowledge that I need for a smooth take off of my CEIP.

By evaluating the various circular economy projects on natural resource utilisation, I hope to gather lessons that are applicable to the African economy and adopt strategies and plans that will feed into my CEIP and future circular economy research studies.

In terms of a career path, where do you see your studies taking you ultimately?

I am really excited about my CEIP because I am convinced that this study will open doors of opportunity for me. I believe that my CEIP will help forest industries in Africa address the challenge of timber supply shortage while promoting efficient and effective utilisation of timber resources. This of course will provide other added-benefits such as environment protection, biodiversity and conservation.

What aspects of the circular economy interest you the most?

I am thrilled by the closed loop approach of the circular economy model to resource utilisation. This has great prospects for job creation and reduction of waste generation which I believe is of strategic importance to the African economy.

What do you feel are the particular research challenges that need to be undertaken in order to scale up the circular economy at a business level?

I think the challenge is sector dependent. For the forest business sector within the context of the African economy, I think the challenge is more on lack of demonstration/pilot project that investigates/demonstrate the applicability and prospect of the circular economy model in the African forest industry sector.

I feel pilot studies such as analysing methods/strategies for recovery of waste wood and lifecycle analysis of woody biomass with view of promoting use and reuse of wood will help in setting the ball rolling for willingness to participate in circular economy projects. I believe that if these are done it will help scale up interest and more studies in the application of the circular economy model in forest business in Africa.

How optimistic are you that the circular economy will one day become a reality on a global level?

The values and thinking of the circular economy model are well appreciated across all sectors. And given the emerging realities that we cannot continue our current pattern of resource consumption, I am very optimistic that sooner than we think, circular economy model will become the model of choice for all businesses.

Chidi Ofoegbu works as a forestry and environmental management consultant and plans to embark on an MSc in Economics for Natural Resources and Environmental Management in October, where the majority of his project work will relate to the circular economy. Ofoegbu gained access to the Schmidt-MacArthur summer school through his studies with Cranfield University, which is a core partner in the Schmidt-MacArthur Fellowships.

Maxine Perella is waste editor at edie

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