7. James George on building an inclusive circular economy

Strategic Advisor at PYXERA Global

December 22, 2021

Welcome to The Multi-usiverse. Alongside your guide, Garr Punnett, explore worlds of opportunity within the use of physical resources across companies and organizations. Consider this a field guide in scaling reuse, refurbishment, remanufacturing, and recirculation. We’ll learn from guests who have ventured down this path and carved their way. Our aim is to discuss the successes, opportunities, and challenges of scaling a connected, circular economy. On this episode we’re joined by James George, Strategic Advisor at PYXERA Global.

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Audio Transcript:

Garr Punnett (00:16)

Hey, everybody. Welcome back to Rheaply’s Multiusiverse. My name is Garr Punnett, Chief of Staff here at Rheaply and Circular Economy Lead. We had the great experience today of talking to James George, formerly of the Fantastic in leading Ellen MacArthur foundation and now the future focused and inclusion focused leader, PYXERA Global. All of our conversation was focused around what does it mean for a circular economy to be more inclusive? And what does this mean for a more sustainable future? And how are we actually getting there with the partnerships, the collaborations, the actual cohesive and cooperation that’s needed to actually make these business solutions possible? Take a listen. James, thank you so much for joining us at the Multiusiverse podcast. We have known each other for a couple of years. I know you from all the good work too regularly that you put on LinkedIn, whether you’re going and planting trees or we’re following you through some sort of journey, could you give the audience a little bit of a background on who you are and what you’ve been pursuing over the last couple of years?

James George (01:26)

Yeah, of course. Thanks for having me. Right. I think I’m guessing number seven.

Garr Punnett (01:31)

Yes, exactly.

James George (01:33)

I feel fairly privileged here in the early days. So in years to come, when folks look back at the origins of the podcast, I’ll be like, I was there in the beginning.

Garr Punnett (01:41)

It’s because of you. That’s how it’s going to happen. It’s because of you. Yeah.

James George (01:45)

Hey, no, absolutely not. We’re all advocates in this journey. Yeah, it’s been a good couple of years, right? 2019. I met you last when I was there at the MacArthur foundation. So for those who don’t know at the MacArthur foundation, accelerating the Transition to a Circular Economy, a thought leader, global thought leader in the Space of a circular economy. And I spent about three and a half years with them helping to build the network that they have today. But I guess I feel that really specifically when the foundation looks at its narrative around the economic argument for a circular economy, which is really important in today’s global economy. Again, we’re talking about economics helping businesses, organizations to understand what they meant when they outlined their aspirations around circular economy. I spend a lot of my time telling stories and helping folks to try and translate when they use this big nebulous term of circular economy, what that could hopefully mean for their day to day. And that journey was amazing. Three and a half, amazing years working with some truly, truly phenomenal folks. I’m still very well connected with all of them, but I’ve decided to do something slightly different, which led me to PYXERA Global about six months ago now.

James George (03:08)

And I’m a strategic advisor to the CEO and the exec team at Pixar Global. And their focus is slightly broader than circular economy. But I guess the best way to describe it is historically, they’re in the space of international development. Most recently. When we think about circular economy lens, their focus is really around the social impact element, social impact, environmental justice, just transition. We’ve been hearing a lot of these sort of phrases recently, and they focusing very much about how do we create an inclusive circular economy. When you think about society, economy, environment, a lot of the work we see now, a lot of the declarations that are made by businesses, organizations focus on the economics and they focus on the environment. The bit they miss historically is the social component. So what we’re doing there is only creating a partial solution. We’re missing out this big suite of humanity, social inclusion, human capital, however you want to package that up. And actually, if we think about long term resilience, we need to factor that in as much as we do the economic argument and the environmental argument. So that’s kind of me on my jet.

James George (04:27)

And I’ve been trying to just tell that story as simply as I can over the last few years, and I just thoroughly enjoyed it.

Garr Punnett (04:34)

Well, we are in the same space of always trying to break down probably the language around circular economy, make it more accessible to a lot of the enterprise, maybe clients that we serve, maybe even government listeners and clients that we might serve. How do you find that that’s frankly just best done breaking down what the circular economy actually means to each constituency, whether on the enterprise level that might be customers or on the government level that is actually a taxpaying body or again, the people that they serve. I always find again, we keep learning language probably every week now where it’s like, oh, wait, this investment recovery Department actually does this component of circular economy. How do you find that you actually can connect dots best at these enterprise? How do you actually go about doing that?

