Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the Circular Economy?

Under today’s “take-make-waste” economy, materials move through a linear process of extraction, production, consumption and eventual disposal. This is inefficient, wastes valuable resources and poses risks to human and environmental health.

In contrast, circular economy strategies eliminate waste through the redesign, reuse and recycling of products and materials in interconnected systems and markets (“make-use-return”). These strategies deliver significant savings and benefits. For example, Accenture Strategy predicts a $US4.5 trillion reward, globally, for circular economy businesses models by 2030. (Learn more) 

2. What is a Sustainability Transition Lab?

The Sustainability Transition Lab (STL) is an approach developed by The Natural Step Canada to tackle complex social and environmental challenges that no one organization can address on their own (e.g. climate change, affordable housing). These large, systemic issues require public, private and not-for-profit organizations to work together to develop and implement solutions.

An STL works by engaging diverse stakeholders with both the will to act and the capacity to influence the system and challenge. We call them “labs” because the process involves developing, testing and prototyping new ideas, just as in a conventional science lab. The STL approach combines systems thinking, change lab methodology and leading-edge engagement strategies to catalyze business, financial, technological and social innovation.

The purpose of an STL is to generate tangible breakthrough results that shift a system toward sustainability. Results may take the form of, for example, changes in public policy, new programs or products, new standards or partnerships, or game-changing new business models.

Many organizations are experimenting (and succeeding) with different types of social and economic innovation labs. One central difference between STLs and other labs is that STLs are designed as a platform for stakeholders to “backcast” as a system. Backcasting is a way of planning that starts by establishing a vision for success and then works backwards from that vision to identify strategies and actions for achieving it. Backcasting is guided by the question: “what do we need to do today to reach our vision of success?”

To backcast as a system, representatives from the entire system – the printed paper and packaging sector for example – start by working together to develop a shared vision for the future. Once operating from this shared vision, lab participants are able to begin the real business of working toward it. The creative tension generated by a shared vision of a desired future is essential to driving innovation and collaboration among the participants. (Learn more about backcasting)

3. What is the Circular Economy Innovation Lab?

The Ontario Circular Economy Innovation Lab (CEIL) is a new program to bring together private and public sector leaders and innovators to co-generate, test and implement circular economy solutions. CEIL uses The Natural Step Canada’s proven Sustainability Transition Lab approach.

Over the next four years, CEIL will:

  • Manage a process and network to engage stakeholders, build knowledge, align efforts and inspire action on circular economy issues and opportunities,
  • Provide a platform for ongoing experimentation, innovation, and collaboration across sectors and supply chains, and
  • Deliver tangible breakthrough results that support the transition to a circular economy.

CEIL will deliver three streams of inter-related activity:

  • Leadership Stream – Workshops, learning journeys and other activities to engage public and private sector leaders to co-develop and test innovative circular economy solutions. Activities will be delivered in two main formats:
    • Rapid Labs (2-3 month processes on specific issues and topics)
    • Fellowships (12+month processes on the circular economy as a whole)
  • Organizational Engagement Stream – A mix of in-person and online workshops, events, courses, coaching and resources to share lessons and knowledge among participating organizations and their stakeholders.
  • Public Engagement Stream – Events, activities and articles to spark a new public dialogue on circular economy issues, challenges and opportunities.

In Phase 1 (June 2016 – March 2017) CEIL will deliver the following activities to lay the foundation for the program:

  • Conduct research on the circular economy to identify opportunities, challenges and best practices for Ontario
  • Engage leading individuals and organizations through a series of workshops and events
  • Deliver a Printed Paper and Packaging Rapid Lab
  • Recruit leaders for our 2017-18 Circular Economy Fellowship (Details to come)

4. What is a Rapid Lab?

A Rapid Lab is an intensive, short-term process that is focussed on a specific issue or aspect of the broader lab that it is a part of. For example, CEIL is focused on the transition to a circular economy as a whole and the first CEIL Rapid Lab is looking at just one part of this transition (printed paper and packaging).

Each Rapid Lab involves recruiting a group of 15-25 leaders to work together over a period of 2-3 months to address a specific issue or question. Participants move through a series of workshops, meetings and experiential learning activities to develop a shared understanding of the system, a vision for the future and a set of innovation pathways for achieving that vision.

