Nick Gonios
October 19, 2021
53 min.

The Circulist Quest #4

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About the Episode

Episode 04 : Show Notes.

John Gertsakis, Director of the Product Stewardship Centre for Excellence, is a sustainability and communications practitioner with over 20 years of experience in the sector. Having worked as an advocate, consultant, and research academic, John is a trailblazer in this space. In today's episode, John talks to Nick Gonios about his experience and what it was like being at RMIT at such an innovative time in the institution's history. We talk about what good design truly means.  John then dives into product stewardship and why this is so important if we are to work toward truly circular economies. Wrapping up, we touch on planned obsolescence, the dangers of greenwashing, and insights on how to create better systems. Tune in to hear it all!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Get to know today's guest, John Gertsakis.
  • What drew John to work in the sustainability sector.
  • John's experience at RMIT during a pioneering time in design.
  • Why companies were drawn to work with RMIT.
  • The definition of good design, according to John.
  • John's take on the state of design in Australia and whether the country has lost its way.
  • The impetus for Australia's first product stewardship act in 2011.
  • What product stewardship means and how this happens in Australia.
  • Examples of different ways we are seeing product stewardship.
  • The issue of planned obsolescence and developments that are happening in this space.
  • Recycling alone is not enough for a circular economy.
  • We have to get to positive and restorative outcomes.
  • The importance of being weary of greenwashing.
  • What the Product Stewardship Centre of Excellence is doing to get the message out there.
  • Electronics contribute greatly to making a world better; we can't demonize them entirely.
  • John's take on how we can create a better world.
  • The pandemic has given us a great time to pause and reflect on systems that don't work.

Quotable Quotes

“The definition of good design increasingly has to address the creation of environmentally and socially-positive outcomes that are commercially successful too.” — @BlooPlanet [0:11:39]

“Product stewardship at its core is around those who place products and related services on the market taking greater responsibility from an environmental perspective, a social dimension, for the impacts and issues associated with those products they place on the market.” — @BlooPlanet [0:25:26]

“We can't talk about the circular economy if we don't deal, in real terms, with how we will prolong the life of products and materials.” — @BlooPlanet [0:32:45]

“Normality, in many respects, has been anti-society and anti-environment.” — @BlooPlanet [0:50:59]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

John Gertsakis
Centre for Design RMIT University
TU Delft
Product Stewardship Centre of Excellence
Circulist Quest

Host Nick Gonios
Producer Jim Lounsbury

Episode Transcript

Nick Gonios: 0:06 Hi, everyone, welcome to The Circulist Quest podcast. I'm Nick Gonios and today I'm excited to be speaking with John Gertsakis, sustainability and communications Practitioner with over 20 years experience as an industry advisor, consultant, advocate and research academic. He was a senior research associate at RMIT University's world recognised Centre for design for 10 years. In this episode, we're going to learn about what keeps john up at night, how he continues his relentless pursuit on solving a range of issues covering product stewardship, circular economy, sustainable product design and policy reform. I'm also intrigued to go back in time with john co authored Australia's first report on E waste in 1997, titled, short circuiting waste from electronic products. John, thank you for joining me on The Circulist Quest. How you doing?John Gertsakis: 1:00

Hello, Nick, it's good to be here. I'm doing well, despite everything that's going on in the world. I'm doing well.

Nick Gonios: 1:06

Great to hear. So I'm excited. I'm really just I'm really excited to have a chat with you because of just looking back to your background and just, it just has blown me away about what you've been involved with. So let's go back in a little bit of time, hey, and I've sort of done looking at sort of doing some research and so forth, we found that one of the one of the people involved in launching the Ico specify a product database for interior designers and architects in the 1990s and co authored Australia's first report on E waste in 1990 cervid called short circuiting waste from electronics products. So with On that note, let's go back in time, john, and until we read about your backstory.

John Gertsakis: 1:45

You've been doing your research, Nick, very much always part of a team Nick, on all of these projects, and research activities. It really began with my undergraduate studies at RMIT Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology back in the 80s, doing a degree in socio environmental assessment, under a landmark degree at that stage an early degree that was really looking at sustainability going beyond environmental science or ecology, really looking at the social economic, the ecological under the leadership of Professor Chris Ryan, who really was talking about the circular economy under a different brand back in the 80s. So I really began with my undergraduate studies and then doing some work with the state government and with the environment movement after graduating, but really, you know, the key point I suppose, was going back to RMIT to work at the Centre for design with Chris Ryan, and the Centre for design team where our focus was entirely on the role of design in delivering a sustainable future and looking at design across different disciplines across different domains, product design, interior design, architecture, fashion, textiles, etc. And, and it was really my introduction was privileged in a sense we, I was brought in to help organise eco design one, it was Australia's first conference around eco design lifecycle thinking all of these issues. And our keynote speaker, and some of your listeners may be aware was a fellow called Victor papinek. Victor papinek wrote a seminal text called design for the real world. And so I had the privilege of hearing this this man, firsthand presented our conference in Melbourne, and it really set the agenda for me in understanding that design has a key role to play. I spent 10 years at RMIT working on design working with industrial designers, manufacturers, I didn't do any lecturing our time was all about applied industry research. We worked on the new dislikes dishwasher camera kettles, black moles packaging, workstations, fish, Ravello, commercial interior, so it's very much a hands on application of design, good design that addressed environmental factors, introducing the companies to lifecycle thinking and lifecycle assessment was part of that 10 years, what I realised is you could redesign products, but in terms of really starting to achieve significant environmental outcomes, you need systems and that's where I discovered extended producer responsibility, product stewardship, the principles of a circular economy and you're really then focusing my research efforts in my industry efforts around product stewardship.

