EcoTrade talked to Sann Carriere, founder and chief executive of Orobo about the circular economy transition in Asia-Pacific.
EcoTrade: What are the key challenges in the global circular economy transition and what it means for the Asia-Pacific?
Sann Carriere: My main concern for the global adoption of a circular economy is getting people to act instead of considering regulatory needs or whatever other reasons they might come up with that would prevent them from starting their journey. This could be a lack of a business model or know-how, missing skills, or common arguments we’ve seen over the past years. People need to start taking action through trial and error, learning from each other, asking for help, and building a new system together.
There is no ideal solution, no power position that holds all the cards, but time is ticking away. When I then look at the Asia-Pacific region, I see it lagging in terms of sustainability, in adopting new models. I see an opportunity and a threat here because South-East Asia is vulnerable to climate change. It can either leapfrog and learn from everything that has been developed so far, or it can lag behind and suffer more than necessary.
I’ve never seen so much money flows into a particular industry or line of work before
When I look at my own company, I see that my clients are mainly large, (Western) multinational corporations and governments that have committed to circularity. Yet the finance and impact investment funds are available here in South-East Asia. I have never seen so much money flows into a particular industry or line of work before, and the focal point of this huge cash flow in Singapore.
EcoTrade: If the logic of the circular economy is so compelling, why aren’t more companies doing it already?
Sann Carriere: The reason why not many businesses are already doing this is that it may still be too convenient to continue working in the old economy. It is far too easy to make money, to withhold and neglect, and to pretend not to care. They perceive the necessary changes to be too large, too influential, or even too disruptive for their current business, so they avoid implementing them. Also, because we are in the midst of a systemic transition, pivoting can appear to be a significant threat. It’s easier not to act because it’s such a big deal; systemic change necessitates a review of everything you are doing, which can feel overwhelming.
EcoTrade: Can disruptive technologies like AI and blockchain promote a circular economy and where does Orobo fit into this?
Sann Carriere: Orobo has a virtual influencer called Sun, who advocates for climate action and raises awareness about sustainable brands, climate change and individual awareness. Sun serves as an AI-driven role model for change, leveraging information from the Internet, with our team validating her statements, Sun forms a standpoint that people can relate to or be inspired by. When it comes to blockchain technology, it is becoming increasingly difficult for supply chain actors to continue to operate without aligning to sustainable development goals or taking into account ESG. On the Blockchain, information that you log is immutable, meaning that if you decide to log information on the chain pretending you to behave better than you are actually, backtracking your operations via satellite data for instance, or because the next person in your supply chain reports very different content than what you have just reported on the Blockchain, you become accountable, so it becomes much more transparent, even though it might not be publicly known.
Those who need to know will get access to the data, and it will become clear how holy we all are, or unholy, so we will take accountability for our actions. It helps with traceability, so we know where our materials come from how they are produced, and then add the element of the Circle Economy.
Through this technology, we also know where the material is going after the point of sales -n and how to get it back. So after a use-cycle or after going through consumer use, how to then re-create a new material out of it how to upcycle, how to prevent landfill; all of this information can be stored on the Blockchain, so we can build a database for any products to show how circular it is how sustainable it is, or where we can improve because this kind of transparency and traceability also offers the opportunity to understand better what we’re doing and can control our material flows, and especially in times where material scarcity will become a reality, is already becoming, in reality, having control of where your resources come from. How those materials are produced will actually make a huge difference in the future – knowing and controlling how to get your resources to create your sustainable products.
So besides the virtual avatar that I mentioned before Orobo has a solution for material passports and material traceability, so in the form of a token, and besides that we also have developed a tool that extracts live data from your supply chain so that you may use that for your annual reporting on sustainability. Especially in Europe the legislation is changing quite rapidly, and we will all be under law obliged to report on how sustainable we are in order to do so we need that information from our supply chain. Our current tool Is for CSRD and SFRD regulation, and we will also be preparing this tool for reporting on the ESGs in Asia.
How commodities are produced will actually make a huge difference in the future
EcoTrade: What are your favourite examples of circularity in action? And what kinds of results are they seeing?
Sann Carriere: I cannot refrain from mentioning the project that we are doing in Ghana where we are creating building materials from byproducts from cocoa (chocolate) production. We use the cocoa pods in which the beans grow, which are only partially needed to replenish the soil. We buy the pods from the farmer, increasing the farmer’s income and returning the fibres into a building material.
We are currently in the phase of prototyping, and the prototype that I see working well would be a metal studs steel frame, a wall system in which we can create panel boards that can resist the climate in Ghana and are wholly made from cocoa waste.
Understanding material scarcity, and what is needed to build affordable housing to create such a material based on Western standards for building and construction, but then making that available for the Ghanaian market and producing it locally – even getting the product back after a use cycle and then reproducing a new product out of it. That is one of the cases that I hold very dearly and it’s taking off at lightning speed now, so yeah, super proud!
EcoTrade: Will moving toward a circular economy require changes in consumer behaviour? Are those happening?
Sann Carriere: From the perspective of the Earth as a planetary system that we need to take care of, the Circular Economy is part of the systemic change needed, in the way we execute production and consumption. Even though we take it, we also need to give back. So as circularity is concerned, both production and consumption – and therefore consumers, play an important part. People that point fingers and say: “the industry needs to do this”, or, “Policy needs to do that”, or, “The consumer needs to be this”; are all right, but at the same time.
We all need to make more conscious decisions. I do however see it becoming part of the lifestyle of my generation of Millennials, and GenZ, and all that comes after
There is no single silver bullet or individual action that will solve everything; we all need to move, and we all need to make more conscious decisions. I do however see it becoming part of the lifestyle of my generation of Millennials, and GenZ, and all that comes after we want to know where materials come from, and we like the storytelling behind it, the requirements we have of brands to be transparent and show what they are doing to become better. That is what will buy our loyalty, literally. So, we see that change and yes, it is about taking small steps and understanding what is important for you as an individual and how you can make that change. Maybe, you want to start with your closet and all the clothing. Maybe you want to start with your food pattern, maybe it’s your travel behaviour, but there will be something that is dear to you and you will not find that hard to look at it more consciously.