5. Why Printed Paper and Packaging Materials?

The Rapid Lab will focus on the future of:

  • Printed paper (e.g. general use, bills, booklets, brochures, calendars, catalogues, flyers, greeting cards, magazines, newspapers, receipts, tissue paper, wrapping paper)
  • Primary and convenience packaging (e.g. beverage and food containers, take-out food packaging, paper and plastic bags, plastic films and aluminum foil)

These printed paper and packaging materials are everywhere and impact every sector and level of the economy. Many of these materials are highly recyclable or compostable and have a long history of successful diversion in Ontario, with an overall rate of >60%.

These materials pose both a tremendous opportunity and challenge for the transition to a circular economy. The Rapid Lab is particularly timely given the introduction of Ontario’s new waste management and extended producer responsibility legislation that will significantly impact this sector. (Learn more)

6. What is involved in the Printed Paper and Packaging Rapid Lab?

The Printed Paper and Packaging Rapid Lab will take place in the Fall of 2016. We will recruit 15-25 innovators and influencers involved with the production, use and management (e.g. disposal, recycling, re-use) of printed paper and packaging materials in Ontario.

Three workshops form the core of the Rapid Lab:

  • Workshop #1: A full-day workshop on October 5th, 2016 in the Greater Toronto Area
  • Workshop #2: A three-day workshop on October 25th, 26th and 27th, 2016 in the Greater Toronto Area
  • Workshop #3: A full-day workshop on December 6th, 2016 in the Ottawa area.**

In addition, participants should expect to spend an additional 15-20 hours during the program on readings, meetings and self-directed work related to the Rapid Lab.

Through the workshops, participants will work together to develop a shared understanding of the current state of the system and the opportunities (and challenges) for these materials in a circular economy. They will then develop a vision for the future of these materials and identify potential innovation pathways for achieving this vision. Throughout the process, they will work to co-develop, assess and test innovative circular economy solutions for this sector. These could be new policies, processes, products, partnerships services or business models.

** Note the date for Workshop #3 was changed from November 30 to December 6, 2016.

7. What is the benefit in being a Rapid Lab participant?

Based on The Natural Step’s experience with other innovation labs, the Rapid Lab participants will receive the following benefits:

  • Gain strategic intelligence and insights about the circular economy (particularly in paper and packaging) from the Rapid Lab workshops, site visits, research activities and peer-to-peer network.
  • Work with other Rapid Lab participants to co-develop and pilot ideas for accelerating the circular economy in Ontario (such as innovative products, services, policies, partnerships or business models).
  • Build a deeper, systems-level understanding of the circular economy, its players and inter-relationships, especially in paper and packaging.
  • Be part of an influential and supportive network of public, private and not-for-profit leaders committed to advancing the circular economy both within their organizations and in the province as a whole.
  • Develop leading-edge knowledge and skills to collaborate, lead and manage in an increasingly dynamic and complex environment.
  • Develop and enhance important relationships in an age of increased expectations for transparency and collaboration.
  • Play a major role in a high-profile initiative that will contribute to Ontario’s future.

8. How will participants be selected?

Online applications for the Rapid Lab close by 11:59pm EST on Wednesday, September 7th, 2016. Formal invitations to selected participants will be made by Monday, September 19th, 2016. Participants will have until Friday, September 23rd to accept after an offer is received.

Rapid Lab participants will be selected based on their merit, the quality of their application and their fit with a variety of criteria including:

  • System diversity: The participant group as a whole will reflect the diversity of different actors and voices that are shaping the future of Ontario’s printed paper and packaging system. The Rapid Lab intends to bring together innovators and influencers from the private, public and non-profit sectors that represent the full value chain from production through to waste management.
  • Individual leadership: Participants will have a comprehensive understanding of how printed paper and packaging materials are used and managed by their organization (e.g. technical, legal, production, logistics, financial, business) and the ability to influence decisions related to those materials. They will be leaders within their organization, networks and/or the printed paper and packaging system as a whole. They will have a strong interest in the circular economy opportunity and a track record of innovation, leadership and creativity.

9. What is the cost of the Rapid Lab?

The fee for participating in the lab is $750; participants will also be expected to cover their own travel expenses to the three workshops. A limited number of bursaries are available for organizations that require financial support.

The participant fee only covers a small portion of the cost of the Rapid Lab. The remainder of the costs are covered by contributions from CEIL’s partners and sponsors.