Nick Gonios: 4:41

Yeah, it's amazing I go when I when I did, went back and did the check out the research I was quite eerie might have when the RMIT Centre for design actually kicked off in 1991 was actually a pivotable pivotal point in time for me personally when I was graduating out of your NSW with a Bachelor of Science and a major in Information Systems, but A wannabe industrial designer at heart personally, and it was sort of back when we had our last major recession. Right. And you know, we've had 30 years of uninterrupted growth in Australia, which I think personally, for me has been probably the worst thing that's ever happened to us. But that's a whole nother discussion. It's just interesting to see there was an amazing landmark of people back in the day from that sort of centre that really sort of became sort of just spread themselves globally and also interconnected. And we're quite pioneering I would say, at an international stage on what could be done out of Australia, I sort of saw better bits and pieces around things around the lifecycle assessment, the tools around that, the digital x diswasher. And amazingly, the brand called camera gauges said with like, with the axis kettle, or the electric kettle, what was it about those organisations and those products back in the day that was sort of quite pioneering and sort of conceptual and thinking at the time, when you look back in time, they were relatively pioneering thinking, but I'd be interesting, get your views firsthand on what were the experiences from that from that period of time?

John Gertsakis: 6:05

Sure, sure. And look, one thing to just highlight before I talk about those company projects is, you know, again, a lot of our work was learning from others. It's not as though we built this up from the ground up, he, Australia at RMIT, we had a very strong relationship with the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands, who really were at that time, and continue to be seen as leading the way on the role of design the role of lifecycle thinking, methodologies for working collaboratively with companies with manufacturers. So we had a very, very good relationship with t u Delft. And people like Connie Bakker, who is now Delft inaugural professor of circular design, for example, how to visit Elbert V is not many other people in that facet calling on people who really did pioneering work around design but you know, today it's it's fashionable to talk about service design, you know, the the Delft was talking about service design and sustainability in the late 80s, early 90s. So I just wanted to make clear that we had some really good partnerships with Delft with the Domus Academy Mulana polytechnical people like it's your Manzini. And also through Chris Ryan, Lord University and the institute there for industrial environmental economics, where the focus very much with the term extended producer responsibility was what But getting back to your question about companies Yeah, there was there was a mix of reasons why some of them participated in our programme and that programme is called eco redesign. It was funded by the Australian Research Council and the then Energy Research and Development Corporation. But you know, companies like dish select the produce the dish selects dishwashers, they were owned by email appliance and South Korea, different merges, etc. But for them, their product category was directly touched by energy star ratings, water efficiency ratings, they could see what their competitors in Europe, Marsh Bosch, Mila ESCO, AJ, we're doing on design for recycling, energy, efficiency, durability, etc. So companies like South Corp and the district's dishwasher was about you know, how could they work with the university group to bring in some new knowledge, new expertise, understand lifecycle thinking, look at where the key issues and impacts are, how to design those out how to design an environmentally positive product. And a result of that collaboration is probably one of their most successful ones was that it maxed out on the energy star rating. During that period, it maxed out on water efficiency, it was designed for disassembly and recycling. Now, whether Australian consumers in the Australian market was ready for all of that's another thing, but it was a great example of a company that was progressive, enthusiastic engineers and designers and marketers working with us. And so that was a good example because often, there's a lot of talk in academic research and very important work undertaken, but often the big gap and the shortfall is commercialization. So we felt really, we were really you know, we felt like we'd achieved a lot against the odds to not only get in there and apply some research with the manufacturer, but to see a product commercialised into the market, max out on compliance, win awards, so on and so forth. So that was interesting. Companies like chavela commercial interiors, you know, progressive then progressive now in terms of interiors, health and well being environmental performance. Peter chavela, Josh Ravello could see that your sustainability and environment on the radar strategically. So that was a that was a really wonderful phase of exploration and design. And we did some really interesting work. You're prototyping the workstation of the future. Yeah, that was a period where there was lots of discussion in interior design and facilities management about hot desking hotelling colocation. So we looked at these issues and how do these things in had on the design of furniture, workstations, petitions, ergonomic seating, caddies, etc. And also how do we make sure that we build in environmental performance? We look at the materials that have been specified their contribution to indoor air quality or otherwise, what happens to them at in the first life? Is there scope for recovering these products refurbishing them, because we were looking at competitors to a lot of our work was competitor analysis. What was Herman Miller Steelcase? Hayward no vilka. In Europe, what were they doing around work for workplace furniture and environmental issues. And so we learned a lot there. And we brought that to bear on our work with, with chavela. So some really interesting early work around design. Yeah, we call it eco design, then, you know, the programme was called eco redesign. I'm increasingly of the view that prefixes are a little bit more about marketing. And they don't really add much to me, it's all about today, in terms of my learnings, it's really about good design. And the definition of good design increasingly, has to address the creation of environmentally and socially positive outcomes that are commercially responsible and successful, too, rather than eco design, sustainable design, you know, but if quite a few commercial projects with manufacturers and design teams, hardly ever hear them talk about eco design. Yeah, they talk about what the clients want. Yeah, they, they're manufacturing, masters and partners. And it's about design, engineering, product development, rather than fancy language. I think one thing as I, as I develop more grey and silver hairs is I'm wary of fancy language. Without the outcomes, if you know what I'm saying.