James George (05:27)

It’s a really interesting question. And this is the space that I spend most of my time because it interests me the most as well. And I get back to the idea. And people talk a lot these days about big Storytellers, and it’s a bit kind of tongue in cheek, but there’s an element to it. Right. Because you’ve got to meet people where they are. Circular economy, regenerative economics, donut economics, all of the green economy, low carbon economy, all of these phrases carry a huge level of scientific rigor that sits behind it. But actually, nine times out of 100, folks want to know what it means to them in their day to day life, be that professionally, personally or otherwise. So for myself, I’ve always taken the approach of using a $3 word rather than a $25. Exactly right. How do you break this down so that individuals can understand that journey?

Garr Punnett (06:25)

I love this. This is perfect. No, this is for anybody who’s listening. It’s a classic, coveted moment here where we’ve been invaded by acute child. Yes. But we left off where you were talking about using $3 worth. Yeah.

James George (06:45)

If I can explain this to my dad, then I’m on the right route. If I can use language actually, for someone who doesn’t care about this space in conventional terms, but actually just wants to know how they can do things better or make better choices, like you hear people talk about if there are any bad choices in a bad system. For me, it’s all about the story and that story, that language, that narrative, that framing needs to change depending on whether you’re talking to a large fortune Global 500, the CFO, or if you’re talking to the guys and girls on the shop floor, or you’re talking to people in the supply chain or you’re talking to people in the community, you’ve got to change that narrative to what will resonate with them. Ultimately, what we’re asking people to do is to do something different from what they’ve done for the last two to 300 years in a linear economy, this idea of taking stuff out the ground, making products, buying them, and when they’re no longer useful, throwing them away and buying another one. We built that economy over a couple of industrial revolutions. We’ve connected people globally.

James George (07:54)

We’ve generated trillions of dollars. We’ve lifted millions of people out of poverty, and now we’re saying to them, that doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for a whole host of fundamental reasons, but we can’t get into all of them on the podcast today. But it doesn’t work. And we need to redesign the world around us so that we can still have choice, so we can still have growth. But so that choice and growth is restorative and regenerative rather than the consumptive and extractive model of takemig waste or the linear economy that we have today. So it is very much about understanding where that story needs to be and depending on who you’re talking to. And despite the fact I just kind of monologue at you for about four or five minutes. For me, that starts with listening, understanding where people are in that journey. And this can also sometimes be quite a motive. If you Peel all of this back, it can almost be considered transformational change management. You have the folks who want to change, the folks that don’t, and the folks that are ambivalent and everyone else in between. And you’ve got to meet each one of those where they are.

Garr Punnett (09:17)

She or he is a force. I don’t know. She is a force to be reckoned with.

James George (09:23)

That’s fantastic. She looked at you to get a bank.

Garr Punnett (09:33)

What you’re saying takes me back to probably actually an earlier moment at Rheaply, where it became really clear that our messaging maybe was off and this was probably about two and a half years ago, where it quite simply was put to us that, hey, by using reapply’s technology I can now put on my resume that I helped save my Department X amount of dollars and helped actually conserve these amount of resources and then have the data to actually justify that to her boss. And it was like that was sort of a clarifying moment where I was like, okay, yes, you do care about all the language that we use in Circular Economy. Yes, it’s impactful. Yes, you understand the purpose, but at the core of it, you need something that helps you do your job better, or you need something that helps you succeed in your career to a certain degree better so that you maybe can get another career improvement or something. And that became very real for us to the point where we are now really looking at how do we support more Champions for reuse? How do we support more Champions for Circular Economy in each one of these fields or industries or organizations?

Garr Punnett (10:44)

And so I think what you said there really spoke to me because that’s always what it takes us back down to. And often I think we still are trying to do this. How do you broadcast Circular Economy at scale to the point where it can now actually be distilled and resonate into different channels appropriately? And that’s really probably our next effort is how do we sort of have the banner of the mission, but really at its core, speak to those individuals.

