023 The Circular Economy

The circular economy is a fascinating concept: it is a way to reorganise our society in a more sustainable way that creates a win-win-win situation for consumers, producers and the environment. I’m a huge fan myself and believe that everyone interested on sustainability topics should know something about the circular transformation. And that’s why this episode is dedicated to circularity! 

So what is this circular economy?

As it’s name suggests, the circular economy reorganises our economic system in continuous circles, or loops. It is built on Michael Braungart and William McDonough’s principle of “cradle to cradle”, the understanding that all resources shall be used and reused over and over again. By seeing waste as food for new things, the circular economy eliminates the idea of trash as we know it, and sees every component as valuable even after the life cycle of its original use is over. And of course, the circualr economy uses renewable energy sources of greener production, too.

The circular ecocnomy uses a methodology called biomimicry, which basically means imitating nature. Think about it: in nature, waste simply doesnt exist, everyhing is one ecosystem. If a tree produces an apple, it gets eaten and digested by an animal, then pooped out somewhere else where a new plant can grow. Each leave that falls down or animal that dies will naturally decompose into healthy soil. Landfills, and the accumulation of resources that find no further use are a fairly stupid invention of human beings that have never before existed in the natural environment.

Why do we need a circular system? 

There is a strong connection between globalization, our spike in consumption and climate change: In the last century, the world population has quadrupled and our economic output was multiplied by twenty, and we’re now stretching far beyond what our planet can naturally provide.

Last year, human production and consumption already needed 1.7 earths to recover all the resources we used – this means we are irreversibly damaging the natural ecosystem. On top, our waste generation is getting out of hand, household trash alone is expected to double and reach 3,000 million tons per year in 2030.

And as the population keeps rising, so does the amount of people entering the middle class and aspriring the western lifestyle – so increasing the demand for cars, meat, devices, clothes and so on, or to put it simply: stretching our resource extraction and waste generation even more.

It’s not only the amount of resources and products we consume and the trash we generate,  it is also the way we do it.

We buy, use, and throw away, we make, take and dispose. Every few months, it seems, we need a new cellphone, every few weeks new clothes. And what happens with our stuff after we use it is something we barely think about – all that matters is to be always up to date.

Global supply chains make us forget where our products even come from, how they work and how we could repair them. On top, products are often engineered in a way that is neither made to last nor to repair, a strategy called built-in obsolescence

The cost for the environment of our linear economy is huge: Just the electronic waste we produce in Europe per year amount to 1.500 million tons of co2, as much as the energy production in Germany, the UK and Poland together, as the European Environmental Buerau calculates.

As Ken Webster, one of the leading economists of the Ellen McArthur foundation, points out, the linear “take, make dispose” model is based on on short-term profitability and dependent on the abundance of materials, easy credit, low-priced energy and cheap labour. However, all of these factors are becoming more and more expensive due to legislations, economic development, increasing labour right awareness and learnings from the global financial crisis.

Changing the way we make things

The circular economy on the other hand frees itself from the dependency of such factors by redesigning production and consumption. 

As Hawken, Lovens and Lovens describe in their book  Natural Capitalism, increasing natural productivity and moving from a product- to a service based economy are some ways to realise the circular economy. It provides us with an opportunity to source from materials that are already available and engage in new sorts of innovation. This way, we can alleviate many of the previously mentioned pressures on the natural environment: it reduces virgin resource usage, carbon emissions, waste creation and the release of toxins.

Creating a win-win-win situation

he fantastic news is that the circular economy  can provide a win-win-win situation: companies can grow their profits, customers save costs and the environment become more sustainable. McKinsey has calculated that  circular economy has the potential to generate annual economic benefits of €1.8 trillion by 2030 in Europe alone.  Even though you might think that we Europeans are not doing not such a bad job in recycling, research shows that we currently capture only 5% of raw materials this way – that leaves a 95% opportunity for improvement and value creation!