Nick Gonios: 11:40

I'm with you, 100%. I know exactly you're coming from I've got my similar views with regards to the term manufacturing. And we put these, we slap these labels in front of it, like advanced manufacturing, and modern manufacturing, and, and all these other forms of manufacturing, but then the day it's manufacturing, and when we think about it, and we look through it, when we typically think about manufacturing, we typically look through the rearview mirror and we look at how old and bad and cumbersome it is and unproductive relatively So may I hear you in terms of the the the the badges, but I mean, that's quite amazing. jondor sort of here, you sort of say that, what is it about the I mean, you know, we're both based in Australia, I'm quite a globalist at heart when I look at things, and I think you are as well, in terms of just how you see with what happens in northern hemisphere in the rest of the world. You know, what is it about our part of the world that is, remember, we've gone through an interesting period of time over the last 30 years with breaking the OECD, OECD record for the most uninterrupted growth, historically of over 30 years as a country, I look at it from my point of view and say, that's actually been a bit of a detriment from my perspective, when it comes to production of amazingly great world design, you know, good design products and experiences locally to take to the world. You know, you're you've been at the eye of the storm for many years, if not many decades. How do you see that, you know, combining where we are as a country to also, you know, how we've evolved as a country? What are your thoughts and views on on when it comes to the fact that we've Have we lost our way, ultimately, in some ways, you know, when it comes to good design and the appetite for it at a holistic systemic level? Right? Not just not just as a good feature?

John Gertsakis: 13:18

Look, I don't think we've lost our way. I think we don't have the balance, right? I feel that, you know, again, if we look at the production of manufactured goods, the design of buildings and structures, infrastructure, you know, we have world leaders, designers, engineers, technologists are brilliant. It's really about how those different disciplines, domains, professions, have been applied to add value. And I think that's where the balance hasn't been great. You know, we haven't added value to the minerals we extract the fibres, we grow, we just haven't added enough value. Sure, there are isolated areas of activity, great innovation, incredible profitability in some areas. But overall, we really haven't got that balance. Right. We've suffered from the loss of a lot of men manufacturing from this country, I think in part for the wrong reasons. Where has investment not gone and gone in terms of design and manufacturing? So that's that's part of it. I think some of it also, you've just wary about generalising too much. Because you have to look at very particular product classes or industry sectors to really look at what are the pros and cons once but yeah, there's great examples of men success internationally. Coming out of Australia, med tech, you know, Coppelia their resume. Yeah, whatever. Yeah. So yeah, there's you have to look, really quite specifically. I think one of the things that I see and it contributes to both industrial activity manual in country manufacturing and also sustainable futures and delivering and transitioning to a circular economy is really the value and role of design has been not fully understood. In Australia, I think consumer literacy and community literacy and this is not being patronising This is just, you know, our understanding of the value and role of design in every sphere of life is not where it could be. I'm not saying it's not good, I think the broad community literacy is is lacking in Australia and design as we know as a key principle of delivering a circular economy is is a key tenant design needs to be central, at the forefront, whether it's a product and object to service a system, designing out waste and pollution, delivering positive outcomes, not just designed for less harm amelioration, a bit of impact minimization, but now is our time really to look at the value of role and role of design in your positive outcomes across the board socially, economically, ecologically and culturally and I think this is what to me comes back to unders better understanding the value and enrol of design the or the example I saw, you know, from various trips overseas, and in particular, say the Netherlands, Switzerland, you know, design good design touches every sphere of life, the railway station, you look at the seating, the urban design, etc. It's been professionally designed, not always environmentally optimal in many cases, yes. You look at similar infrastructure here in Australia, it's only cottoned on in the last few years that that you know, railway stations tram stops the infrastructure, the hardware needs to be better design, you stop on the freeway at a at a service centre or picnic ground. And, you know, it looks like 1950s knocked up in a steel fabrication factory at the back of ovary, where's the role of design, I just, it's really, you know, I don't want to sound disparaging, but at the same time, we have to be frank here about Australia could use design much better to deliver all sorts of outcomes, including a circular economy.