James George (11:11)

There’s a couple of key points that you pulled out there, which I find fascinating. When, again, you think about this idea of systems change, creating new systems. The current system exists to deliver the results that we see. It’s been perfectly refined and designed to push out what we see now, the results we see. So we can’t expect it to do anything different, because in doing so, if we expect it to do something different, it won’t. It’s madness. You’re going to be knocking your head against a brick wall. We need new systems. But the problem is if you’ve then got the folks within those systems measured and weighed by particular KPIs, by particular grade metrics, by particular remuneration packages, that system is not going to change, not with all of the will and the effort, because it’s your point, whether it’s convenience or whether it’s development or whether it’s just time, those are the bits that motivate people. There’s this great statistic that does the rounds. And I’ll caveat it with the fact that 25% more statistics are made upon the spot. But something like a couple of years ago in the US, someone surveyed around four to 8000 people and asked them about what they care about around environmental factors, sustainability, separate economy.

James George (12:28)

And there was something like when asked upwards of 90% of fixed that they would make better choices if they knew what those choices were and the products they could pick within the store if they knew they had a greater level of sustainable or green credentials. But that 90% would drop to something like 8% when you get to the till when you get to the checkout. Because if you are a single parent, for example, with two or three children, what is your priority? Feeding your kids, providing for your family. And it doesn’t mean you have to be a single parent, right? If you are a family, what’s your priority? Providing for your children? And actually, if you have to prioritize buying a slightly cheaper product, that has worse credentials, because actually that’s what you need to do. You need to feed your children. That’s what you’re going to opt for. So I think your point around sort of, how do we measure success? How do we measure success for individuals? How do we create the right kind of spheres of influence? What is the language we need to use? It’s really important to set that system on a different path or to create a new system.

James George (13:36)

This shouldn’t be the ambition of those who can engage with it from an economic perspective or from a social perspective. These need to be changes within the way we consume, manufacture, distribute staff, and keep that circulating in the economy so that everyone can make the right choice. That’s the scenario I want to get to you, but it’s very, very complicated and it’s extremely complex. And that’s why the right story helps folks get on that right journey.

Garr Punnett (14:08)

I could not agree more often trying. Okay, so a little peek behind our curtain here. We’ve got our business model. We are a SaaS platform. We charge a monthly revenue. We take a certain amount of transaction fees if we connect sort of again, resources to be reused externally for maybe our client organizations. But that doesn’t work for every organization. That doesn’t work for every material type. It doesn’t work for certain categories, even certain sizes of organizations. We’re going to have to figure that out in order to scale even further and to grow sort of our mission. But there’s a fine line, right? I mean, a lot of what we’re going to have to do is almost create the system that touches the linear economy just enough and aligns with the KPIs, the objectives, other things of a linear economy, enough to grab hold of it and try to steer it back in another direction. Where’s that line? And how do we start to really speak the language while also guiding others away from it? What practice at sort of maybe the corporate level, maybe even C suite level have you all had to engage with where it’s like, hey, we know that this is the direction you’re going, but this is how you’ll actually get to a better outcome and something that might actually allow you to enable maybe more resilient supply chains in a ten year frame, not a five year frame.

Garr Punnett (15:45)

If you’re doing it in certain other contexts, how have you had to navigate those sorts of conversations again, where you’re aligning yourself very briefly with sort of linear objectives? But then trying to bend it back around.

James George (15:56)

That’s a great question. And really meaty as well. It’s very fast in there. I might need you to promptly come back and stuff as I meander, off down a rabbit hole. I want to start with one of the points you made there, though, about the sort of resilience in supply chains. I’ve got a big B in my bonnet, a kind of working hypothesis around supply chains and business resilience. And when we think about some of these new topics like climate change, biodiversity collapse, businesses need to start thinking differently about their risk and their resilience planning in the next five to ten years. Again, my back is an envelope working hypothesis. This is where I kind of fold in some of that social impact that we spoke of. This is how it’s conversation before we started recording. When we think about global supply chains. And I’m not a supply chain expert either. When we think about global supply chains, they start somewhere. And I would say typically, if you think about, I don’t know, any products, the clothes we’re kind of wearing when they first got stitched, the fruit and veg we have in our refrigerators where they were first picked, your smart device, where was the first component laid back?

