Nick Gonios
October 25, 2021
37 min.

The Circulist Quest #5

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About the Episode

Episode 5: Show Notes.

Today’s guest hails from Europe, where the concept of a circular economy has been gaining traction for a lot longer than it has in Australia, his current place of residence. Elmar Kert’s sustainability journey began while he was at business school, where he wrote a thesis on overconsumption. When he finished studying he founded two start ups; one which recycled sails into Macbook sleeves, and the other which focused on reclaiming materials from buildings which were to be demolished. He continued to pursue his passion for reducing environmental degradation when he moved to Sydney by becoming the Head of Global Operations at Dresden Vision, where he developed an innovative approach to make stylish glasses out of recycled plastic. In today’s episode you’ll hear about the 6 years that Elmar spent developing innovative methods of producing affordable eyewear that uplifts local industries and causes less harm to the planet. While Elmar acknowledges that we still have a long way to go, he is hopeful that through a major collaborative effort, we will be able to solve one of humanity’s biggest crises.

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Hear about what Elmar’s sustainability journey has looked like.
  • Elmar shares how he ended up working at Dresden Vision, and his experience at the company.
  • Waste problems in the eyewear industry, and how Dresden is working to change this.
  • Conservative thinking that Elmar had to push back against with his innovative ideas.
  • Some of the challenges of working with new materials in the eyewear space.
  • Benefits of keeping industry and supply chains local.
  • Creating custom pieces; a double edged sword.
  • Quality control as an important part of Dreden’s process.
  • The milestone which Dresden achieved last year.
  • Enormous potential in the plastic recycling industry.
  • Elmar’s current educational pursuit, and how he feels about his future.
  • Comparing sustainability practices in Australia and Europe.
  • The many different moving parts which need to be addressed in order to solve the climate crisis.

Quotable Quotes:

“At Dresden we had this random bunch of people that had no idea about the industry or what we were doing, but that was also the beautiful thing because we were blank pages, so we really got to reinvent how we did things.” — Elmar Kert [0:08:00]

“It was really about democratising the frame and making it accessible to anyone.” — Elmar Kert [0:10:58]

“The potential is huge. Not just the potential to clean up the environment and do the right thing and go with the movement of circularity that is really lifting off around the world, but also from a business point of view. There is a lot of monetary value in those materials .” — Elmar Kert [0:24:55]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

Elmar Kert on LinkedIn

Dresden Vision

Elmar Kert Email

Host Nick Gonios
Producer Jim Lounsbury

Episode Transcript

Nick Gonios: 0:06Hi, everyone. Welcome to The Circulist Quest podcast. I'm Nick Gonios and today I'm looking forward to speaking with a game changing circular economy practitioner Elmar Kert, who was previously head of global operations at Dresden optics, a young eyewear manufacturer and retailer on a mission to bring high quality sustainably made prescription glasses to anyone in the world and is now completing a Master's at UNSW School of Material Science and Engineering. In this episode, we're going to learn more about Elmar's fascination with materials and the circular economy. Elmar, thank you for joining me on The Circulist Quest.

Elmar Kert: 0:42

Hi, Nick, thank you so much for having me.

Nick Gonios: 0:45

Yeah, I've been looking forward to the conversation today. So one of the things I've been wanting to do, and I do this with most of our conversations is that I sort of look back on your journey, I take my hat off to you've achieved quite a few things already, which is great. So some of the things that I'm going to talk about what we're you know, looking back in your journey is that I'm probably an important milestone in 2019. As part of your sort of journey at Dresden, you guys achieved one tonne of plastics recycled in the pursuit to democratising reading glasses for everyone, which is sort of something that I thought about I think democratisation is key with Dresden, from the looks of it. You also were a co founder at a startup focused on upcycling design and materials in the sort of the built world. So taking existing materials from demolished buildings. And going even further back. You also cross the Atlantic on a sailboat in 19 days. So yeah, that's with that all that in mind. Take us back on your journey. who's Elmar? Who's Elmar Kert.