Nick Gonios: 16:55

I've, as you know, I've spent the last 30 years my 30th year coming out of university to and spent the last 30 years in the software tech sector. And I've sort of crossed most most parts of that sector, john and i have i have seen firsthand, I'm actually quite proud of the fact that the industry or the sector as a whole has transformed itself towards ultimately sort of doing good in a very different way to the way people see it. But you know, back in the day, we used to buy windows 95, in boxes at Harvey Norman, or any retailer in the country, right, and to get to get down to the store and buy it and know that yet to sort of instal five or six of these CDs and instal the product, and then you say to yourself what I do with all this stuff now, do I throw it up? What do I do with it, right? And so, you know, even even the old 286 computers and our old Mac books and power books that we had, and I remember those buy back in those days. And it was just, it was just some sort of proud in some way that I've been part of that journey to seeing the the industry as a whole go from being, you know, what I call software bloatware and big tin that has created so much waste in the world, collectively to now sort of shifting towards a subscription economy. And I'm very big on that whole shift towards and being part of this shift towards a subscription economy putting onus and responsibility back onto the provider and service of that service versus putting it onto the consumer or business, right. And the industry is taken one step further to actually now focus on its impact to the environment and socially through, you know, its infrastructure that runs on cloud services to how it delivers its products and services. And you got some of the large tech companies now also shifting towards hardware and software as a service offerings, right so and it's sort of become mainstream relatively in that sector. I'm I'm very driven on seeing how we can basically bring the rest of the sectors in industries which are harder to deal with, which is, you know, the atom side of the industry versus the bits, the bits of the digital side is relatively easy. You can iterate fast and do certain things but atoms and stuff with atoms are harder as we know, right? It's interesting to see that shift is happening in the sector, but not as fast and there's a lot of talk around shifting towards a circular economy but you know, there's so much e waste we seem to be producing at a macro level globally. It's just it's just frightening to see and it's only going to get worse and worse. So it's interesting to see the shift towards your your focus and interest around product stewardship, john and yeah, back in 2011. The first product stewardship back was sort of enacted in Australia is that correct? And I believe you're part of

John Gertsakis: 19:40

It is, lo k, there are a lot of people par of it, it was very much was very much a result of what was happening around the world and consumer electronics and it brands waiting to see some level of activity here in Australia. Great media attention on waste the environment move ent, especially the new south. M les travelled environment cent e, putting a waste under the low touch in addition to packaging, you know so it was it was a period where electronics and solid waste and hazardous waste impacts and issues associate with all forms of electrical an electronic goods was seen an area that needed attention You know, we had the directly is in the European Union, he waste electrical electronic equipment directive, the restriction of hazardous substances in electronics directive. These things were all happening in Europe, the same brands selling vendors selling products here in Australia, selling them overseas, wanting to see some consistency globally and harmonisation. B t I think what was pivotal is i particular, and was the cons mer electronics industry and the consumer electronics suppliers Association and he basically working with the and for them to develop a product stewardship solutions, in particular for end of life televisions. And so I did a lot of work with the consumer electro ics suppliers over many years, effectively advocating for t e need for some really intelligent regulation and sensible policy in Australia that essentially gave birth to the national tel vision and consumer televisions on computer recycling scheme And other organisations su h as the IWA and the IT sector were involved in that process. But why it was particularly per intent to the consumer electro ics sectors, we at that time, all had the switch to digital . And there was acknowledgement y governments, policymakers, lo al councils, that there's goi g to be a whole lot of cathode ray tubes turning up in landfill, and they're not made out of all things, you know, sweet, nice , there's a lot of lead oxide in that glass in cathode ray tube . So that was really trying to make sure that we developed a policy settings or regulatory framework, a scheme funded by industry, to create a national scheme to keep these products, divert them from landfill, look a their recovery, disassemble them, process them, extract the recoverable materials, and develop that that the in as it's known today and this scope there to improve expand and adjust that scheme to bring it into 2021.

Nick Gonios: 22:12

Was that a difficult journey? JOHN? Was that a difficult journey to get there? I can imagine this and many interesting backstories there, but there would have been, you know, to get that up and running and see the iterations of it over time. It would have been interesting. So that the challenges that you would have at the time