James George (17:20)

Where was the first rare Earth metal extracted from these communities at the start of our supply chains are the ones most at risk from climate change over the next ten years. Unicef published a report about two months ago, something like in the next two decades, a billion children are at risk from negative consequences of climate change. A billion children. So that’s not just children that are necessarily in developing nations. It’s in children in developed nations as well. And these folks start of our supply chains. Generally speaking, when we think about the farmers, the stitches, the miners, they are the folks who have the least amount of resilience. It’s a climate change to access to clean water and clean foods, access to education, to sanitation, to regular clean energy or just conventional energy. These are people miss the risk. So if you’re a business where your supply chain is based fundamentally at the bottom on these communities, unless you start focusing on the resilience in that community, that indirect resilience in the community, in ten years time, the bottoms will start to fall out of your manufacturing models. Right? So for me, there’s this idea that we need to start thinking beyond what we see right in front of us and think down through the supply chain.

James George (18:56)

There’s also another bit here around how do you get people to make that shift? How do you get to people to make change? Comes a little bit back to that sort of storytelling meeting with people where they are. You can use legislation, legislation says businesses, you have to do this and you have to do it in this part of your supply chain. And you have to do it or else. Right. And that can be punitive, that can be you then lose access to markets. It can be fines, it can be all sorts of mirrors. And we all know there’s a spectrum of kind of compliance and everything else that goes with it. Some of these work really well. The carrots, some of these work really well stick. And also sometimes they don’t. So legislation is important to create the right framework to encourage businesses to do the right thing, or at least shift towards a better model. There’s sort of consumer demand. You and I basically got the concept of reuse, maybe even two years ago. Right. Wasn’t at the tip of people’s tongues when they thought about stuff they could do differently. I can now go into my local town.

James George (20:06)

I live on a small island on the South Coast of the United Kingdom. I can go to my local town. There’s a real shop. There’s a shop dedicated to folks taking their own packaging. All the major supermarkets in the UK now and across Europe have elements of lines that have a reuse component to it, where you can take your own containers in coffee shops, Costa, Starbucks, two years ago, even precovered. Okay, the very, very, very evangelical did that, but there weren’t financial incentives for consumer 25 P or 25 of sense of a cup of coffee. If you take your own cup in these things help encourage that behavior. They help normalize that behavior. And then there’s lots of other points in the question. But one of the other points I want to come back to is this idea of scalability. I’ve recently stepped away from this concept of scalability and actually favored more for replicability, because the challenge with scalability means that you just need one solution, and you just want to pump that solution up until it covers a particular geography, a particular industry, a particular vertical, particular product. But as you and I both know, different geographies, different cultures, different infrastructure, different buying behaviors and patterns, different nuances means that you can’t just carbon copy and accept the same thing in different countries, in different industries and different vests.

James George (21:34)

Take one very specific example. Deposit return schemes really don’t work that well in the UK, but work really well in some Eastern European countries. And that’s a bit of a sweeping generalization. But again, there are cultural differences that mean the deposit return scheme works really well in that part of Europe. But actually in the UK, you need to do something slightly different. Similarly, state to state. In the US, there are deposit schemes, there’s extended producer responsibility, but there’s not that federal level legislation. So again, legislation helps consumers help, but then businesses need to identify, why are they doing this? What is the reason they want to do this? To one of your earlier questions, folks come to the table because they want to do the right thing. Folks come to the table because their competitors are doing it or folks come to the table because legislation says they have to. And I’m ambivalent as to why they get to the table, the fact that when they’re at the table, that’s when you can have the broader conversation about why this is important.

Garr Punnett (22:37)

And I’m curious who’s coming to the table? What we often find is it might be, well, you have a host of stakeholders that need to come to the table when you’re actually finding a solution. There’s no panacea. Every Department needs to be involved. What we are always hoping for is that more sustainability departments are given more power or given purchasing ability within an organization to find solutions. But routinely, often we’re finding that that’s not the case. They are empowered to find solutions and to bring them back into the business and to work them into priorities of the business and priorities of the operations. Who do you find though, is really at the table though, that can make those purchasing decisions. Is that the CFO level? Is that a COO level? Again, just to break it down further, the finance, the operations, is that facilities. Is that some sort of marketing team who’s really coming to the table and having these hard conversations?

