The answer may be simple; coffee capsules. Halo Coffee, supported by Cranfield University, have developed the world’s first fully compostable capsule. No longer must we wait 200 years for our coffee capsules to degrade; instead, Halo Coffee’s bamboo and paper capsules can be composted and break down in 90 days. That’s 13,500 fewer non-biodegradable coffee capsules every minute falling into landfills. Or is the answer so simple? The halo new compostable coffee capsule is undoubtedly a great product development but to check if it ‘fits’ in a circular economy (CE) we need to look at it with an eye for a wider systemic perspective…how does this halo product fit within the wider global, national and local coffee production and distribution system? What are the incentives and system conditions needed to ensure these compostable capsules are actually composted and returned to ‘regenerate’ soil, rather than still just thrown away and sent to landfill?
At Cranfield these are the sort of systems-led questions and investigations we encourage in our emerging CE teaching and research programmes. The transition towards CE has been very rapid over last 5 years with a significant number of reports positioning it as one of the most dominating trends and major opportunity for how we organise production and consumption in our global economy. The CE has been embraced by many global industry leaders such as Apple, Ikea, Walmart and innovative SMEs like Halo, and by few pioneering Universities such as Cranfield.
The Halo brand benefitted from support from Cranfield University’s Business Incubation Centre (CUBIC) programme, which provides six months’ free accommodation for high-tech start-up company owners and entrepreneurs to scale-up their ventures. But it’s not just start-ups that are benefiting as they develop their CE business propositions at the university’s innovation hubs.
Cranfield and the circular economy
Cranfield is the ideal place to learn about the circular economy because we’re already educating students and supporting businesses that have taken the concepts to heart. For us, it is about fusing expertise in engineering, logistics and environmental sciences with programmes in business and finance. Our growing expertise and multi-disciplinary approach has resulted in several research grants that are already making substantial scientific and methodological contributions to the CE field. With a pan-university approach to the facilitation of teaching and learning, Cranfield University is in a unique position to be able to provide professionals with technical knowledge across the disciplines of manufacturing, design, materials and environmental science to enable informed and justifiable decisions, which will be integrated with the areas of supply chain logistics, strategy and management.
We’re particularly excited about our new master course that begins this October: the Circular Economy MSC. An important task for our students on this course will be to investigate the enabling conditions which might accelerate the transition to a CE in a fast changing digital world –a digital revolution which is disrupting employment, resource use, finance, access to tools and causing large scale environmental and social challenges.
Future leaders, exemplified by Halo’s owners, must adapt and innovate to flourish. And so in this new masters course we have identified the skills and training that are often lacking and therefore stunting the successful growth of technologies and processes – such as with remanufacture, an industry estimated to be worth £5.6 billion, and core to the circular economy. When leading circular economist Walter Stahel came and spoke at Cranfield in November, he reminded us at the end of his keynote that “Real wealth should be based on use, not ownership.” It seems so obvious when someone like Walter explains it, but we need a new generation of industry leaders who can cooperate and innovate across teams, businesses and sectors to embed that kind of new thinking into our national and international industries.
And the way to achieve that is to start with an integrated learning environment, where experts from different sectors work collaboratively. At Cranfield, the old style of education is gone, where professors sit in ivory towers and reluctantly engage with other experts. Instead designers, engineers and specialists from manufacturing, design, materials and environmental sciences work and learn together with our academic staff to think about and to solve real-world problems.
Students benefit greatly from learning in this environment, not just becoming experts in the concepts and practices of the circular economy, but picking up practical skills from networking to cross-discipline problem-solving. In our new Msc we’ll be equipping industrial professionals with technological knowledge, system-level understanding and personal competency to design, evaluate and implement transformational CE solutions for their organisations.
“Big ideas don’t simply pop up in a vacuum, and when real system-changing perspectives meet the right context, the resulting wave of transformation can seldom be resisted” said Ken Webster, Head of Innovation at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and contributor and guest lecturer to the new circular economy MSc at Cranfield. This is the environment Cranfield is creating, and transformations are already happening.
But don’t just take our word for it. “CUBIC has really helped our business move forward,” Halo Coffee’s co-founder Richard Hardwick said. “There is a great sharing of knowledge and skills among tenants and the close access to the university resources and local enterprise initiatives opens doors to funding and opportunities.”
Cranfield’s Technology Innovation and Management for a Circular Economy MSc is a world’s first, but more importantly, it will give current and future leaders the opportunity to deliver the big ideas that will drive their businesses and organisations to succeed in uncertain and troubling times.
 Moving away from the “take, make and dispose”, the circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design and relies on system-wide innovation, to redefine products and services and to design waste out.