[0:00:00] EMILY: Hello and welcome back to Happy Porch Radio Season five, this season, we’re talking all things digital in the circular economy. Today, Barry and I are joined by Ellekari and Mariëlle from Circular Stories, an agency and consultancy, hunting for the 100 best circular stories in Europe.
Ellekari and Mariëlle help conscious professionals to create stories for circular and sustainable brands or companies that want to improve their impact and they shared some of those stories with us during this conversation and there are many more stories on their online magazine, platform and it was so inspiring to hear not only the interesting stories that they were talking about but also their own story of how they got into this and how they have a passion for sharing these projects and ideas and businesses and the people who are connected to those projects.
What did you think, Barry?
[0:01:04.5] BOK: Yeah, I love this story, I love their story and the stories that they’re sharing, they started about a year ago and just over a year ago with literal camper van trip, going around Europe and visiting circular economy businesses, which is just really cool. And then as an example or something that fits beautifully into the reason for this season of Happy Porch Radio, they’re doing, I guess, kind of marketing and consultancy and community building services, in a very imaginative way that’s connecting their own purpose to the entrepreneurs and the businesses and the circular businesses that are helping, it is just a wonderful story in my opinion.
[0:01:41.6] EMILY: Yeah, I love that, that they went on a little trip with the camper van and met all these people and kind of that was the seed of the birth of this whole platform and movement and agency that they’ve created. I think that’s a great starting story. And also, this idea of their role being, as you say Barry, kind of connectors in this larger picture of circularity and how we can all help each other to move towards this idea of a circular economy and it’s something that has come up in other episodes that we’ve been talking about this season that, you know, circularity is about different parts of supply chains and connections and feeding into each other.
It's only possible really to do that when we are open with each other and sharing things and connected, so actually think the Circular Stories has a really key role to play in this whole movement.
[0:02:39.2] BOK: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. So hopefully there will be many more stories to follow from them. Without further ado, let’s meet Circular Stories.
[0:02:50.9] EK: Hi, my name is Ellekari Klaasse and I’m together here with Mariëlle Van Hemert. We started Circular Stories and with the aim to connect people and close to loop in the circular economy and we started Circular Stories out of curiosity for the new economy and also the urge to create a movement and somehow make sustainability and circularity sexy and for other entrepreneurs to follow.
[0:03:21.7] BOK: Wonderful, thank you so much and welcome both of you to Happy Porch Radio. As usual, I’m joined also by Emily, my co-host. Where I want you to start, circularstories.org is the site that you’ve created with all these wonderful stories and the videos. Before talking about those stories, it will be fun to talk a little bit about your story. How did this intention that you just described trying to create a movement and to make it cool and sexy, where did that start?
[0:03:49.9] EK: We met each other a couple of years ago and Mariëlle and I got really interested in each other’s background. But also, we found that it was so important to use our own experience for a better world. I just finished my master digital business and the thesis on the circular economy and got interested in the topic and also how we can use it for a better world.
We decided to go on our first circular tour, we went on this tour last year and during this tour, we met so many interesting people at different levels of society and also different levels of the economy, for example, embassies, also entrepreneurs, local governments, camping owners, bigger company owners in different sectors. They all were aiming for different goals of course but the same purpose and we saw these stories and went out there and captured them, already on film. Yeah, decided that the most important to share them with the rest of the world but also for others to learn from them and that’s actually where Circular Stories was born.
[0:05:02.0] MVH: I would like to add some from my perspective because I have completely different background. Originally, I’m a pharmacist, I come from totally different sector and industry, in the healthcare industry and I worked as a brand manager for several years and then moved into the business development and I met Ellekari, yeah, over a year ago and she was on the end of her master thesis, really exhausted talking about the circular economy and that really got me interested as a new framework for business development, while doing good. But I felt like, how can I learn more about this topic, without doing a three year masters, because she was really exhausted and I didn’t feel like going back to university again and we started talking and then decided not to go back into the scientific articles and studies.but just go on a tour and ask entrepreneurs who are already doing it and then interview them and ask them, how does it work in daily life operating your business. That is how the tour started so we went to France, to Spain and as Ellekari mentioned, we were welcomed at embassies and different types of entrepreneurs and actually we discovered there that there was so many stories and the people who are already doing it are so modest, so they don’t really claim their frontrunner position and they have great stories to share but they’re still there, keeping it small and that’s why we decided to dig into these stories and open these stories up and make it more like digitally available, for others to be inspired as well or learn and dig a little deeper in how you actually operate it.