James George (23:41)

Yeah, actually, I’m sitting at the right table. He’s coming to the table. We’ll post kind of Cop 26 and the flurry of 2035, 2050 strategies that everyone put out with no kind of real yet roadmap of kind of how we get there. We know where we are, we know we’ve got to get to we can create this lovely strategy that as one person signed it up to me, if I don’t solve it this week, I’ll solve it next week because the deadline is up to 2030. And that for me, kind of encapsulated a lot of the mentality coming out of Cock 26. I think it’s got to be all those people, right? These are complex problems. They can’t just be solved by the boardroom who set out strategy but then don’t help the implementers to implement it. It’s got to be your kind of senior middle managers who are going to implement it to understand why this is important and what it means for them individually, for the business, for the resilience and risk for the future. It’s got to be the doers, the guys and girls on the shop floor. Why is this division of what the business wants to do?

James George (24:58)

But then your supply chain, even if you’re Google, you don’t control all elements of your supply chain. So you need to bring these partners in. You need to collaborate pre competitively to bring them on that journey. Because if you just say this is now the standard, guess what, you’re going to lose a whole diverse proportion of your supply chain if you’re going to take it with you. And then also you’ve got to educate your consumers. Take someone like Coca Cola who many years ago said, if we produce Coke in clear bottles or green bottles or whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. The customer is still going to buy it. Brands have the power to influence and influence correctly. So who needs to come to the table? Everyone. The marketing Department, procurement, the board and strategy, your CFO from a kind of new funding model, your innovators, your sustainability folks. But actually this has to be an agenda that sets across the whole of the organization. Some of the best examples I’ve seen, actually, of implementation have been through what I described best as kind of guerrilla movements, sustainability professionals who may be in the two or three within their Department, within the organization, seeking out the other Champions who don’t have necessarily sustainability or circular economy or CSR in their job title, but care and care about their sphere of influence and want to connect.

James George (26:27)

And I’ve seen some really great examples of businesses create a circular to zero strategy based on that grand swell. The noise in the machine is getting so loud that the board can no longer ignore it. Not that they were ignoring it, but it takes on a life of its own. So I think it is, again, just helping to understand where people are and then helping them to amplify that message.

Garr Punnett (26:51)

What have you seen then from the first steps? I think sometimes even we’ve seen the same thing of an incredibly passionate professional who takes it upon themselves to thou give themselves a second job in coordinating new efforts and new initiatives internal to an organization. That’s a great first step. So anybody who’s listening, you can do it. Like that’s possible. We’ve seen it. But what else do you see as sort of the first steps? And let’s take it through sort of maybe the frame of reference of maybe a CPG or a consumer package goods company or some type of you’ve in particular worked with a lot of these companies in guiding some of these conversations. What do they care about the first step most? Is it a research? Is it engaging with their supply chain, trying to bring everybody along? And once they’ve got 80 out of 100 yeses, they take to the next step. What’s sort of that first step that an organization could take? And why is it important, frankly, to either work with you or someone else, but have somebody like a Pixar global advisor on sort of that journey?

James George (28:08)

It’s the most important question, I think, that any organization can ask itself. And it’s where a lot of my conversations typically start. They will come to a conversation because they know they need to do something different, but they don’t know where to start or what to do. Organizations such as yours, such as the MacArthur fellow, Issues Global, there are so many of them out there, have spent a lot of time over the last couple of years across multiple geographies, articulating the reason why this is important. We’ve almost shifted. It’s not wholesale. Right. You can ask people on the street, they might be able to tell you why it’s important. They’re conscious about what they do, but they won’t explain it in terms of the sector economy. And that’s also all right, we shouldn’t get hung up on specific terms, specific framework. It’s actually the principles. Why is this important? Why is it important to you, to your business, that sort of thing? But the thing I see most often when folks come to those conversations is you’ve got to understand why this is important, why this is important to your business on that as well.

