Renewable Prosperity — A case for materials

Ben Tirone Nunes 1
Article by: Ben Tirone Nunes
Renewable Prosperity — A case for materials

For the second time THNK Lisbon has partnered with the Lisbon Municipality for the Challenge section of the Executive Leadership Program.


Having been inspired by the Renewable Prosperity umbrella theme, the Municipality decided to focus on the goals they have committed to achieve, as by the end of 2016, Lisbon Municipality aims to bring together all relevant Stakeholders to initiate the co-design of Lisbon’s circular materials life cycle.


Contributions to reach this objective were sought by participants in THNK Lisbon Class 2.

Raw materials are precious resources, as they are the building blocks of our existence. Currently we perceive raw materials as finite – after they are sourced and used, they are assumed to end up as waste. Taking a step back and looking at the entire life cycle of materials, we observe that how we go about producing, distributing and disposing of materials to date, can be vastly improved, while leakage can be kept to a minimum. In the complex and dynamic reality we inhabit, we can begin to redesign the way we provide for our needs by tackling some of the following key challenges:

  • Governance and technological development are driving Industry to redesign the way it makes things, taking on a “Cradle to Cradle TM ” and “System Thinking” approach to eliminating waste and up-cycling materials.
  • Material ownership is likely to be substituted by “services” (Example: we won’t buy windows, we will lease the needed functions it provides, including maintenance).
  • Aiming to make commodities effective, diverse and accessible to all, the global “maker movement” builds on open source, collaborative contributions and end user engagement, creating a network of maker spaces to produce locally.
Renewable Prosperity — A case for materials
Circular Economy is likely to be one of the most robust forerunners of the societal model we need yet its scaling power is still impaired by a fragile governance approach Click To Tweet

Circular Economy is likely to be one of the most robust forerunners of the societal model we need yet its scaling power is still impaired by a fragile governance approach. When circular systems engage all stakeholders, building on trust-based relationships, the process is co-owned and the output will be more resilient. Access to commodities that are not locally produced implies transport and this important dimension requires redesign, as it is currently unsustainable.

Will everyone have access locally to the commodities they need? Will materials be fully cradle to cradle (refurbished during use, remanufactured between uses and up-cycled after use)? Will mining for raw materials reduce considerably, and will remanufacturing increase exponentially? Who will own materials? Will there be only a handful of global materials suppliers? How far will we transport which materials? What new materials and maker spaces (Fablabs) will enter our lives? Will cities become production hubs again, where we can make much of what we need, when we need it?

With a few adjustments to the Internet value proposition we can envision the following for Materials:

Our role in materials can go beyond consuming: we can use available technologies to contribute as local production and re-manufacturing. The role of “prosumer” will not result in materials autonomy, but will take a lot of pressure away from the mining materials and commodity distribution systems. The guarantee of continuous access to the right quality services we need is only possible if there is a decentralized, well functioning and intelligent network of maker spaces and infrastructure in place and if it is adequately operated.

To learn more about your role in the circular economy and to join the upcoming Executive Leadership Program, visit the program page.