[0:06:52.2] BOK: I really love the literally going on the journey to visit and speak to these people, it’s really cool pictures and video of the van, where you did that journey.
[0:07:01.9] EK: Yeah, it was a wonderful experience.
[0:07:04.5] BOK: Was the intention to kind of setup Circular Stories before you started on this trip? What was it? A case of, hey, we want to do this trip and learn this and then the kind of the idea of the site and sharing and the videos and so on, I took the journey.
[0:07:19.9] EK: Well, we didn’t want to be like the next consultants, like people who are telling other people to do what they have to do, from a theoretical perspective. But also coming up with huge reports and then ask a lot of money for it and we wanted to be different, in that sense. But also, sort of learn it the practical way because we already studied some of the theoretical parts, at least I did, how does it really work and it’s also, it’s much more appealing for others that they can actually learn from the best.
Yeah, when we were, I think exploring like how can we form a couple so strong to actually help others, then yeah, Mariëlle came up with the idea, let’s get my camper van and get out there and I think it’s – yeah, came quite nice really like this.
[0:08:11.2] MVH: I think when we got back, we decided to really put emphasis on the stories.
[0:08:14.8] EK: Exactly, yeah.
[0:08:17.1] MVH: It just felt like it triggered us as well. It really got to us and we really learned so much that we thought this could be of value for others as well.
[0:08:28.9] EK: And it was so lovely, I mean, we had so much love during this whole adventure and we found so many beautiful front runners that really wanted to also connect with us so there was an opening to create a network and to bring this network together also because they all wanted to stay connected after we got back in Holland.
[0:08:51.2] EMILY: What a great adventure, sounds like there’s so much fun and such an opportunity to go and really speak to people and as you say, kind of learn hands on what’s happening and how things are actually working and I love the idea that you had the chance to go and do this, to go and take a camper van and travel and meet people and not everyone gets that opportunity so then, bringing home those stories and saying, we’re going to share this with the world because we know that what we have been able to do is really fortunate. That’s really great starting point I think to kind of sharing what you learned.
[0:09:28.3] MVH: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s also, if you look at for example, the statistics then you see that foremost, the largest part of entrepreneur’s worldwide is existing of small and medium sized enterprises. If you really want to create a movement then that’s the place where you should be – not only in corporates but also at smaller companies. But those companies find it often quite challenging to start a new business or to come from linear to a circular business model because they just don’t have the knowledge.
I think for us it was also important to be able to create a way to communicate to these kind of people and make it less theoretical but more like hands on, nice content, things that you can easily understand, that’s also something that we’re still improving over this year, what’s the way to communicate and what’s the way to do things together but I think that’s really important to give also these people interesting information to take their first steps towards a circular economy.
[0:10:35.7] EMILY: Ellekari, you mentioned that you were interested to learn about the kind of practical side of it because you’ve done this masters and you dived really deep into the theory and research and the study of it but seeing the practical side and how people are actually working with circular economy was a kind of highlight of the trip for you I think you said. What differences did you see or what surprised you about the way people were applying circular economy compared to what you had studied so far?
[0:11:08.3] EK: Good question. I think in general, what we found out is that when you look at it from a theoretical way than you see that there’s a lot of studies has been done about specific frontrunners, for example, Philips is an example that is the artisanal, a lot of times in presentations and I think there’s actually already a lot has been done by smaller entrepreneurs also, and then I think, from the theoretical part, you see that a lot of knowledge should still be gained by entrepreneurs and organisations before they can actually start. But now if you look in practice, you see that people are actually make the first step by just implementing a different system into their current business model by just doing it differently.
I think in general, it’s just about taking the first step instead of be so much driven by the whole theory about it. I think it’s also, there are so many definitions of the circular economy that go around, for example in Spain, it’s much more about the social parts so inclusivity of people and creating a more social network, while in Germany or in Holland, it’s much more about closing the loop and – but, if you look at this way and look at this world just from a common sense perspective, then the first step is actually a very easy one to take. Because it’s the place where you can make the most impact and which is the easiest to take and then you can already make a change.