James George (29:18)

Right? Is it because legislation says you have to is it because you want to leave a better legacy that unpicks the damage and the impact that your organization has had over the last 510, 2100 years? Is it because your consumers are saying if you don’t do that, we’re no longer going to buy your product again? I’m ambivalent. But you’ve got to understand what is the reason why. And once you have that reason why, that’s how you build your strategy. That’s how you build the structure from there. It’s not necessarily just about hiring people with the right job titles. It’s actually fundamentally, why does this need to be important? Is it important because we want to be here in five years time? Because if we don’t, the market will shift and we won’t keep up. Is it because we’re not keeping pace with our competitors? Is it because we want to set a first mover advantage? You see an opportunity and we are action. So what is that reason why? The second point, I think then, is where can you have some quick wins? I hate the term low hanging fruit, but that’s why I say quick wins.

James George (30:21)

I do have this really great methodology around beacon and bridge projects, and I’m sure I’ll get this slightly out of context, but the way I understand it is there’s a spectrum of kind of projects or approaches, and they say one end is the beacon and the other end of the bridge. The beacon is exactly what it says on the tin. Right. It is an inspirational product, an inspirational procedure, an inspirational business model that allows people to look at it and go, I get it. It might not be perfect, it might all be fully circular or fully regenerative, but it’s a lot further along than the current income. This is possible. This is profitable. This is with purpose. And at the other end of the spectrum is the bridging project, something that’s baked into the fundamentals of an organization, might not be quite sexy, but sets the conditions for the next stage of that journey. And businesses need to fluctuate between those two points, depending on where they are within their particular industry, based on legislation or consumers or every other kind of nuance that comes from it. But they need to be agile and be able to understand when they start on that journey.

James George (31:35)

They may get a couple of weeks or a couple of months or a couple of years down rate and say, right, we need to shift direction again because to one of your points before the narrative evolves on this topic. As we understand more, as we get more into the depth of the knowledge and the theory, of course our perspective evolves. So then our actions have to evolve. So I think the really important thing is starting with your reason why understanding what are your quick wins. And then thirdly, enabling your people, your people are your biggest assets in the fight against this current sort of challenge. Whether it capital reduction, CO2, human capital gets talked about a lot. How do you unleash your human capital? How do you unleash those folks who care about this stuff but it isn’t in their KPIs, how do you set up so it could be how do you create a space for them to hold the community and drive that further? And ultimately, none of us are experts in this space car. None of us. Right. Some of us are just slightly further along in our own kind of journey, but none of us are experts.

James George (32:46)

So we always have to challenge our own thinking with the realities of the industry. But also that doesn’t stop us from sometimes just going, well, we’re not going to get 100% research. So let’s go with 40% and let’s cocreate as we go. Right. Because if we wait for a perfect answer, time will run out. This is the decade action. We head into 2022 in a few weeks time that gives us eight years. And you don’t have to read that many headlines to realize that time is starting to run out. And if we want to reverse and a lot of this stuff is reversible. If you want to reverse some of these challenges, we see. We just have to get started. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but we do have to be open minded that it will shift and change.

Garr Punnett (33:39)

I could not agree more obviously on what we see. And often we’re having a lot of our stakeholders conversations on let’s just do something like we could continue to talk about this at nausea, but why not just try something small and go forward, work together, really understand the data, build that out, make it replicable, scale it out. But I think that’s key when we talk about then how this actually affects the whys of these organizations and then therefore also again their human capital. What are the differences that you’re seeing between the whys and human capital, either in the UK, maybe some other sort of European countries, Scandinavian countries even, and then the United States. What do you see? It’s amazing to hear you say that there are reuse stores that are focusing on either packaging or something to that degree. Well, we don’t have a whole lot of those here in the States yet, but I think they’re growing and we’re getting a lot of zero waste packaging stores. It’s that type of opportunity here. But what are you seeing on maybe we can talk macro. You can even have some examples where you’re having conversations or you’ve had conversations or can see themes developing in UK, in broader Europe and then the United States.

Garr Punnett (35:01)

What are the differences? And then really, how does that play into scaling sort of these circular systems, whether that’s keeping material out of landfill? So a reuse system or some type of remanufacturing or refurbishment system, what are the broader themes here on actually scaling this across the different regions?