Elmar Kert: 1:41

Thanks for that beautiful introduction sounds way better than I think I actually am. But I think I'm more of a bit of a global citizen. I'm originally from Australia, and from a really small sort of village, started studying in Vienna when I was 20, around 20 years old, enrolled in Business School, really got into the topics around sustainability, circular economy, and also ended up writing my thesis on the overconsumption of consumer products. Oh, wow. So I sort of had that pathway carved out for me, and started working on those two startups. Actually, one is somewhat more restored than the other. So one is more of a project a side gate that I had going on, which was recycling sales from sailboats into MacBook sleeves, because I actually am an avid sailor. And there's a local community where I grew up on a lake, and a lot of people at all tails. And I was like, we got to do something about that. So we made like a small batch of, of sleeves that we sold to friends and family online. Just really like people that we we knew, you know, like other people that we competed with friends and family, just people who knew what I was doing. And we were just like, trying to make like, a really small batch, like I said, and just cool, turn it around a small effort. And then yeah, and then I went on to help create something called harvest map in Vienna, which looks at reclaiming materials from buildings that were about to be demolished. because quite often you have materials like window frames, glass, door frames, carpet, pieces of metal, all sorts of things that can be used in all other types of projects, or there might be art installations. We actually had a few artists reaching out that wanted to get tonnes of carpet for an installation as well. And shortly after that, I fell in love with my partner, she always wanted to move to Sydney and two months into dating, we arrived in Australia.

Nick Gonios: 3:29

Wow. And how long ago was that?

Elmar Kert: 3:31

There was in 2015

Nick Gonios: 3:35

Oh, wow. Okay.

Elmar Kert: 3:35

That was 2015 and, yeah, it was quite a change because all of a sudden, obviously I'm German speaking I find myself in an English speaking country. And yeah, no job. Nothing to do so I literally apply for any job under the Australian sun and I was lucky enough that Bruce Jeffries from Dresden gave me a call I couldn't understand a single word because I was not accustomed to the local accent and tease from I think Western Australia you call me is a Newtown is like hey, we got to meet up and all I understood was like our Newtown 12pm Friday go get dressed in something and I rocked up and this is basically how my journey started with them.

Nick Gonios: 4:14

Wow So how did you guys like meet like what was it like was it was it an ad online? Like what was it like was it LinkedIn? Like, how did you guys meet?

Elmar Kert: 4:22

It was honestly I think the most informal meeting I've ever had. I don't know if you've ever met or seen Bruce but he's such a like people's person. He's so energetic and he like really will suck you into like any idea he's working on and he will get you so riled up. So we met up and he told me everything about dressed and he read that I'm like, you know, German speaking and dress and obviously named after the German city. Yeah, sort of like it all matched up and like with the past I had of working at those couple of projects and writing my thesis on sustainability and just generally being really interested in that space. It really was a great match from where it was coming from, and also where I wanted to develop myself into and yeah we met up and the next day I was basically starting with the most random of jobs also I think I was grinding in metal bolts in like a makerspace in Alexandria like there was the first thing I've done coming out of business school right onto the angle grinder and just go to town,

Nick Gonios: 5:21

Wow, new country new part of the world and completely new type of role. You know, it's still on mission pretty much when it comes to circularity. Right. So..

Elmar Kert: 5:30

Yeah, exactly.

Nick Gonios: 5:31

Interesting. So take us on that what was day one like to, you know, many years of of growth and sort of transformation and learnings and failures. I mean, I like to call failures, more learnings than failures in its loss making sense. But take me through the journey of you know, some of the basically pioneering stuff that you guys were doing right, working towards the mission.

