Circular Economy: Recent Practices and Potential Issues

Circular economy has become a trendy concept over recent years. Instead of continually performing the “take-make-dispose” philosophies, several pioneers have come up with solutions to make our life more sustainable.

The National Zero Waste Council has collected some notable business models for circular approaches. The “products-as-a-service” model enables people to enjoy service rather than ownership. For instance, instead of buying light fittings, the customers can now buy the service of light. The manufacturers will go to people’s houses and change the fittings whenever a more efficient product is released, and recycle the old materials.

This image was taken from the Ted Talk delivered by Ellen MacArthur: The surprising thing I learned sailing solo around the world.

Also, the “product-life extension” model encourages upgrading and repairing used components of products. For example, engines do not necessarily have to be abandoned when it is broken. Instead, if people make the parts of engines re-manufacturable, they only have to change parts in order to make the machine well-functioned. Additionally, people do not have to throw away the entire toothbrush when they need a new one. Changing the brush is enough to satisfy people’s need of cleaning.

For the most part, I agree with the above approaches that the National Zero Waste Council has mentioned in their blogpost. However, I would also like to challenge the effectiveness of implementing these initiatives in real-world practices. In the post, while the senior managers of Dell eventually oversees the benefit of using recycled materials to manufacture products, not every managers in other firms will react upon these benefits. Since the performance of managers are mostly been evaluated in short-term scales, these decision-makers may favour not-so-sustainable-but-cost-effective methods of production. To sum up, the ideas are good, but the company have to redesign reward system for managers to act in a way that aligns with the companies’ long-term interests.

This image is taken from the article “Sweden is paying people to fix their belongings instead of throwing them away” by World Economic Forum.

In contrast, governments might be able to exercise circular economy with less concerns. In this article, World Economic Forum explores Swedish government’s approach of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by nudging consumers’ choices. The government offers a tax break for fixing machines and clothes. This policy is expected to bring not only consumer’s shift in buying more high-quality, long-term functional products, but also a decrease in unemployment, which unemployed people can get jobs easily from fixing things. The government has successfully provided a reward system(tax-break and employment) for people, so it has less issues in implementing circular economy than private sectors.

To conclude, while the idea of conserving resources are beautiful, this piece will serve as a friendly reminder for people who wish to do so to examine the reward system within their firm before assigning budgets of implementing these ideas. Circular economy can be expensive at first, but there are ways to minimized potential costs. 

Ink Studio, Strategy, and Business Model Canvas

Ink Studio applies several strategies to ensure its growth in commercial activities and promoting traditional Chinese culture.

Can art business sustain itself while reinforcing the core mission of promoting delicate culture? In 2012, three Stanford alumni co-founded Ink Studio, an art gallery focused on Chinese ink painting and calligraphy. Unlike the existing ways that Chinese artworks are being processed and sold, the gallery has several different approaches that eventually lead to its commercial and cultural success.

The business began with differentiating themselves from the art gallery market. Instead of selling a variety of artworks at the same time, Ink Studio chooses to place an emphasis on Chinese ink painting and calligraphy because the three co-founders believe that the above two categories have been widely considered as “the highest form of artistic expression in China for more than 2,000 years”(Smith, 2016). Focusing on only ink painting and calligraphy, the gallery has developed its own features. According to Porter’s generic strategy, the studio is expected to obtain a higher degree of customer loyalty than its competitors.

Besides boiling products down to specific types of artworks, they also differentiate themselves by making sure the artworks are authentic. Britta, the art historian among the co-founders, has a solid experience and 30-year working relationship with the Chinese artists. By directly dealing with the artists, the co-founders believe that there is less chance of selling forgeries.

Next, Ink Studio makes the best use of its customer relationship. Its well-established brand image, such as authenticity and good quality, has addressed glamorous buyers, including Hong Kong’s M+ and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. This in turn makes the artworks sold in the gallery more valuable, and thus increases the revenue of the gallery. The rapid growth in income will further make it possible for the co-founders to focus more on promoting traditional Chinese artwork, which is the core value of the business.

Additionally, the gallery has determined its key resources by identifying themselves as a small business. Though the gallery has been successful now and is invited to some of the most prestigious art fairs in the world, they do not have many stockholders or people that they have an obligation to show their financial report. The co-founders are mainly responsible to only artists, collectors, owners, and themselves. It is this simple structure within a company that they can keep themselves from blurring the overall picture of the business and be less profit-driven, more enthusiasm-oriented.

Conclusively, Ink Studio has outlined several strategies that makes it business successful and holds on to its key values. The successful example of an art business may, in the future, lead to the prosper of art industries.