Also, the circular economy can provide new jobs and improve the overall wellbeing of everyone in society.  They further estimate that each of us Europeans could save 60-80% in mobility expenses, reduce our food spending by 25-40% and also decrease our housing costs by 25-35%. In this way, fighting climate change could not only improve the water and air around us, but also give us more money to spend on things we really like. Isn’t that good news?

How to make it happen

One of the main barriers of implementing the circular economy are high economic investments from the public sector to guarantee necessary research, design, subsidies, asset investment as well as digital and physical infrastructure. The British government has calculated that on a european level, a fully efficient reuse and recycling system would require costs of €108 billion. Reality looks different: the European Commission only commits to around 6 billion euro for this program.

And apart from sufficient financing, both business and policy leaders must adopt a different mentality to think about production, product lifecycles and material usage and shift their focus from short-term profitability (or election periods) to sustainability and success in the long term. We as customers must understand and demand circular products, make switches and refuse the comfort of their current disposable lifestyle .

Furthermore, business and policy must show willingness to collaborate rather than compete, as knowledge sharing is one of the key elements of the circular economy: there needs to be an active exchange of skills, technologies and research in order to create system-wide loops and facilitate the composition, decomposition and new assembly of a variety of products. I’ve spoken about the benefits of an open source circular economy with economist and artist Lars Zimmerman, in an earlier episode of Impact Revolution.

Also, states must provide necessary infrastructure to facilitate the flow of materials, such as recycling facilities, sorting and collection systems and give access to all actors along the supply chain, including the end-user. That means that it should become easy for you as a consumer to get rid of the things you no longer use and disassemble them into their reusable components.

Circular solutions already exist

Let me give you some examples of circular solutions that area already out there!

1) Recycle and recover

These are business models based on recyclable materials which we usually see as waste. Its a very important step for greener production, as the extraction of raw resources can take around 75% of the whole energy necessary in the manufacturing process. Examples here are streets built out of plastic waste and a British brewery that uses old bread to make delicious beer. What a solution to food waste!    

2) Replace materials

The Circular supply chain tries to find alternatives for rare or environmentally harmful resources, such as smartphone components or water-intense cotton and replace them with renewable, reusable materials. These are companies that make rain jackets out of pet bottles or grow vegan leather out of mushrooms.

3) Make it last

Here it is imporatant to increase the lifetime of each product. We usually throw things away becasue they break, they become out of fashion or we simply do’t need them anymore. In each of those cases, there is still some value in the product, so we need to find ways to make it easier to reuse, repair, sell second hand and update products that are already there. Secondly, companies should take the end of the product life into account by making decomposion of products as easy as possible.

4) Share   

Sharing platforms are a big deal in the circular economy – and something our generation loves! I probably won’t have to tell anyone how airbnb or carsharing works and in which way it improves our resource consumption, but have you ever heard of a library of things where you can rent electric drills or lawnmowers? The digitalisation makes it so much easier to connect and share with others, especially since we use 80% of the things we own less than once a month.

5) Services, not products

Connected to the sharing economy are models where the producers remain the owner of what they make, and merely rent it out to the end users. Philips now sells light as service to buildings instead of light bulbs, which drastically shifts the objectives of their engineers and sales people. Instead of focusing at high quantity and lower quality, engineers now have to create the best and most durable bulbs, and suddenly energy efficiency of their products reflects directly on the company’s balance sheet. And even if  a product fails, it goes back directly to the producer, becomes his responsibility and available for repair or reuse. See the difference?

There is hope

This podcast episode should be able to give you the basics of the circular economy, make you learn why it makes so much sense and in which way it would be possible to realise. One of the most powerful characteristics of this model is the win-win-win situation it describes, and to me the fact that both governments and corporations, as well as many entrepreneurs are already working on creating circular products and processes is a clear symbol that we’re on the right way. Let’s use the power we have through our purchasing decisions and support anyone in transition to this model!