Elmar Kert: 5:53

Yeah, yeah, exactly. There, there was a lot of learnings, like you said a lot of setbacks that ended up becoming learnings. And also just different pathways that we figured out to solve different problems. It was really interesting because dressin when I joined the team existed for a year and it was such a community driven effort, almost like everyone knew Bruce, because his hometown, his new town is also where the first shop was born into. And everyone just like noodle shop knew him. Everyone knew what is what this startup is all about. And everyone was like happy sort of to chip in. So there was all of a sudden coffee shops just rocking up with milk, bottle lids, and all sorts of like waste material. So it's not they looked for, for different materials to cycling, people literally brought it to them, just because they put the word out there, hey, we're trying to like, you know, do this a little bit differently and actually change the game in terms of how you can use plastic and other waste materials. So it was quite an interesting time with this community driven approach. And there's so many people bringing us all sorts of different materials. The next thing to actually happen is people said, Hey, we have bars next to those coffee shops and suppliers with milk Bartlett said, Hey, we have so many beer kegs. And every single keg comes with a lid. And so here, there you go. We'll click beer. Katie, it's for you now. Right? And next thing, you know, we have cake star, which is a cake manufacturer that delivers cake to like microbreweries to like, Hey, we can collect for you as well, because we have so many catalysts to Wow. So there was an influx of different types of materials and sort of waste streams that we all of a sudden had access to, that we then had to figure out how to incorporate it into a manufacturing process, but also make it work in our application as well, which is the glasses frames, of course,

Nick Gonios: 7:40

You're going so high level is that's I mean, you spend how long there? About five or six years there, right?

Elmar Kert: 7:47

Yeah, that's right. That's That's absolutely right. And I also had no idea when I started. And that was one of the beautiful things, how Bruce ran the company, really by hiring people that had literally no idea about optometry eyewear, or manufacturing. And so we had this random bunch of people suddenly that had no idea about the industry or what we're doing. But there was also the beautiful thing, because we were so sort of like blank pages. So it means we really got to reinvent how we do things.

Nick Gonios: 8:13

Love that.

Elmar Kert: 8:14

I came straight out of business school. So I knew nothing about injection moulding, or at least amount of knowledge about plastics in general, but not to the extent to actually be able to go into a factory and you know, start injection moulding, waste materials into products that anyone would actually buy and pay money for him even more. So put on their faces, you know what I mean? Yeah, so that was a really interesting experience. It was like a really condensed sort of chemistry slash physics class that I got to experience, like, firsthand and hands on.

Nick Gonios: 8:48

Yeah, it is interesting, because I mean, a lot of people talk about innovation. And I seem to have to sort of talk about with people... there are several forms of innovation. And one of those, you know, we got process innovation and open innovation, and other forms of innovation, business model innovation, that I believe and I strongly believe that the most impactful form of innovation, when you apply convergent innovation, which is cross disciplinary capabilities to basically come up with something new. That's sort of a 'new new' right? Dealing with 'unknown unknown', so to speak. And I think you guys seem to have sort of, from what you're saying in terms of the organisation, and you guys had the culture, the mission that you're going after, you know, sounds like you were trying to not work off an existing ecosystem model over existing industry, the way the industry worked, and as we know, with the eyewear sector, there's one big gorilla in the room, right? without naming them that seems to be producing hundreds of those brands, right, which knowing how the game works, and there's so much waste, there's so much margin on margin. There's so much high prices that consumers pay for different parts of the value chain in that big gorilla, right? You know, I can imagine what you Guys, we're going through in the early days trying to work out how you could ultimately build out a operating model with these sustainable recyclable materials or working out, how do we make them sustainable and recyclable, and then ultimately coming towards a price point that was $49, retail, which was quite amazing. For me, I just, I can't comprehend that you guys could actually come up with a product for $49 at retail in physical store, and actually still make money and obviously be impactful in terms of what you guys are doing. But just in the straight economics. I wanted to understand more about that, take me through understanding that and the different inflection points that impacted the scaling of the business Really?

