But where's the theory?

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

I had a day in the Holy of Holies last week – the Royal Institution.   An exhausting whole day, sitting, at least in a ghostly sense, alongside the likes of Davy, Faraday, Dewar, Bragg, Kelvin,  Jeans, Hoyle,  Rutherford, ... .

This was an EllenMacArthur Foundation event and its first CE100 Summit.  This brought "together leading global thought leaders, academics, companies and practitioners to provide a global wrap-up of the most current thinking on key circular economy topics."

As befitted the venue, there were gurus aplenty: maybe future RI ghosts – well, perhaps.  They included:

Walter Stahel, Founder and Director of Product Life Institute

Michael Braungart, Founder and Scientific Director of EPEA

Janine Benyus, Founder of the Biomimicry Institute; and

William McDonough of William McDonough Associates

Of course, Stahel, Braungart and McDonough were in on the ground floor of the Circular Economy – at least in a cradle to cradle sense.  Whilst they were open in their praise of the way the EllenMacArthur Foundation has developed the Circular Economy concept, opening the ideas up to the mainstream, working with global brands, engaging McKinsey to quantify economic benefits, successfully nudging the EU's thinking and policy, and gaining global publicity, they could each be forgiven for being just a little bit peeved that so much has been done, by so few, in such little time – and not by them.

There were lots of speakers during the day, and I came aware better informed about a lot of stuff from psychology to design.  It was all too much, though, and I confess that I abandoned past and future ghosts and went to sit quietly in Berkeley Square for a while amid the great plane trees and listening for its famed, but phantom, nightingales.

The day ended with Mrs & Mrs Google: Eric and Wendy Schmidt, who were present in the evening when Eric gave the first Schmidt-MacArthur Foundation public lecture: An economy that works – changing the rules of the game? At least that was the published title of the talk, but it didn't seem to be what Eric actually talked about.  Still; it had been a long day, and we did get to hear about where he'd been visiting recently.  The roundtable discussion after this seemed to repeat much of the day's deliberations.

In one of my many conversations during the day, someone noted the strong emphasis on practice and practical things in the talks, and said to me: "But where's the theory?"  Well, theory there is, but not on the day (Where was Ken Webster when you needed him?).  But that was rather apt for the Royal Institution where James Clerk Maxwell doesn't get much of a mention – as far as I can see.  Rather, it's all Faraday the experimenter.

But where would Faraday be if he'd not had a Maxwell to explain his observations?  Indeed, where would we all be?

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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  • Well written Bill - as ever- and an interesting and concise summary about the relationship between the Foundation and Cradle to Cradle.
    I found the day was very long especially for such uncomfortable seats but the venue was superb.
    The wiki mentioned above by James is only a touch to base on the theory but might be useful for some (thanks James P)