Closing the Loop: The New Syndustrial Revolution

Closing the Loop: The New Syndustrial Revolution

Article by Wayne Visser

First published on Huffington Post

The Industrial Revolution – a term popularised by English economic historian Arnold Toynbee – signalled the seismic shift from a predominantly agrarian, subsistence-based economy to an increasingly mechanised, market-based economy, following the invention of the steam engine. The Information Revolution of the 20th century marked another fundamental shift, driven by computers and the internet.

Now, once again, our industrial society is transforming though what I call the Syndustrial Revolution (or Integration Revolution), which is the confluence of innovation driven by smart, sharing and renewable technologies. We see this disruptive change occurring along intersecting fault-lines, namely the shifts from an atomised to a networked economy, from a surfeit to a sharing economy and from a linear to a circular economy.

The Syndustrial Revolution – and in particular the shift from a linear to a circular economy – is the subject of a feature-length documentary called Closing the Loop, which I am currently filming together with Emmy Award winning director, Graham Sheldon. For the past 8 months, we have been visiting pioneers and prophets of the Syndustrial Revolution from around the world to record their stories and predictions. In this Closing the Loop article series, I will be sharing the insights we have gained from these practitioners and thought-leaders.

More specifically, I will be unpacking what the Syndustrial Revolution really means, i.e. the business models behind the smart, sharing and circular economies. And I will be showing how companies and governments around the world are already taking steps to tap into this market opportunity, which Accenture analysis in Waste to Wealth by Jakob Rutqvist and Peter Lacy suggests could be worth at least $4.5 trillion by 2030.

Seeding the Next Industrial Revolution

To get us started, it is worth paying tribute to some of the intellectual progenitors of the Syndustrial Revolution. For example, British economist Kenneth Boulding introduced the concept of a ‘spaceship economy’ in 1966:

“… in which the earth has become a single spaceship, without unlimited reservoirs of anything, either for extraction or for pollution, and in which, therefore, man must find his place in a cyclical ecological system which is capable of continuous reproduction of material form even though it cannot escape having inputs of energy.”

Fast-forwarding through the decades, we then saw the practice of life cycle analysis emerging in the 1970s (promoted by the US Environmental Protection Agency), industrial ecology in the 1980s (popularised by Robert Frosch and Nicholas E. Gallopoulos), cleaner production in the 1990s (promoted by the UN Environment Programme), cradle to cradle in the 2000s (conceived by William McDonough and Michael Braungart) and now, the closed-loop, or circular economy (being championed variously by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, World Economic Forum and UN Global Compact’s Breakthrough Project).

The sharing economy – a term popularised by Harvard law professors Yochai Benkler and Lawrence Lessig around 2004-2008 – also has deep roots, stretching back to concepts of the civil economy, co-operative movement and social economy (all coming into usage in the 1700s), and more recently, ideas around collaborative consumption in the 1970s (introduced by Marcus Felson and Joe L. Spaeth), the love economy (Hazel Henderson) and local exchange trading systems (Michael Linton) in the 1980s and transition towns (Louise Rooney and Catherine Dunne) and wikinomics (Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams) in the 2000s.

So what is this Syndustrial Revolution really? Is it smart cities and autonomous networked cars? Is recycling, or upcycling or zero-waste initiatives? Is it ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft? Is it the shift from buying products to leasing services? Is it moving from a take-make-waste linear economy to a circular economy? In fact, it is all these things and more, which is what makes it so confusing, not to mention jargon-laden.

In Search of a New Industrial Paradigm

So I’d like to propose a simple model, which I will use to frame our discussion in this series. I call it the New Syndustrial Model, because it is really a new economic paradigm and set of business models to create better synergies in our industrial society. A high-synergy society does not build economic capital by destroying natural capital, eroding social capital and exploiting human capital in the way that our current win-lose-lose-lose capitalist system does.