Elmar Kert: 10:41

Yeah, you're actually absolutely right, there were a lot of moving parts, because it wasn't just about taking waste materials and turning them around into new products, but also, game changing technologies. And also frameworks like the interchangeability of the frame and everything It was really about, like you said earlier democratising the frame, and making it accessible to anyone, and also giving people the flexibility to be like, hey, something broke, and I want to replace that certain part without having to replace the whole thing. And that's, I think, also a huge part of what should feed into the circular economy movement, not just this thinking of, Okay, we'll take away some alternatives, something new when we can do this indefinitely, but also Repair and Replace with the frame system that they've designed. Also, before I joined already, it being so interchangeable and flexible in its makeup, gave people not only just choice in terms of expressing themselves with different colours on the sides, in comparison to the front piece of the frame, but also by just you know, bringing pieces back and saying, hey, this happened, like we had tonnes of customers come in and be like, Oh, my kid stepped on, like this fit and like, we need a new one hour like my dog cheated. And so that was just an amazing experience to be able to just, you know, help people out that way as well.

Nick Gonios: 11:56

On the backend side, which is how do you manifest that simple proposition to a market is the is the magic, right? And that's where, you know, you had to take a very strong leadership position and, and roll up your sleeves, by the looks of it, and even watching a couple of the videos and you going through the factories and sort of showing us and showcasing how things were being produced, which I was quite impressed with. just dealing with those unknowns, and not knowing what's gonna, what's gonna break or not, what's not gonna work week on week would have been an experience in itself. I would think that yeah, if not, you know, not too many people in Australia or globally have my view. So take us through some of that.

Elmar Kert: 12:34

That's also very true. Because the thing is, with manufacturing in general, not just in Australia, I think it's a quite, I don't want to say old, but it's quite a conservative industry, there is new technology has come along, there's this whole industry 4.0 movement, but the people who work in the industry, they're pretty, I'd say, narrow minded without settling into anyone's toes. And it then might be quite difficult to be, you know, like, there's this new young sort of personalities, you know, young company, and trying out new different things, like all of a sudden, we had fishing nets, we had shotgun shells, we had Lego pieces, and we just wanted to, you know, turn things around immediately, we were just like, Can we not just feed it in, and people were like, Nah, you can't just feed it in, I will never let you feed anything into our machines. Because at this stage, we also didn't have our own machines, we're renting machine time with different manufacturers, right? So it's quite difficult to balance, that fine line of Okay, we want to do things differently. But we also a little bit limited by what people actually allow us to do. We were quite fortunate with the people and the companies that we did find in New South Wales, that we're collaborating with us, because we were quite open with us trying all those different materials. But of course, with all new things, there's also problems and issues, there was a lot of troubleshooting, not just in terms of actually feeding materials into the machine and making sure that the plastic flows, but also by figuring out additives. And finally, also by just making sure that the frame is stable, because we really primed ours and crowned ourselves with the frame being almost indestructible. We have lifelong warranties on them. Right? That was just really important thing for us to make a product that is not just made from recycled materials, or reclaimed materials, but also really stands the test of time and is structurally stable. So there was a lot of like you indicated back and forth and just testing and making sure that what comes out at the end was actually right.

Nick Gonios: 14:32

Yeah. And so what what was it like, on the other side of the equation is actually you know, as we both know, there's this big growing movement around conscious customers costs, you know, conscious businesses. So the moving towards growing down that pathway and being mindful of not just where every dollar gets spent, but what people actually do. What has been your experience in sort of seeing that overall in Australia for the last five or six, eight years and also obviously in Canada. What have you first hand experiences like seeing customers that are, you know, is it every man and his dog or every, every person? Or was there a certain type of cohort of people that were connected with the brand and also the product, like, tell us a bit about that.