Proper Language

Raised in a traditional Asian household, I was taught to say ‘thank you’, ‘please’, and ‘excuse me’ ever since I was able to speak. Like many other children, I acquired those polite phrases even before knowing what they mean; watching adults being pleased by how children were able to demonstrate courtesy in an early age, to me, is entertaining enough.

I was terrible at determining what was ‘proper’ to say before entering grade schools. When I was in an ancestral worship ceremony back in Taiwan, the families offered incense. My little cousin stood between the memorial tablet and me and refused to move. Traditionally, the only thing that should be in front of the worshipers were the tablet. Thus, I leaned over, “Go somewhere else. We are not worshiping you.”

My aunt’s face turned red as my mother yelled at me with the sternest tone I have ever heard, “What are you talking about?”

I was genuinely confused. Was I not simply telling the truth?

Mother sighed and explained later that to worship people implies they were dead, which is considered very inappropriate to address. I wanted to argue that the term ‘worshipping’ has many implications. After all, only well-respected historian figures can be worshipped in conventional Taiwanese religions. Nevertheless, I remained silent from then on, trying to minimize the chance of speaking ‘improper words’, even when they could have been perceived differently and many grown-ups just choose to interpret it negatively. Looking back, the event has served as a starting point of my socialization. The real game of being accepted through articulating proper language had inevitably commenced, and once you were in there was no turning back. In elementary school, I immersed myself in a variety of public speaking, recital, and writing contests. The unwritten rules to win were to throw in sophisticated words, to emphasize vocal variety, to use as many figurative languages and to cite as many classical quotes as possible. As a student who had been both extremely obedient and had read more literary works in comparison to my peers, I swept through almost every contest, won the prizes, but always refused to re-read my written pieces or to watch my speeches afterwards. Upon all these efforts, I was considered to be presentable and elegant, but those characteristics have never guaranteed of being honest, creative, and constructively critical. The early-age achievements had made me, paradoxically, proud and embarrassed at the same time.

Words and languages embody individual’s thoughts; for me, however, they used to be tools to win over recognition. In other words, they embody opinions of others: those people who could judge my value by using whatever metrics they please, regardless of objectivity. In linguistic study, however, ‘correct language’ does not exist. There is no definite agreement on how “the parts and the functions [of languages] should be analysed and described” (Rosen, 2). Rather, these normative statements are mostly established due to political reasons: Upper classes make the rules, and languages have thereupon become the criteria for class distinction. The post-war English historian Tony Judt has addressed similar points, in which components of languages such as ‘accent’ were ranked according to ‘respectability,’ usually “a function of social standing and geographical distance from London” (Judt, 148). It is indeed a rule developed as early as the formation of societies: Whoever controls the language controls the people, and vice versa.

Though I have arbitrarily, according to my personal experience, come to the conclusion that the so-called insistence on proper language is not absolute and has discouraged independent ideas, I don’t deny delicate wordings. To me, affectionate languages are the greatest invention in the world, and wonderful ideas are usually conveyed in eloquent dictions; I just cannot agree how anyone has the right to define what is acceptable for others. The rejection of beauty, articulacy, clearness, and all sorts of prevalent merits is unnecessary; the point is to recognize the imposed authority and not to oppress others by the pre-determined guidelines. A counterexample for this occurred in my friend’s junior high. There was a group of so-called popular girls who demanded on using the most direct, colloquial languages. For instance, they raised their hands during class saying that they wanted to go to the washroom to change their pad. So far, the style of expressions was harmless; but these people denounced those who didn’t speak in the same way as them to be pretentious and ‘unnatural’  and alienated them. I quite agree with historian Judt: In modern society, people “unreflectively suppose that truth no less than beauty is conveyed more effectively thereby” (Judt, 151). Truth doesn’t necessarily come from any specific forms of expressions, sophisticated or vernacular. More importantly, the sheer arbitrariness to define what is ‘natural’ for others, the act to demonstrate power through attacking non-followers, has echoed with violence and discrimination around the world, recently or historically.

If heaven exists, it would be a place where people value sincere opinions and know that their power to rule belong to themselves. If I am given a choice between being descriptive and normative, I would pick the latter one. If I ever had children, I would tell them to respect individuals heartily, rather than merely offer graceful lip service. My endeavour with language has unexpectedly led me to the arena of freedom and anti-oppression, and if I could, I would always hold on to the childhood ‘carelessness.’

Works Cited:

Rosen, Michael. “Sorry, There’s No Such Thing as ‘correct Grammar’.” Opinion. Guardian News and Media, 02 Mar. 2012. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.

Judt, Tony. The memory chalet. New York: Penguin Press, 2010. Print.