John Gertsakis: 22:24

Yeah, look difficult. One word. It was fascinating. To me, it was a pivotal moment in understanding how some companies think, how they respond, how they interact with government, what they see how they see regulation versus voluntary activity. It was an interesting process in terms of understanding how elected officials, ministers, Shadow environment, ministers, industry ministers, their advisors, their senior bureaucrats have I understood this issue, how they saw the potential solutions. So you had to be very honest, it was it was a massive learning process at that stage for all of us, the bureaucrats, the brands, let's say the brands because head office always had experience in Europe or Japan, etc. But Korea, but yeah, the official local council, a lot of it, I must say, you know, a lot of my time was spent briefing brands to join the programme, we set up an organisation, the industry set up an organisation called product stewardship Australia, and that was the main interface with government, a lot of briefing of ministers in advocacy, encouragement, presentation of concept scheme designs, to get that off the ground pilot projects on it in Victoria with bite back, we ran a television take back scheme. So really, and plus you put all of that within the context of Australia, regardless of the political spectrum, compared to Europe, where, you know, mandatory requirements, regulation was seen as and to some significant degree still seen as an important part of the toolbox to deliver sustainable product systems, circular economy, Australia was not in that space. There was a very incomplete and sometimes ideologically driven view about what's the role of regulatory instruments rather than looking at what's the problem? What's the opportunity? What's the solution? what's the what's how do we, how do we, you know, do something here that addresses this, and then come to what what's the best way to achieve this voluntary regulatory, better procurement certification standards? There was this very simplistic and to be honest, really quite primitive argument or at all can't be regulatory. It's got to be I thought the cost on business or that to the community went over. But at the end of the day, it was, you know, the community was paying for this local government was paying for this. Yeah, and product stewardship at its core is around those who placed products and related services on the market, taking greater responsibility, from an environmental perspective, the social dimension for those for the impacts and issues associated with those products. But they place on the market. And that's not that's not being unnecessarily bombastic about it. That is that is what we are seeing globally, we're seeing more of that in Australia, there are many progressive companies who are at the core of their, their policies, their programmes, their business model is taking responsibility for their products. Yeah, it is about internalising the costs of the impacts associated with those products and who should share with that those that benefit from it. The producers, the retailers, the consumers need to play a role. But we do need to be much more sophisticated in Australia about what product stewardship is and can be. And that means that we have to look across the supply chain across the product and service lifecycle. Product stewardship. If you go right back to its origins, I did my master's degree on the origins of product stewardship and looked at extended producer, it is really to look at, you know, from design material selection all the way through to end of life. Unfortunately, and again, the balance in Australia is right, we've got this peculiar definition that product stewardship is chiefly about end of life recovery and recycling of materials. And we don't even know where we're going to use those recovered materials. In many instances, you know, we have the resilient markets for specifying those materials in your pack. So yeah, products dirt cheap. They're a great opportunity from a business perspective, whilst addressing those environmental outcomes to look at, you know, how do we design better? How do we manufacture better? What is the role as you talk about in terms of service product service strategies? How do we d materialise? What's the role of leasing? What's the role of smart logistics? How do we educate the consumers to better and activate them enthuse them to think about the products that they consume and different modes of consumption, we're seeing more about leasing, sharing tool libraries, repair cafes, you know, these are all part of the product stewardship box in many respects. And so I suppose the giving birth with, with Commonwealth government support to the product stewardship Centre of Excellence, that's part of our vision, it's part of our mission is to accelerate the understanding and uptake and adoption of product stewardship across many product categories and material strains across the supply chain.

Nick Gonios: 27:16

That's really cool. JOHN, I sort of leads into an area for me that that I'm going to call the elephant in the room. And the elephants in the room from my point of view, ah, and is planned obsolescence, which has been in existence historically. And evidently, for close to 100 years with the classic lightbulb cartel. And and secondly, you know, the other aspect of that is actually the fact that, you know, majority of countries around the world are net importers of products, right, versus exporters. And so for me, it's a bit of a double whammy, when you've got planned obsolescence, systemically designed, built into the current operating model of most product brands and manufacturers, because of their KPIs driven around, selling more selling more, consume more, consume more, right, not recognising, or having any value of waste and material materials per se, on their balance sheets, after they'd been sold as a whole bugbear of ours. And the other part is that we're a net importer. So you know, you look at you look at any countries that are generally net importers typically would have some series that subsidiaries of those organisations operating in these countries as we have 1000s, if not, 10s of 1000s in Australia, and other net importing countries, you look at product stewardship, and you look at all these other other elephants in the room and you say to yourself, Well, how do you try and I mean, I wasn't gonna, I was gonna say use the word enforce, but it's not the word enforce. It's like, how can you guide and, and direct or, or it's such a big challenge to try and deal with these macro tectonic drivers that are for me, the big elephant in the room, right? That we need to try and work towards reshaping or steering towards another direction or in a positive way.

John Gertsakis: 29:05

Yeah, this issue now is being acknowledged and dealt with here in Australia. We have the Productivity Commission, that is coming close to releasing its report on repair and a right to repair. for Australia. That process was really quite, I would say, a positive process in terms of inviting input submissions from all sorts of stakeholders, brands, producers, community groups, local government research institutions, design organisations, and you know, looking at a range of issues from Consumer Law and the pros and cons of where it is at the moment from the role of repairing electronics and its contribution to E waste. Looking at all of those issues, the availability and accessibility by consumers and third party service and repair organisations to pass two diagnostic software to proprietary tools. You know, So the Productivity Commission has been going through this process and they've released a draft report. submissions have now closed, I think they got 250 plus submissions. So that are great. Yeah, my view a lot of your high appetite across many stakeholders, not all of it supportive have a right to repair quite a few confidential submissions in there from brands and manufacturers and others, some, you're vehemently opposed to changing anything to do in the repair space. But you know, I would say the overwhelming support for improving the rate of repair. To me, I believe that repair is part of the toolbox. To me, it's about, again, getting the balance, right? If we look at it from a waste, avoidance, waste management perspective, and we look at the waste hierarchy of avoidance, down through reduction, reuse, repair, recycling, treatment disposal, most of Australia's investment from governments, and funding grant programmes, etc, has been in the bottom half of the hierarchy. So again, the opportunity exists here and governments are starting to see this, that there is a need to support and resource more activity at the top of the hierarchy. And the minute you talk at the top of the hierarchy, you're talking about waste avoidance, you're talking about the role of design for durability, you're talking about design for repairability, modularity upgrading. So I think you we've there's some great work underway in Australia, I think the Commonwealth environment department, they did a review of the product stewardship act. And there are several recommendations in there specifically dealing with how you're what's what's the role of design for durability, and repairability. And there's work underway in that space. And and I think we will see improved policy outcomes in relation to repair. There are various state governments that are doing work in this space around the role of repair, reuse, you know, basically, what can we do before we get to recycling? There's an acknowledgement that, you know, on one hand, we can talk about a circular economy, if we don't deal in real terms with how will we prolong the life of products and components and materials, he can talk about the circular economy and jump straight into, you know, we're recycling, therefore, we have great with circular economy, ladies, we need that don't get me wrong, we need to recycle more, we need to recycle better, we need to create resilient markets for the recovered secondary materials. And that that sort of work is happening. All I'm saying is that the investment in other interventions, other strategies, other approaches at the top of the hierarchy, which includes repair and waste avoidance and product service strategies, ain't happening at adequate levels. You know, are we using for example, yeah, we talk about procurement in Australia 99% of the time, it descends into is it some recycled content in this product? Well, good, there should be absolutely. But sustainable procurement is more than just one dimension, your procurement is really has got great potential to look at, you know, levelling the playing field without regulation, in a sense, every RFP RFQ q tender document should be having a suite of requirements, recycled content, durability, designed lifespan, what's your repair regime? Will you be taking these products back? Would you be upgrading them? Are there any hazardous or restricted substances in the products that you're selling us, etc. So my point there is a lot can be done in repair. And many of these areas contributing to achieving a circular economy through procurement, we just have to, we just have to get a bit more sophisticated and really look at, you know, what are the different opportunities and different areas and across the lifecycle across the supply chain, in addition to recycle content? If we keep doing that, you know, we're really just chasing ambulances for the next couple of decades, if not longer, we've really got to look at overall product and service sustainability.