In the Old Industrial Model (see Figure 1), we take, make, use and waste:

  • We Take – by depleting non-renewable resources and over-using renewable resources (Extract) and by striving for limitless economic growth (Expand);
  • We Make – by producing any products and services that the market demands (Produce) and persuading customers to buy and consume more (Promote);
  • We Use – by buying more than needed, leading to overconsumption (Consume) and by individually owning what could be shared (Collect); and
  • We Waste – by turning consumed products into trash and pollution (Dump) and by creating toxins and impacts that harm people and nature (Damage)
Old Linear Industrial Model

In the New Syndustrial Model (see Figure 2), we borrow, create, benefit and return:

  • We Borrow – by conserving all natural resources (Reduce) and increasing renewable resource use (Renew);
  • We Create – by designing and making products with no negative impact (Refine) and innovating products with positive impact (Restore);
  • We Benefit – by extending product life through repairing and reusing (Reuse) and by improving product use through leasing and sharing (Redistribute); and
  • We Return – by using end-of-first-life (EOFL) materials to recreate the same products (Recycle) and to create new products (Reinvent).

Over the coming weeks and months, I will use this model to share what we have discovered during our filming of Closing the Loop. To be sure, many companies and economies are still stuck in the Old Industrial Model and we have a long way to go before we reach the New Syndustrial Model, but our explorations have showed that not only is it possible and preferrable, but that this new industrial revolution is already happening.



[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=””]Pdf[/button] Closing the Loop (article)

Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=””]Link[/button] Sustainable Frontiers (book)

Cite this article

Visser, W. (2016) Closing the Loop: The New Syndustrial Revolution, Huffington Post, 17 Oct.

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Will Anyone Join Your Revolution?

Will Anyone Join Your Revolution?

Blog by Wayne Visser

Part 12 of 13 in the Age of Responsibility Blog Series for 3BL Media.

Margaret Mead once said, ‘The only person who likes change is a wet baby’, to which Hunter Lovins added ‘and the baby squalls all the way through the process.’ So change is never easy, especially on the big issues of sustainability. In thinking about this, I have found Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher’s Formula for Change rather useful: D x V x F > R. This means that three factors must be present for meaningful organisational change to take place. These factors are:

D = Dissatisfaction with how things are now;
V = Vision of what is possible; and
F = First, concrete steps that can be taken towards the vision.

If the product of these three factors is greater than R (Resistance), then change is possible. I have seen sustainability change efforts fail for all four reasons. Deep-seated resistance often exists because the benefits of the status quo to those in power are considerable. Sustainability initiatives, especially if they are integrated into the core business, are often seen as extra burden. For instance, an operations manager of a plant really doesn’t want the extra hassle of collecting emissions data for a sustainability report, or subjecting his staff and facilities to an audit.

Most often, I think, the dissatisfaction that we may feel with the state of the world or the company’s actions really isn’t widely shared enough. Jonathon Porritt, author of Capitalism as if the World Matters, after many years in the sustainability game (he started the UK’s Green Party and chaired the government’s Sustainable Development Commission among other things), told me: ‘Looking at people all over the world today, rich and poor world, they are not remotely close to a state of mind that would call for anything revolutionary. There’s no vast upheaval of people across the world saying, “This system is completely and utterly flawed and must be overturned and we must move towards a different system.”  There isn’t even that, let alone an identification of what the other system would look like.’

Likewise, on creating a compelling vision, Porritt concludes that ‘we have not collectively articulated what this better world looks like – the areas in which it would offer such fantastic improvements in terms of people’s quality of life, the opportunities they would have, a chance to live in totally different ways to the way we live now.  We haven’t done that. Collectively we’ve not made the alternative to this paradigm, this paradigm in progress, work emotionally and physically, in terms of economic excitement.  We’ve just not done it.’ Taking first steps is something companies are generally much better at, especially picking the so-called ‘low hanging fruit’. But the reason these steps so often don’t get beyond the pilot or peripheral stage is because the other two factors – dissatisfaction and vision – are not strong enough.

Another way to think of change in a structured way is Peter Senge’s concept of the learning organisation, popularised in his book, The Fifth Discipline …

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”download” new_window=”false” link=””]Pdf[/button] Will Anyone Join Your Revolution? (blog)

Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=””]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=””]Link[/button] The Age of Responsibility (book)

Cite this blog

Visser, W. (2012) Will Anyone Join Your Revolution? Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 24 April 2012.

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