If you have any further questions on this, please get in touch! You can reach me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/theimpactrevolution/) and Instagram (instagram.com/impact_revolution/) – I’m excited to read your messages.

Posted by Clara Bütow

020 My month without plastic

How does it feel like to completely eliminate plastic from your life? Is that even possible in the 21st century?

Well, I tried. For 30 days at the end of 2017, I refused to buy or use any single-use plastic, and looked out for alternatives. In this episode, I speak openly about the struggles, experience and learnings of that month.

ZeroWaste Clara Bütow Plastic Challenge Alternatives Survive without Plastic Impact Revolution

What’s the matter with plastic?

Also, I share some facts about plastic, so you understand the background why anyone would ever be so crazy to eliminate it from their life. Today, there are already 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic on the planet, and the numbers are growing steadily. If we don’t change anything, there will be as much as 34 billion tons in 2050.

500 times more plastic than stars

Plastic harms the environment, damages human health and impacts wildlife in many forms. And it’s so omnipresent that you can find plastic particles on the most untouched places on earth already. The amount of plastic particles in the ocean – 51 trillion – outnumbers the amount of stars in the universe times 500. Can you imagine? Scientists warn of the toxic characteristics of plastics, and yet they are the base of most of the products we use every day.

We all got three choices

When we hear all these stats and facts, there are three things we can do: Ignore the problem, put the blame corporations, governments and organisations or look at our own lifestyle and start with small changes. I’ve decided to go for the latter, and live that decision to the extreme for these 30 days.


Bulk food, festivals and shampoo experiments

The first things I looked for were all food-related: Am I gonna be able to eat anything besides bananas in this month? Oh yes! Needless to say you have the whole variety of fruits and veggies available, if you just skip the unnecessary produce bag and put the sticker directly on the fruit after weighting it. And even though my diet got pretty clean without potato chips and processed foods, I still got to live on the whole awesomeness of pastas, grains, legumes, nuts, dried fruit, flours and even cornflakes and chocolate I found at the bulk store. Seriously, these are total game changers, and I keep going back with my jars aaaall the time. Google it, or check here, if there are any stores available in your city!


Next stop, bathroom: How can I replace shampoo, shower gel, disposable razor blades, toothpaste and co? The magic solution is DIY: I found amazing recipes for making my own toothpaste, deodorant and co, and shared them all on my instagram page, check them out! Then, I experimented around with all sorts of shampoo alternatives like baking soda, apple cider vinegar, medicinal clay, rye flour. Listen and hear how it went… 😉 The easiest change of all? Soap bars instead of liquid dispensers! One more thing I can recommend is switching to safety razors (much cheaper anyways!), wooden toothbrushes and, to all ladies out here, the lunar cup! All of these changes have literally zero effect on your daily life and make you feel better and healthier, too.

What about the household, darling? Home, that was a tough one. I read online about washing nuts to clean your clothes and recipes for own detergents, but somehow wasn’t really happy with the stuff I made (please, if you have any recipes, send them to me). I went and asked around, and finally found a store that sells ecological clothes, dishwasher and cleaning detergents in bulk, you just bring your own containers, add a scent of your choice and that’s it. Super cool, cheap, healthy and good for the planet.


Around the city. My friends always make fun of the amount of things that I plan in one day, and I do indeed have a very active lifestyle. From sports over parties and organising all sorts of events, to this podcast, art exhibitions and uni life, there’s a lot I do and I spend quite a lot of time on the streets. So how to mix that with the plastic challenge? One thing I learned is to be creative and adaptable: For the lack of a reusable coffee cup, I was carrying around an old mason jar to fill up with fresh hot coffee, or just had my cup to stay whenever I was craving it. My water bottle still is an old tomato sauce bottle, and works perfectly for me like that. Food-wise, I sometimes took bags or my own containers when I wanted to get bread or takeaways, and consequently said no to chocolate bars or other guilty pleasures. And of course, I learned quickly to order any drink without straw. I even went to a four day music festival, and with a bit of preparation, smart drink choices and my reusable cup, plate and cutlery didn’t have any problem either – anything is possible if you just want it enough.