Nick Gonios: 34:02

I think I've shared with you in the past in previous chats that there are I sort of had my views on circular economy thinking after doing so much reading and taking my time to just get a sense of it all. And I believe most of the world and seems to operate in these sort of two versions of circular economy, as I call them, circular economy, version one is actually us trying to deal with the symptoms of the linear economy, right of the economy that we currently operate at a macro level, right, which is basically solving for recycling solving for waste solving for you know, right to repair as well included is sort of all sterile symptoms of you know, depending on who you talk to a broken system relatively, we need to incorporate the externalities into the equation, right? And not just price. So version two circular economy for us at circulist is very much thinking around, how do we how do we shift towards a operating model that actually eliminates those as much as possible out of the equation and sort of goes back into your sort of your levels of waste sort of goes into the top half of the triangle, right? And starts to incorporate that and do it in a positive way where consumers or businesses are coming along for the ride, because you're actually delivering content, you're being conscious about what you're doing around the planet and society across the board, right. And I do strongly believe that, that are organised this, we just need to basically drive and amplify and accelerate that pathway forward. Having said that, we need to still solve for the current major systemic issues we have dissolved, great, which sort of leads into thinking around, you know, what do you guys are doing now at sort of the product stewardship Centre of Excellence, which sort of been recently announced and launched as part of UTM sustainability Futures Institute? So I'm sort of intrigued by sort of looking back in time and where things are going forward, what what's changing and, and what can we expect, so to speak, right?

John Gertsakis: 35:52

Look, I like the way you're differentiated in terms of ca 1.0 and C two, I think there's there's great truth in that. It's a necessary stepwise process to move through that I suppose like many of us, we just want to see that happen faster. And we want to see investment and strategies and solutions targeted in the right way to get to circular economy 2.0, because it does have to be about positive outcomes, restorative outcomes, regenerative about Bill, as the definitions, talk about circular economies, we are building social capital, economic capital, etc. It's not the 80s and 90s view of less harm. You look at the definitions of eco design from the 80s and 90s. Even in the 2000s. It's about designed to minimise and reduce impacts across the law. Yes, but we need to move to the next step, which is exactly what you're talking about. And people like, you know, voltage to hell, you're coining the performance economy, often seen by summers, as really leading the circular economy push before the language was used is it can't be just about less harm. It's got to be about positive outcomes. And that includes positive commercial outcomes, but not not, not through incremental environmental achievement that are often dressed up as some sort of ambitious outcome. Yeah, there's a there's a lot of green washing bottle on greenwash taking place with circular economy in Australia, if not globally.

Nick Gonios: 37:17

JOHN, you know what I call that you know what I call that at the moment I call it I share it now I'd say quite openly, I call it the green lipstick on the pig. And the green lipstick is the pig is the linear economy and the green lipstick is the so called greenwashing or the slapping of a of greenness onto the onto what we're doing right. So I think the financial markets done deceivers first version of that right now and then ultimately, it will iterate and improve over time, but I'm calling it the green lipstick on the pig.

