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Implementing Circular Practices: It All Starts With Mindset

For the second podcast in our podcast series exploring the role of tech in driving forward the circular economy, we chatted to Lieke van Kerkhoven. Lieke is co-founder of Floow2, a dynamic asset-sharing marketplace built around the principles of circularity. The user-friendly platform lets companies and organisations of all types and sizes share equipment, services, facilities and even staff in a safe and trustworthy environment.

As techies ourselves, we expected the conversation to revolve around the specifics of the technology and the ins-and-outs of building a platform for the circular economy. Interestingly, however, Lieke revealed that the most challenging aspect of the endeavour, which Floow2 has been working on since 2012, is all about changing people’s hearts and minds.

Business owners, shareholders, employees and customers alike are all used to thinking in a linear way about production, consumption and ownership. In this model, resources are extracted, used and then thrown away. The circular economy, on the other hand, takes a more zoomed out view to consider the system as a whole and the impact each stage of the production, consumption and disposal process has on stakeholders and the environment. The circular mindset recognises the wider value in sharing, sustainability and regeneration—but the shift to this way of thinking doesn’t happen overnight.

For a full five years after launching Floow2, the sales team found themselves focused fully on explaining the “why” of their platform and the circular economy. “When businesses hear the word sustainability they get suspicious because they think it’s going to cost more money, and the only advantage will be in marketing,” explained Lieke.

There are three main advantages to asset-sharing on Floow2. The first is financial: Idle equipment and assets can be sold or rented out, or you can buy or rent something you need at a lower cost than acquiring it new. The second is about sustainability: The process saves energy and resources compared to producing from scratch. And finally, there’s the social angle: In engaging with the sharing model, either within an organisation or among a network of trusted partners, people are more likely to connect and collaborate on other things, too.

Eight years ago, when the Floow2 team began approaching businesses, their pitch was focused on sustainability, but companies were initially unreceptive. They went back to the drawing board and even “degreened” their website, switching instead to the financial benefits. “In the end, that was—and still is—the terms on which decisions are made,” said Leike.

Thankfully, in the last couple of years she’s noticed a shift. These days, almost every company has sustainability built into their corporate governance. The circular economy has become more mainstream, and the Floow2 team have finally been able to stop explaining and start making an impact. Today, the platform is used by the Belgian construction industry to share building resources and by Dutch pharmacists to safely share valuable medication, and by many more industries and organisations.

Floow2 was initially designed to be public-facing, but this caused alarm for both private companies, who worried about giving away too much to their competitors, and public organisations, who feared criticism or accusations of wasting public funds. Instead, Floow2 is used to share assets internally within large organisations or among a network of trusted partners. When working with an organisation or network, Floow2 begins by collaborating closely with the communications team, providing customisable content to ensure all stakeholders understand what the platform is and why it’s there, and to share success stories that bring the possibilities to life. Once the sharing marketplace is implemented, one of the biggest challenges is to get people using it over time, so constant communication is crucial.

For Leike, this communication should aim for nothing less than a complete mindset shift. “You can have all kinds of innovative products and services, you can update legislation... but the real change has to happen within us, in the way we look at each other, how we measure success, and how we stimulate creativity,” she said. “Only if you start there can circular practices happen fluidly.”