Would I do it again?

I am super grateful for the experience, it really opened my eyes towards the incredible amounts of plastic that usually is in our daily life. At some point I went into a normal supermarket and suddenly felt like I was walking on a landfill. Our world has become super disposable, and I’m very happy about all the changes that I’ve learned about! Although I’m not 100% plastic free anymore, I still haven’t bought a single plastic bottle, bag or straw and kept most of the habits I learned during those 30 days. If you want a summary of all the changes, here it is. Feel free to share the picture, just please tag me for the credit.

ZeroWaste Clara Bütow Plastic Challenge Alternatives Survive without Plastic Impact Revolution

Thank you for your support and for leaving me a review on Facebook or iTunes!!

Posted by Clara Bütow

018 Rob Greenfield: Adventures of an environmental activist

If you’re somehow into environmentalism, you probably know Rob Greenfield.

He calls himself “dude making a difference” because he really is. Rob’s activist campaigns and environmental adventures have taught thousands of people around the globe how to live more sustainably, free and happy and care better for both the people and the natural environment around them.

Rob Greenfield Impact Revolution Podcast Trash Me Off the Grid Food Waste Fisaco

No matter whether he transforms into the trash man and wears his trash for a month, he lives off the grid in a tiny house, he saves food, he cycles around the USA to do good or survives with only 111 possessions – all his campaigns have one thing in common: they create awareness, make you rethink what you do and spread a very positive attitude.

Rob’s adventures have inspired me for years to become more sustainable.

Yes, I admit that I’m a huuuuge fan of Rob myself, and you cannot believe how happy it makes me that I’m now able to share an interview with all of you.

On the Impact Revolution Podcast, we talk about his campaigns and adventures around the world and share facts about waste generation, emissions and the impact our daily lives have on the planet. Rob also explains some easy changes you can implement in your life right now and lets us know how every single one of us can find ways to speak up for the causes we care for. If I were you, I would’t miss out on a chance to learn from Rob and get to know his motivation, approach and ideas for next really cool adventures!

To get you started, here’s a short video summary of what Rob has done the past years. You’ll find the podcast episode below!

Wanna know more about Rob Greenfield?

Watch at his Ted Talk on the Food Waste Fiasco, the “Trash me” Campaign or his youtube videos or read through his website and look at the cool project he shares on his Facebook page and on Instagram.



Posted by Clara Bütow

017 The English Podcast Relaunch

It finally happened: Impact Revolution is now available in English!!

From now on, all podcasts episodes, events, and crazy challenges will be done in English so all of you have the chance to listen, participate and follow along. Also, this means that I’ll now be able to get people not only from the German speaking changemaker world to come share their stories: There will be activists, sustainability experts, social entrepreneursbusiness people and artists from all the world to help you improve your impact and create your own Impact Revolution!

Am I excited for this? Hell yes!

And you can be too, because we have a sick-ass relaunch week ahead!! I’m not only gonna talk about my month without plastic, but also invited some of the biggest inspirations and greatest speakers of the global sustainability scene to take part! So look forward for the “trash man” Rob GreenfieldBea Johnson, the mother of the Zero Waste Movement, Mikel Garcia Prieto the CEO of the most sustainable Bank, Plastic Activist and Water Cyclist Dhruv Boruah and Artist and Designer Masaaki Hasegawa.

Here’s the complete schedule of the relaunch week:

Impact Revolution Relaunch Podcast Rob Greenfield Bea Johnson Dhruv Boruah Mikel Garcia Prieto Clara Bütow

If you enjoy what you hear, please do me a massive favour and spread the word, share with your friends and write me a review on iTunes or Facebook. Thanks, that means a lot to me!


Posted by Clara Bütow