John Gertsakis: 37:43

I think that the way you described that area of embellishment of achievement and claim that there's nothing wrong with marketing, what you've achieved, the thing is to do their proportionate way, an authentic way, a transparent way. And, you know, we just need to all of us need to be wary of of greenwash and it doesn't. And you know, sometimes, you know, the finger pointing is that business alone, and it's not the case. There's greenwash happening buyers are Oregon, you know, embellishment by public institutions, research organisations government. Yeah, so we just all have to look at, you know, more authentic, more transparent, more proportionate claims about the environmental benefit, have some achievements in the social benefit of some achievements in that space. But the product stewardship Centre of Excellence is really a clear acknowledgement by the Commonwealth Government, the product stewardship is a key strategy in addressing a whole lot of issues. But also looking at your the national waste policy action plan, and how do we use product stewardship to eliminate avoid waste reduction, etc, across more and more different product classes, product categories, industries, material strains, and so it is it is, to be fair in credited appropriately, it is. It's been some really important work done by the Commonwealth Government and the ministers there minister, Lee and Evans in this space, they provided seed funding, there's an opening contestable process to partner with government to set up a product stewardship Centre of Excellence. We put together a consortium when I say we that was the UTS Institute for Sustainable futures. The Australian industry group, one of Australia's largest industry associations, trade bodies, national footprint, working with all sorts of industries and service providers, and cops in all communications with the history of work in the comms space strategy, indeed, with some product stewardship programmes, and really putting that consortium together bidding for the centre of excellence and succeeding in being selected to partner with the government. So we're really in that that first phase, in some respects the startup storm, establishing your organisation our brand comms Online infrastructure. We've started running webinars on an introduction to product stewardship. Looking at government accreditation for product stewardship. We've got one coming up shortly on the role of a Triple C authorization for some product stewardship schemes. We'll be doing a range of other activities, preparing master classes for executive level decision makers. One of the things we want to do is we want to bring the product stewardship to the boardroom. Yeah, we've got to move out from you know, the wonderfully enthusiastic energised, middle level environment professionals, and others, they are key champions, but we really need to make their job easier by bringing it up to the boardroom and up to the C suite. And that means a different way of engaging and exciting and enthusing the CFO, for example, around what product stewardship is, and can be as a differentiator in the marketplace, and also complying with its own CSR policies. So yeah, a lot of work in that space around developing white papers, practice notes, how to case studies of what other companies and industry associations and product stewardship organisations are doing in different product categories. So trying to really, you know, a lot of knowledge transfer and outreach through different collateral around these things, whether it's webinars, white papers, practice notes, we're also about to launch a product stewardship network where we want to bring together product stewardship practitioners, organisations associations, to discuss the common problems, the challenges, what opportunities there might be collaborating more closely together, in in some really tricky spots, product stewardship implementation in regional and rural areas in Australia, is really challenging. You know, people get sort of focused on recycling and the cost of recycling. In Australia, you know, the cost of logistics, and transport is a major challenge in delivering and running a product stewardship programme. But you know, shipping stuff on a train or a truck ain't as exciting as photographing a launch at a recycling facility. Yeah, all I'll say is that we've got some really smart logistics people in this country, we need to make better use of them. In designing and running product stewardship schemes. We're also soon going to launch excellence, awards, excellence in product stewardship, we want to celebrate and acknowledge schemes and companies, the best of the best, those that are doing interesting things. Also individuals, those that are championing product stewardship in their industry, in their sector, whether they're from industry, NGOs, government, etc. You know, product stewardship is the result of the sum of many parts. It's your industry, our key players, but there's a whole lot of people in government, NGOs, local government, in particular, are deeply involved in in some of these schemes and programmes. So that's important. The other part of our work is your ongoing mentoring and guidance, you're really working with companies, brands, retailers, manufacturers, those that are interested in doing product stewardship, helping them along that in that in that journey, and we've got a team within the centre, from USGS from AI group from occidental and we have some other advisors that we use on an as needed basis in very specialised areas, logistics optimization, recycling, technology, design, legal issues around competition law and, and what that means for your schemes, companies coming together to work together and develop schemes. So there's that broad area of mentoring, guarding, educating and engaging for the centre. And then the other key area of work for the centre is around providing input and advice to the minister and to the environment department on various issues, whether it's around the minister's priority list, products, material streams that go on to that least come off that list, and also government accreditation, providing input on that programme, and also other activities that are taking place. The government is in the process of setting up an E waste or a stewardship taskforce to revisit where are we at with the Debian computer recycling scheme. There's a lot of other products with a plug in a battery that you know, there's probably 10 other categories. If you look at the way directors in Europe, in Australia, we really only have programmes for TVs, computers, it accessories, mobile phones with mobile master and with some consumables around cartridges for planet dock, but we don't have any programmes national free to the consumer at the point of disposal, for example, dealing with small appliances, major appliances and white goods, scientific and medical equipment, musical instruments, toy and hobby equipment, solar panels of real hotspot. So the this taskforce is going to be looking at all of these other products, as I call them that need product stewardship schemes programmes so that we keep these products out of landfill, but it's much more than that. It is again, as you talk about, how do we get to the sort of positive outcomes. How do we look At a, an electronics industry and appliance industry that is that delivers positive outcomes, we know that their products and the functionality of them is wonderful and brings great convenience and entertainment to many of us. But the environmental outcomes have to be much more significant moving forward, not just about Yeah, we're dividing it from landfill. But one of the materials that have been using these products are their bio materials. Yeah, we don't want to buy it, we want to lease it. Can we? Is there a leasing programme from these different appliance suppliers? For example? You know, how do we look at those issues? How do we really max up energy and water performance even more water efficiency in these products, batteries is another hotspot, yeah, we're looking, you know, we talk about a waste often we, you know, Internet of Things is completely overlooked. These devices, and all the batteries that are gonna go on them are going to also need to be kept out of landfill recovered, the materials reused, designed differently, designed to be more durable in some applications. Having said all of that, one thing I want to acknowledge is that, you know, that a lot of electrical and electronic goods bring significant benefit to consumers and users, you know, electronics used wisely, can contribute to environmental monitoring can contribute to preventative maintenance, monitoring, and all the rest of it. So you know, don't get me wrong, you know, electrical and electronic goods. And thus my interest over many years has been that they bring significant benefit in the higher entertainment in the workplace, in transport in education, environmental monitoring, and we need to acknowledge that we don't want to demonise a product category for the wrong reasons. However, we do need to really improve environmental performance and move from environmental performance into circularity, with these goods and services.