I think that’s something that I thought it was much more harder to create a circular economy. But, if you look around you, there’s like so many opportunities and so many possibilities and I really don’t get why it’s so hard.
[0:12:59.4] EMILY: Mariëlle, how did you find it coming from a very different perspective in terms of not having so much of a theoretical background and diving into these stories and both in terms of the trip and also I suppose subsequently with various different stories? What’s kind of been coming up for you in terms of circular economy and what it is and how it’s used around Europe?
[0:13:23.8] MVH: Yeah, being totally blank on this topic. I googled some articles and I took an overview of Ellekari’s thesis and I thought, wow, this is really complex, I really need to dig into it and I don’t know anything about it. But then, being on this trip, it was so clear to me that everyone can start tomorrow, taking first steps.
We talked to this lady who owns a camp site and she was just making tiny progression with each steps, like she needed a new toilet building and she was just having this question about how do I get recycled materials to build my toilet building and how do I finance it and appreciate it from my balance in the end, because it’s circular and it has to go back into the loop. When this lady has these questions and other entrepreneurs have other questions, you just see that they got started and then they source a network around them to make it possible and get like tiny bits of information.
I thought that was way easier than applying whole frameworks and redesigning your whole process. For me, that was getting more of a practical perspective to this theoretical framework and way of thinking, that makes it easy accessible for all of us I guess. What really struck me was the energy and the drive and a vision that each and one of these entrepreneurs have.
Nobody started it for the money but they all started it because they were convinced that this was the way forward and by doing this, they could start and make an impact, I love that, I love purpose driven entrepreneurs, who really want to do best for the world, while running a good business.
[0:15:19.5] BOK: Yeah, 100% agree, that‘s really exciting and a bit of a theme in this season of the podcast, it's definitely a recurring theme. I do want to talk a little bit more about some of those stories and hear more specifics and more examples, but before doing that, now that it’s a year later and Circular Stories has become a real thing, what is Circular Stories intended to be? We talked about sharing the stories in a sort of a digital magazine site, you’ve got this awesome videos and films. And then you also talked about consultancy and the sort of agency side. What is your vision, what are you working towards for Circular Stories?
[0:15:53.0] EK: Circular Stories is intended to be a European platform but I must admit that we already get some phone calls from outside of Europe also, maybe there’s a future behind the borders of Europe also. Yeah, we really want to accelerate people and entrepreneurs and the circular economy and to help them get the opportunities to work to a better future and a new economy.
I think it slightly changed over this year because we started it making a campaign for the new economy and now, we have more a function as a platform, because it’s on one side, we give entrepreneurs a stage so they can deliver their message and we also help them create the right message for their target group which is more like a marketing agency, on the other hand we also translate their solutions into tools for others to learn from and by creating this network, we also create a ripple effect. So yeah, I think we really want to make that change.
[0:17:01.5] MVH: Yeah, I think it’s changed over the year and as we see it now, we have these beautiful stories that could inspire consumers or professionals in all ways and we definitely want to create hundred stories so we’re still looking for sustainable brands that really want to put their story out there in film and the films are used by the brands as well and put on our platform so it’s two-sided. And then we also discovered that talking to all these entrepreneurs and the large network, Ellekari already had and I had from our previous job that bringing together these in that moment and this network can also function as a sort of think tank, is that a correct English term?
We say that we can actually solve some issues or problems that larger corporates have or other companies have by, putting discretion in our network and looking in our network. Who could possibly answer this and look from it from different perspectives? We’re sourcing that question in our network and coming up with some advice on the bigger problem from this knowledge of all the startups or other entrepreneurs who are already doing it.
[0:18:18.3] BOK: Yeah, that’s really interesting and I guess it ties back to what you were saying before about being purpose driven and that your purpose in a way you think you keep referring to is accelerating and creating a community and a movement and pushing things forward in terms of circular economy and the new economy. Is it fair to say that that is your purpose?