James George (35:19)

You’re not playing any punches, are you? But I’ll start with weekly. Right. As an example, we were talking about this before we started recording. You guys over the last few years have just gone from strength to strength. And that’s indicative of how this narrative has moved on from focusing on large assets within universities to everyday consumer products. Right. This idea of stuff has value. It has value financially, emotionally, labor costs, IP, heat, energy, embedded carbon. It has value. But sometimes we can’t always see that value. So actually helping folks to see where that value is but on their bottom line within the supply chain with the actions they can take as consumers, is a really good starting point to shift some of this.

Garr Punnett (36:24)

It’s in that transparency. Right. I mean, that’s often where that action can happen once you see the problem, once you really understand it. Now you’re connecting dots for me on this, it connects you back to that why. But you need to see probably the elements that probably don’t play out as well as in we don’t have a connected economy. Again, the linear economy is actually quite disconnected. And so once you start to see those issues, then you can start to connect those dots. You can put together your why and create your plan.

James George (36:54)

And sometimes connecting the dots is you can only do that if you can pull yourself out of your bias, just kind of day to day pull yourself out to 35,000 foot view or higher and say, actually, you folks across the industry all talking about the same thing, about the same problem, but all trying to solve it in isolation. Imagine the impact you can have if we brought you all together and solve for an industry. And we’ve seen lots of examples of that right around organizations working with competitors or traditional competitors, because actually they see the opportunity, redesigning the landscape, redesigning the opportunity as a way of creating that market resilience, reuse, remanufacture, repair. Again, all of these topics come with a whole trench of educational sort of support and understanding that needs to go with it. It’s all good and well to kind of say we’re going to do this particular activity and almost to contradict myself from the previous answer. The beauty of systems change. The beauty of the world we live in is it is magically complex. And every time you pull a lever here, you can’t predict the other two or three levers that are going to move in six months time.

James George (38:19)

So action is important, but it’s action with a mind for understanding about the consequences, the unintended consequences to happen. And to your point, data is key. And again, I’m not a data scientist, I’m not an expert in data, but I get the idea. If you can create transparency, if you can create an understanding of where a particular product, a particular molecule, a particular substance, material is going, you can predict what its value is against that sort of commoditized economy. So data is apparent, data is King, and we need to understand that. But we need to understand it in a way that doesn’t detract from the problem we’re trying to solve. Again, getting this perfect solution. I think I heard something a few months ago that even the leading climate science that we have now, even the smartest folks in the world, it’s based on models, right? It’s based on our best guess. It’s based on an informed position, but it’s our best guess. We don’t know for certain. And the scientific community have this very kind of open arm policy of saying we’re not going to get it 100% right. But this is the best perspective based on everything we know and everything we’ve seen.

James George (39:40)

But we’re not going to wait to have a perfect hypothesis. We’re just going to experiment and we’re just going to push forward and we’re going to be creative and we’re going to form new alliances and new partnerships and we’re going to make new products. This is how we see innovation and change, by allowing folks the ability to innovate and to bring some of these very creative ideas to the forefront and make them a reality. And they might not be perfect, but what they will do is create that system that allows us to get to the solution we need to get to. I sat in a conference a couple of years ago and there was a group of systems designers on stage talking about this idea of creativity and how we’ve lost partially, we’ve lost the art of the kind of zany, because margins are so tight, because KPIs is so important, because growth at any cost. We’ve never ever said what is enough profit. The system is set up to generate the maximum amount of potential of profit at any time. And what really kind of painted a lovely picture for me was this chapter.

James George (40:56)

When we think about, we think about global challenges. When we think about climate change, biodiversity, collapse, what if we put the entire world’s population on a third of the planet? What if we use another third of the planet to grow the food we need and manufacture the stuff? And what if we left the other surf for the planet and the birds and the bees and all the species. And that would never happen, right? It would never happen. But what if we allowed ourselves to sit in that space for a moment and think about this radical ideas, allow us to just swim in those creative soups that then bring out these kernels of new innovation that we see day to day within the startup community, that we see day to day within the innovative communities that are actually the solutions we need. We can’t solve the problems we face now with the models and the products we’ve created in the past. We can’t use the data of the past to solve for the future. So we need to get much more agile. And the really exciting and interesting thing is we’re doing that at an alarming pace.

