March 4, 2017 matt.scott

By Davar Ardalan

Constraints on the planet are driving demand for resource-efficient and closed-loop products, services, and corporate models. But how do we create circular systems, material streams, and new business structures to support the transition to this new paradigm? This week’s LAUNCH Circular Innovation Summit brings together leading researchers, entrepreneurs, investors, and business executives at Nike’s world headquarters in Portland, Oregon to find ways to be more efficient, effective, and economically viable with the limited resources on planet Earth.

Sustainability is a galvanizing force behind Nike’s global growth with about 71 percent of the iconic company’s shoes and apparel contain recycled materials. So it wasn’t surprising when Cyrus Wadia, Nike’s VP of Sustainable Business & Innovation, set a moon-shot challenge to a room full of innovators, industry pioneers, and a former NASA astronaut, at this week’s summit.

“At Nike, we believe that our future growth will depend on a healthy planet for athletes everywhere. This means not just reducing our use of finite resources, but using new resources born out of tomorrow’s innovative technologies. To get there, we will need breakthrough innovation from diverse and unexpected communities working together. That’s what makes LAUNCH and its mission so important. Today’s ideas can grow into tomorrow’s solutions.” said Wadia.

Astronaut Cady Coleman shared her perspective from the ultimate circular habitat — the International Space Station. “Traveling to Mars and creating a sustainable way to live here on Earth are both imperatives,” Coleman said. “What we do today, using the space station as a test bed, matters for that journey to Mars; what happens at this Circular Innovation Summit matters for a sustainable journey here on Earth.”

Former NASA Astronaut Cady Coleman addressing the LAUNCH Circular Innovation Summit in Portland. (LONGFEI WANG)

Established in 2009, LAUNCH is an innovation-centered platform founded on the belief that today’s problems are too big to be solved by any one organization working alone. Original partners NASA, the US Agency for International Development, the US Department of State, and NIKE, Inc. joined together back then to identify, showcase, and support innovative technologies to help solve global sustainability challenges. LAUNCH helps convene and curate networks of unlikely public and private partnerships to accelerate innovations and disrupt pathways for change.

LAUNCH co-founder Todd Khozein said that since its inception some 100 innovations have been sourced and scaled through the LAUNCH process. Take Kiverdi, for example, a revolutionary bioprocess, which converts carbon dioxide into protein and oils. This technology involves microbial crops, which are already used in food production, and provides a sustainable alternative to animal protein to help meet global consumer demand. Kiverdi CEO Lisa Dyson explained that her company recycles air and water to produce raw materials to make nutritious foods. “We are breathing CO2 all the time,” Dyson said. “We can take CO2 and water and make ingredients for everyday foods.”

Fifteen past and present LAUNCH innovators were selected to participate in the Summit, including Jeff Betts of Evocative, a leading biomaterials company that grows living products for a circular economy, utilizing mycelium (the vegetative root structure of mushrooms) as a natural glue. “A lot of the innovations at this event are founded on chemical compounds in the lab,” Betts said. “Evocative found its innovations in the forest — we are growing these materials that are naturally appearing and naturally circular.”

Discussing some of the key systems changes that are needed to drive circular solutions, Hakan Nordkvist, head of Sustainability Innovation at IKEA Group, pointed out that one of the urgencies is to change consumer behavior. Innovations are needed to create convenience in order to engage more people in the system. “We want to have a positive impact on people and the planet, and that includes playing an active role in moving toward a circular economy,” Nordkvist said. “We are thrilled to see so many leading companies and pioneering innovators gather at the LAUNCH Summit to collaborate for a better future.”

LAUNCH partners Hakan Nordkvist, head of Sustainability Innovation at IKEA Group; Chris Librie, Senior Director for Global Impact at eBay; and Claus Stig Pedersen, head of Corporate Sustainability at the Danish company Novozymes. (MATT SCOTT)

“You can’t change a system until you know where you want to go,” said Jeff Hamaoui, co-founder of LAUNCH and Managing Partner at SecondMuse, the global innovation company that leads LAUNCH. “We think the future is a fascinating place from which to begin designing. Together with LeaderLab, our LAUNCH team in the Nordics, we’re bringing together innovators, business leaders, and resources to act now on the path to the future."

Sofus Midtgaard leads the LAUNCH Circular work from Copenhagen. “It’s been amazing working with so many different companies and having one of our founding partners Nike hosting this event. Our 2017 innovation challenge on design and manufacturing for the circular economy will be launched on June 5th at the World Circular Forum in Helsinki. Co-created solutions and insights from this week’s forum will be incorporated in our global challenge,” Midtgaard said.

The Summit brought together unlikely partnerships across industry and government including IKEA Group, eBay, and several Nordic government organizations and companies including Novozymes and Kvadrat. Chris Librie, Senior Director for Global Impact at eBay, explained “We make it as easy as possible for consumers to sell and participate in the power of the circular economy. By helping to extend the useful life of products, we’re giving those items the chance to have many lives and serve many people. We are excited to join this extraordinary network that nurtures innovation and drives towards systems change.”

Facebook Live interviews with LAUNCH Innovators Lisa Dyson of Kiverdi and Dan Wilson of Dow Chemicals. (MATT SCOTT)

Throughout the day, innovators at the summit will be on Twitter sharing their disruptive ideas with the digital public, coming together around #LAUNCHCircular to help build a collective voice around sustainability and social impact. In a Facebook live interview yesterday, LAUNCH innovator Vigga Svensson talked about, her circular subscription service for children’s wear. “Kids grow,” Svensson says “But clothes don’t.” The concept is an innovative business model that combines sustainability and fashion consumption, and makes them work together instead of against each other.

The head of Corporate Sustainability at the Danish company Novozymes, Claus Stig Pedersen, was pleased to attend the Summit. “We look forward to collaborating with leading companies, government institutions, and innovators on finding new sustainable solutions and building a roadmap to the circular economy,” he said. “Public-private partnerships are exactly what we need to help sustainable innovations get to scale.”

After a day-long session co-creating solutions for the future, LAUNCH innovator Dan Wilson of Dow Cheminformatics stressed the importance of diversity in driving revolutionary change, “We had people from many different technical disciplines and geographies all gathered together at the LAUNCH Summit, with the goal to articulate what will be necessary to achieve a circular economy; what I found myself thinking was that there’s been exponential momentum in the past decade towards achieving these goals across many fronts and so the likelihood of success I think is real, and I’m really left with a feeling of hope.”

LAUNCH Innovator Anne Waddell of BioAmber sits beneath the LAUNCH Circular hashtag and alongside network members in the midst of an innovation session.