[0:18:38.3] EK: I think our purpose is connecting people in a wider sense in the network but also with themselves and their own values and in that way closing the loop.
[0:18:49.6] BOK: I love to hear a little bit more or maybe you could pick out one or two of your favourite stories and share a little bit with us some of these people and their stories you have met along the way?
[0:19:00.8] EK: Yeah, there is a story but it is not yet published but it will be this week, which is very nice. It is actually a love story but I like to begin with the story of first story it is about Thuisbasis- a restaurant and this entrepreneur is really – he started half a year ago and he wanted to make the first circular restaurant in Amsterdam and he’s cooking with waste streams. So zero waste is his policy inside his restaurant and yeah, he is really making a difference also.
In terms of during corona, when corona hits also in Amsterdam then he decided that he would stand out for people that are really in need of food and he reached out to his network and made sure that all the restaurants that just closed would deliver their food to him, so he could spread it out in Amsterdam and after corona, he decided to build up his new restaurant and what he does is he really makes everything out of, for example one beet root or like a fish that he uses everything out of the fish.
And even the bones, he will make salt out of the bones and he is also making [inaudible] now and fermentation and kombucha and other sorts of really old fashioned circular techniques to help others to also create a very zero food waste menu. So yeah, I think that this is really an inspiring young entrepreneur, full of tattoos, not the kind of circular guy you would expect but yeah, really enjoyed listening to the stories about food and he is really purpose driven.
[0:20:39.4] MVH: It was also quite a challenge, right? To get the story straight.
[0:20:42.8] EK: Yeah, exactly. Yeah because those kind of entrepreneurs are not really the best on film for example and these guys are from Amsterdam and they really have this quite strong accent also so once you try to understand them and we also want to translate it in perfect good, strong sentences on film yeah, that is quite a challenge. So I think we taped it a million times. It became a good story, absolutely.
[0:21:15.8] BOK: I really love that and I think that is really relevant to the reason for this season of the podcast too. You’ve got somebody there who is doing very powerful and he obviously really cares about the food and the things that he is doing and then your role is to kind of tell that story and bring into the digital format of film, which is often with the skillsets that we talk about on this podcast. So I think that is a really excellent example of what I think a lot of what this season is about. Do you have any other fun example?
[0:21:51.8] MVH: Yeah, we do have examples and one isn’t on our website yet but it is I think it’s about [inaudible] in Spain and the other one falls a bit around beer. So hard to choose between these two. One of the stories that really, really struck me and then I really understood what circularity was about and how it incorporated in the environment and in the business it could be is out a story about [inaudible] and [inaudible] is a nature area just a bit north of Barcelona.
I think it is a one and a half hour drive and we were invited at a company called Mycelio Organic. When I drove up there, I just ended up in one of the most astonishing nature parks in Spain with cliffs and sunrises that were just incredible and I entered and I found the address and it appeared to be a beautiful hotel that was just built completely in balance with nature, the architecture was really making most out of the environment and insulating the hotel using the rocks and using the light from the daylight.
So they should have least energy. It had a windmill too to gather on energy. They have a wheelchair oven to heat the pool and then apparently, they have this basement, which of course couldn’t be rented out as a hotel room because no one wants to stay in that humid and dark cellars and they rented that out to Mycelio and Mycelio was actually making exotic mushrooms that are used by the best restaurants in the surroundings and setting up their own business.
But also they told me about the project that is called the [inaudible] Life Restore Project and they were working together with the forestry in Catalonia for this nature area to enhance the health of the forest and I said, “How do you do that?” They almost told me that, the entrepreneur from Mycelio, he told me that there is a lot of maintaining of forest and keeping it healthy is quite expensive. You have to get people out there, you have to maintain the forest.
But actually all the dead wood that is there is some sort of fire hazard in the warmer months but also that that wood has value as bio char. So they set up a program to collect the dead wood from the forest increasing the safety and health of the forest, while using this material as an extra resource for their business and set up a bio char business. And also they would mix the sub-chart of the mushrooms with this bio char and then making a fertiliser of it that they could use for the forest locally but also export to other agriculture business.
And I thought this was just a perfect symbiosis of how well this mushroom company and the nature surrounding is but also creating jobs in the environment of maintaining the forest and I thought that works as a perfect example of how it all fits together.