James George (42:01)

Blockchain Internet of Things, digital. There’s still huge pockets of digital divide both in developing and developed countries. But we have the power to do that now. We just need to give cars a bit of slack, that we don’t need a perfect solution all the time. We just need a better solution we’ve got right now.

Garr Punnett (42:21)

I love that. And it speaks to again, continuing creativity, continuing innovation, and then also just being good with the ambiguity that, hey, this could evolve and that our models will need to evolve as we learn more, as we can sort of grow and continue to address other systems. At the core of it, it’s because circular economy, sustainability, it’s not a destination. And we’re going to have to continue to learn and grow in order to best serve all the other levers that we undo when we start to actually create some change and modify our current system. Well, we’re at time. And thank you so much for spending the time walking us through this. I think it’s been amazing to better understand where you come from in this world. And also I’m very familiar with Pixar Global’s work and I’m excited to hear that this is where you are sort of taking your next step of your journey in terms of really advocating for more growth and more inclusion in Europe. Can you give us some more details on that?

James George (43:31)

Yeah, absolutely. Again, I spent the first three and a half years of myself focusing purely on the economics, the economic rationale, and that’s still really important. But my thinking has evolved in the last six months. It’s been Pixar global around this idea of equity and equality and social justice and diversity of voice and diversity of thinking. And actually, we can’t expect those folks who historically haven’t been at the table to now automatically have the right tools to step in. We’ve created these kind of barriers over time. Historically, we push people out. We’ve only had conversations with folks that look like us and think like us and that sort of thing. But as I said at the top of the conversation. You’re only then creating a partial solution. You’re not increasing an enduring solution, you’re creating one based on how you think around your own bias. So what I’m really excited about about the work with Pixar and Global is for me getting into my own narrative and my own understanding, my own biases and kind of stripping us out a little bit. But then specifically as an organization that’s kind of based in the US, as country offices in Africa and India and Latin America and China, helping them to also build that out in Europe.

James George (44:55)

So one of my big fixes is over the next twelve months to do exactly that, to establish an offer for them in Europe and to help them and us then create more of a socially inclusive journey for the clients they work within Europe, but also look for new opportunities and new conversations. I see a really interesting shift in the conversation and in the narrative to start to include social impact, environmental justice, just transition the voices. Yes. But on the face of it, it’s just words, right? But actually, again, to one of the previous conversations, how do we dig into that? How do we make this real? How do we take it from the why to the how? And I’m seeing a huge amount of conversation around the highest levels of business within Europe. I think actually historically, folks have talked about the circular economy journey and how maybe Europe was slightly more mature than the US. I think when we think about social inclusion, when we think about environmental justice, when we consider all of the new ones that came from the Black Lives Matter movement, I think the US has been doing this very well for a long time.

James George (46:16)

Certainly my experience over the last six months or so has been that kind of narrative. That approach is in every conversation, in every decision. Europe is just waking up. And that for me, presents a really amazing opportunity to look at these challenges and effectively shift the way the system operates. So if I can influence one person in a position where they can do in a position of privilege, where they can do something better and solve for their own organization purpose. So this idea of shared value, creating impact within the community, but also creating impact for the business, that for me feels like growth, that is restorative and regenerative and enduring. So that’s a really exciting spot that I find myself in right now.

Garr Punnett (47:08)

It’s been a pleasure to have a conversation with you again. I know it’s been some time, but I always look forward to catching up and seeing what you’re up to on LinkedIn and there’s more to come for us. I think hopefully we’ll get to be working more together in the future and then also including more people in solutions. So again, James, I look forward to speaking soon. And thank you so much for being on the podcast.

James George (47:38)

Today. Thanks very much. Great to catch up. Merry Christmas. Happy holidays.

Garr Punnett (47:45)


James George (47:46)

Good to catch up. I’m signing in this week. I’ve been looking forward to doing this with you the last couple of weeks, but thanks very much and again, as you said very much, looking forward to working with you and the team as we drive forward into 2020 and beyond.

Garr Punnett (48:02)

Excellent. Thanks, Sir.

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