Nov 29, 2016 / by Guest / In Guest Blog, PPP Rapid Lab

Co-Creating Solutions to Complex Challenges in the Circular Economy

participants

“The electric light did not come from the continuous improvement of candles” – Oren Harari

In helping businesses move strategically towards sustainability, I study the necessary conditions that lead to the greatest positive sustainability results. While it is clear that there is no “one-size-fits-all” way to address sustainability challenges, I’ve found that co-creating solutions with a diverse group of actors leads to the longest lasting commitments and the highest likelihood of success.

It’s this process of co-creation that I find most intriguing about the Sustainability Transition Labs that I have played a role in designing and delivering with The Natural Step Canada.

The Circular Economy Innovation Lab (CEIL), the newest Sustainability Transition Lab, is a multi-interest collaboration that brings together private and public sector leaders to generate, test and implement circular economy solutions. In doing so we recognize that, to build on Oren Harari’s quote, we can’t generate and scale innovative solutions if we only collaborate in the ways that we are used to.

Co-creating new solutions is at the heart of CEIL’s first initiative, the Printed Paper and Packaging Rapid Lab. The Rapid Lab is a 3-month lab aimed at probing, learning and prototyping solutions that address the following question: How can we accelerate the transition to the circular economy in the printed paper and packaging system in Ontario? This question is complex in that there are evolving political contexts, changing socio-cultural norms, rapid technological innovation, and emerging business models. Given that these, and other, moving parts occur in perpetuity, it is impossible to generate a silver bullet solution. The task of the Rapid Lab, then, is to address the challenge less by thinking and more by doing. If all we do is research best practices and hear from the experts we’ll never invent the lightbulb, only improve the candle.

Innovation in a complex system requires a committed group of citizens willing to probe the system, prototype ideas, rapidly learn and then respond with an informed solution; the innovators are humble enough to know that the solution is never perfect and it will need to evolve over time. Thus, the better we can foster the conditions to test and improve (or discard) new ideas, the better.

Knowing that this journey is winding and non-linear begs the question, is there an end point? What does success look like?

“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable” — Seneca

Over that last 2 months, the Rapid Lab participants have been exploring and testing a shared vision of what success looks like in response to the convening question. They have been exploring and testing what barriers, opportunities and practices are currently occurring in the printed paper and packaging system. They have been exploring and testing what pathways are necessary to innovate within in order to accelerate the transition to a circular economy and they have been exploring and testing promising ideas that could very well result in innovative long-term solutions, and many might not.

Foundational to the success of this Rapid Lab is that the right people accept the call to action and work on these complex challenges. It requires individuals who are willing to share their experience and expertise, test and suspend their own judgments, be continuous learners and to, ultimately, work together to adventure and explore the future of the printed paper and packaging system. It is under these conditions that there is a shared sense of duty and responsibility to further inspire and enact what emerges from the Rapid Lab which are our best bets on what is most necessary to accelerate the transition to a circular in the printed paper and packaging system in Ontario.

The third and final Rapid Lab workshop will be held on Dec. 6th and will focus on ‘convergence and closing’. During this workshop the Rapid Lab will iterate upon and crystallize a shared vision, description of success, innovation pathways and a portfolio of ideas for accelerating the transition to a circular economy in the printed paper and packaging system in Ontario. These outputs will be the result of co-creation and when once shared more broadly will continue to be tested (and dare I say improved upon) by any and all interested actors in the printed paper and packaging system, or otherwise.

author_chris_lindberg The article “Co-Creating Solutions to Complex Challenges in the Circular Economy” was written by Matt Mayer. Matt leads the design and delivery of CEIL’s Printed Paper and Packaging Rapid Lab and is an Associate of The Natural Step Canada.