[0:25:11.2] EK: Yeah that is really beautiful. I wasn’t there so I am still very jealous of Mariëlle that she had the chance to see this all alone but when I saw the pictures and the movies and the entrepreneurs, it was lovely to see. Yeah and then other great example, just evolves around beer, like we all love to drink beer and I discovered that by telling the story of Ecofario that actually beer contains micro plastics nowadays and I wasn’t aware.
But they told me we each consume the size of the credit card on micro plastic each week and I was just astonished by that. Because due to the plastic pollution or the shoes we wear with the rubber soles that scrape off from the street, micro plastics are everywhere, even in our beers and this company found a way to filter out micro plastics without using filters and you can imagine if all of our waste water has to be pushed through filters to actually filter out this tiny particles. Then it’s really requires a lot of energy.
And they found a way to rotate the micro plastics out of the waste water and the most striking thing in that story is that one of the founders he has like this Whatsapp a profile pick that has this sort of seagull plants and the subtitle is "Forcing tiny shit into heavy rotation." And I just love the way that they identify with what they do so much and if you then look at how it all comes together, we also have this girl that just uses the waste streams of beer to develop an unplastic.
And that is a completely biodegradable sort of not-plastic but it can be used for food packaging. So this one single product can replace all the packaging we nowadays see in the supermarket and I think it is super interesting that just normal products like beer can provide waste streams that could provide solutions for major problems we have right now.
[0:27:31.4] MVH: Yeah that is really brilliant I think and also we have a lot of really young entrepreneurs like people who just came out of university and they came up with a brilliant idea and then had the chance to research it in university. So one of the other stories concerning packaging is Solo Blue, who is making packaging out of seaweeds. That is actually a love couple so the two of them are married and we also have another love story, which is about N2 Applied, also a fertilising company.
And yeah, if you look at the stories then for example they have a fertiliser, which is mostly made out of cow slurry. So there is nothing sexy about that, but then when we are talking to this entrepreneurs, we found out that they met each other on a dating app while he was in Libya researching for fertiliser company and she was in Oslo. Her employees at her former company decided to put her on a dating app because her personal life was not going the way it should be.
And he was in Libya and she was in Oslo and he asked her the question if she would see a future for Berglund, that was the fertiliser company that he was working for and somehow they got interested in the topic and yeah, she was good in developing companies and when they met, they knew that they would go on this adventure together and quit their jobs and started to develop what might be a new fertiliser revolution. It is really, really beautiful to see all of these stories and to talk to these entrepreneurs.
[0:29:10.2] EMILY: Yeah that is a sweet story. It is always nice the stories that I’ve read and seen the videos off in your platform and hearing you talk about the stories now. It is always nice to have that combination of this is a really interesting project. This is interesting from a theoretical and practical perspective. But at the same time, we’re telling the human stories of what they are doing and how they got into this and so it is a very much a social project at the same time. That is the feeling I get from it, which is really nice.
[0:29:41.4] EK: Yeah, we want to show the person behind the story and the people that are actually doing it.
[0:29:46.9] MVH: Yeah and it really helps entrepreneurs as well. So a lot of them are using these films to pitch also to investors to get the more personal story out next to the slide text with all of the data and they’re actually really happy by sharing this.
[0:30:03.1] EMILY: So you mentioned that you are aiming for the hundred best circular stories. Where are you at in that goal right now?
[0:30:11.7] EK: I think we are over 30 stories now and we met interesting entrepreneurs already but for publication ready, I think there are over 30 now.
[0:30:22.6] EMILY: Bearing in mind by the time this podcast is actually released, it may likely be well ahead of the stories, and will have many more things on your platform. What’s the goal for you in terms of after you have collected the 100? What do you hope will be the next step beyond that?
[0:30:39.3] MVH: I am sure there are more than a 100 stories around here. It’s good that after we have the 100, we go for at least the thousands. Because all of the people that are inspired by these stories hopefully they had the chance to create their own circular story and we are happy to help them in taking the first steps to make it. So there is circular story or the beginning of circular story around every corner.
[0:31:04.4] EMILY: Yeah, nice.