Nick Gonios: 46:46

Yep, 100%. JOHN, I made I'm so in line with what you're thinking and executing and you see me smiling, because it's up there were some of the things you mentioned, either at the kernel of what we're working on at circulist, which, what I'm excited about. Just some final thoughts. So you know, looking back over the last few decades, and looking forward over the next, you know, 3050 100 years, you know, beyond our lifetimes, john, how do you see us having to shape and reshape our society and economies to get to a better planet? Look,

John Gertsakis: 47:15

I think some of that is for future generations to determine. But you know, I tried to instil and share my perspective with my kids around, you know, what it is to live lightly sustainably. Yeah, it's not always easy. None of it's always perfect. But look, I think in many respects, we will see brands and retailers that rise to the surface that are much more progressive, that really understand sustainability, and circularity. And we will see those brands and retailers and manufacturers at the front of the peloton, we will see those who are indifferent, not as innovative drop out of the market over time. So I think there'll be some, there'll be some natural attrition and those that rise and those that fall from a business and corporate and manufacturing production perspective. And so I think that that's going to be part of the change moving forward. I think also what we are seeing right now, and there's been some great research done by the bravery, and the Republic of everyone around the report, the power and the passion, looking at consumers, the community attitudes, what they're prepared to pay for, for socially and environmentally sensitive, improved product and service. And so I think, I think the voice of the consumer is going to is evolving, will become more potent, will become more powerful. And that will align with those companies that you often hear saying, if the market wants it, we'll do it. And so what I'm saying is increasingly, we're gonna see the market and big parts of the market and I'm not talking about tribes in in urban areas, I'm talking about the general market wanting to seek buy and have products and services, that last longer, I repairable are energy efficient, don't contain toxics, so on and so forth, their voice will be heard more than I believe you will have the progressive companies and retailers respond to that. And there, there are many of those, we just need to see it become mainstream within industry and responding to that market, boys. But I think we're also going to see, you know, to me, and why I think it's wrong, we're going to see the role of design and innovation play a bigger role. These are intellectual activities that deliver bit can deliver better outcomes and make the world a better place. They can make the they can make products and services, not be anti environment, not be anti society. And I think Yeah, I've always got great confidence in designers, engineers, technologists, and their skill set to deliver those sorts of step change outcomes. So I see design and innovation as being key and tuning into the voice of the market and the consumer around what we need to really deliver a sustainable future live more lightly. And I think it's moments such as these, even though it's an incredibly extended and challenging moment with the pandemic. It's moments like these that do provide an opportunity for us to reboot, reset, recalibrate, to make sure that some of these imperatives that I'm talking about we're talking about are addressed. I'm tired of this language of, er, when can we return to normality normality in many respects, he has been anti society and anti environment. And, you know, an eroding culture in some respects. So I believe that, you know, we need to stop around, it's about normality, I think it's about the opportunity to recalibrate, to be better, and to do better, and to live in harmony with, with our environment, and doing that without having to go back to the cave or a brown rice out of jars.

Nick Gonios: 50:45

John, well, on that note, we've had such a great conversation, I'd like to thank you so much for joining me on The Circulist Quest podcast. It's been a great learning for me to hear you talk about the past, present, and future. And I'm so proud that you know, know that you know, you're pursuing that passion going forward and interests and specifically towards contributing to reshaping awareness when it comes to everyday products. And we ultimately everyone uses and accelerating the shift towards a circular and more closed loop world. So for those of us you're interested in finding out more about john in the product stewardship Centre of Excellence, and keen to discuss any of the projects and initiatives he and the organisation are working on. You can check out John on his profile page on LinkedIn, John Gertsakis, or visit Stewardship Excellence at - and finally, at The Circulist Quest, we're always interested in stories about entrepreneurs, designers, engineers, and scientists who are helping to accelerate the shift to the circular economy. If you know anyone, or someone who just wants to have a talk, and have any questions about the technology we're developing to help product manufacturers close the loop, please visit our website at or write to us at - with that note, I'd like to close off and thank you, John, for attending.

John Gertsakis: 52:04

Thanks very much, Nick. And good luck with Circulist and the Circular Economy. 2.0. I like your thinking and I look forward to som future conversations. So thank you. Great. All the best. Bye for now.

Nick Gonios: 52:22

At the Circulist Quest, we're always interest d in stories about entrepreneurs, designers, engineer and scientists who are helping to accelerate the shift t the circular economy. If yo now have someone we just ha e to talk to, or have any questions about the technology e're developing to help product manufacturers close the loop visit our website at or write to s at

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