[0:31:05.8] EK: I think in three years, I really see that Circular Stories is a brand that is used in other countries. So we are making the first steps with ambassadors in France and in the Netherlands to pick up the Circular Stories and produce the Circular Stories locally. And they’re the same brand and platform. So we want to spread it more and we definitely see ourselves as a think tank that companies could go to get an answer to their problem and to the next step in closing the loop while sourcing it in our network. So we really want to make steps there as well.
[0:31:48.6] EMILY: In terms of finding solutions to problems are you referring to the two of you as in a kind of a consultancy fashion or more of the connecting people within the community or both?
[0:32:01.1] EK: I think it is a hybrid form. What we envision now is if you have a challenge or you want to take certain steps, we bring our network like we activate our network and source your question there and we ask the best in the field or maybe in sectors that you are not familiar with yet like what is the latest technology, what did you try and didn’t work and what did you try and did work? And then we as intermediate consultants bring all of those knowledge back together.
And give that as the advice to our clients. So you actually have access to a lot of knowledge and a lot of things that are already happening in the field. So you can really speed up and I don’t take the turns that didn’t work that others already did and that is a dead end but you can just choose a path that has the best potential and when technologies are perhaps interesting to solve this problem and one of the startups has that technology, of course we connect them and to see if they can do some business together.
[0:33:11.8] EMILY: That is actually a really reoccurring theme that we’ve come across in this season so far, how the people that we talk to and the projects that we are exploring are kind of a piece of a much bigger puzzle and everything is fitting together and kind of overlapping in certain places and certainly supporting each other and that this whole idea of a circular economy, I am starting to wonder if maybe it should be called a circular community, because it is about so much more than just the economical exchange that comes out of it.
[0:33:46.3] MVH: Yeah, you are absolutely right. We said that as well that everything is connected and what is a waste stream for one could be very, very raw material for the other and you need to collaborate with partners within the ecosystem to make it work and also by enabling others to work more circular, or open their view and their mindset to work circular, you actually enable your own company to be more circular because when everybody is doing it, there is this energy created and the same mindset created and we hear that a lot. If more companies would go circular, it would be easier for us to do it as well.
[0:34:33.7] EK: And I think it is also funny actually that in our linear economy people or companies or government try to make it more easy because, yeah, there is steps that you take towards your products are always — they're not complicated anymore. We try to un-complicate the world in the linear system while the world is actually is very complicated. So to create loops and to form a circular economy, we have to make it complicated again or at least see where the opportunities lay and that’s not possible in a linear system.
[0:35:12.6] BOK: I really like the fact that we have gotten in our conversation a little bit of a loop there coming back to your role and your story, which is something that I am really excited about in terms of the context of the conversations on this podcast because this season of this podcast is about those of us who provide those services or making or describing that connecting, enabling and supporting service that you provide is, I think, one I am hoping we can kind of encourage and inspire within the sector generally in marketing day to day and the video work and everything as well as technology.
So I am really excited about that. I know I wish we had more time. I’d love to hear more stories and to dig into some of the themes and the different things there but for those listening to who want to go and find out more, we’ll make sure we link to Circular Stories and so maybe just so you can share where is the base place for those listening to get in touch with you both?
[0:36:12.0] EK: I think the best place to get in touch is via the website, via our contact page and of course, you can reach us via LinkedIn. Yeah, we’re happy to get in contact.
[0:36:23.4] MVH: Yeah, I would say everyone who is interested, go to www.circularstories.org and check out some of the stories and if you want to get in touch with us, just drop us an email or a message on LinkedIn.
[0:36:38.5] BOK: Wonderful. Yeah, we would make sure we put those links and maybe that is the place to go to watch some of those videos and to find out more of those specific stories that you are sharing. Thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate your time.
[0:36:50.8] EK: It was a pleasure being here. Thank you for the invite.
[0:36:53.9] MVH: Absolutely, thanks a lot.
[0:36:56.6] EMILY: Thank you. Thank you both.
[0:36:59.6] ANNOUNCER: You can find notes and links from this episode plus a full transcript at happyporchradio.com. If you are enjoying the show, please take a moment to give us a positive review on your favourite podcast app. Thanks for listening to Happy Porch Radio.