Elmar Kert: 15:14

I think I can't even split the demographic of the customers into certain sections, with one being more open towards sustainable products or not, it's really just randomly spread. But the majority feedback from customers are just outstanding. Because like myself, I've really always thought that products that had a backstory to them, that was always just a concept that I was really fond of just knowing that there was a previous life, it used to be something completely else. And this way of thinking is also beautifully highlighted by artefacts that actually might still be in the product. For example, depending on what you use, this actually might come through in the in the final design of the product. And it's just beautiful features that people also see is unique. And at the end of the day, a lot of people want to express themselves, or buy things that create a certain status symbol for them. And that really also gives them the flexibility and ability to you know, express themselves a certain way. Yeah, to general response, which is fantastic to see that people got so involved and so excited also by being like, Hey, we see that you guys doing this, you heard using like reclaimed wood and reclaimed milk, bottle tops and everything and all of a sudden where people bring us in CDs and they just wanted to like add basically like, visiting customers just wanted to be part of it and just donate donate donate. Yeah, that was just incredible.

Nick Gonios: 16:38

Yeah, yeah. And I noticed one couple of things that you on that Dresden site was very much where there's a great video, you're just talking about the process. One thing it was, I think you mentioned there were two key points that was mentioned one was you know, to keep keep it local, right, and specifically in Western Sydney and then the other was sort of owning the processes two important headlines. One of those mean for you I gather there's you know, when you go deep within with, you know, understanding the backstory on that to get to that position, obviously, there was some pain or some learnings, some insights to cover off on those two key important headlines owning the process and doing locally Do you want to share a bit about that,

Elmar Kert: 17:18

As you can imagine, it's difficult enough already to begin with to just take waste materials and actually make them work in your supply chain and throughout the manufacturing and then also actually selling those products again. And keeping it local is just keeping it also simple and easy. You're not only helping out the local community in terms of doing your bit in cleaning up the environment maybe a little bit but also economically empower people by setting up new supply chains. Yeah, and because quite often, the materials you deal with They come from all sorts of industries and backgrounds they might be in certain shapes and conditions they need to be cleaned. And it's just better to have a close grasp over those supplies at the end of the day just because you will run into a lot of issues later on if you don't know where things are coming from if you don't have a good sort of understanding of what materials have been through what they're made out of have they been recycled already once if things come from the other side of the country, it actually might be a little bit more difficult to keep the supply chain running for example, we had fishing nets from park rangers that got delivered from the northern territories right they collected a decent amount for us and we did a small a small batch of fishing that friends as well. But then with the rain season all of a sudden you can get more fish nets where you can't get your hands on to more efficient it's from up there. So there's all of some interruptions certain customers can also have an expectation also obviously the business has an expectation for you to continuously output a certain type of product so you really want to make sure that you're keeping it low local, you're also able to control everything a little bit more.

Nick Gonios: 18:56

Yeah, well how did you stay ahead of the demand curve? Like how did you manage that?

Elmar Kert: 19:02

Well I have to say the demand curve was it was pretty difficult demand curve because our demand curve was more like people wanting really specific items or colours we had most of the stock items that sold really well like all dark colours in stock so that was wasn't an issue right? But the issue was really people coming in and being like oh look I want like this special tangerine orange or like this lilac colour and we're like oh we'll put it on to the list and we literally had a list with like all sorts of like customer requests. And then the problem though is sometimes we actually would go out and be like okay, we're going to make like a hot pink because everyone seems to wanting like a really hot pink or like a translucent pink. And then we launched a pink and most of the customers haven't but you will always have a few that just go like Don't you have it like you know that Tad shade darker or brighter, just enough to fit my shirt because a lot of people will come in and actually like customly shape and fit their classes according to whatever there were. So it's, it's really, it's it's a two sided sword almost if you create a product that is so customizable, yeah, and also have so passionate customers because they're really some customers were like, you know they're every week yes store and requesting. Their colour says.

Nick Gonios: 20:22

Well that's interesting it's actually talks about you know this whole one to one ability to connect with somebody that's very big in fashion overall and I think it's still Nirvana other than getting suits and suit tailored suits made one on one which are quite expensive relatively, it's interesting that you're experiencing those behaviours in market, but then how did you guys deal with them? I'm a big believer, and you've heard me talk about this. And we've had our conversations in the past which is amazingly we need to shift from Mega factories and global supply chains driven by price to shifting towards distributed network of micro factories or micro assembly service centres that service and deliver value city by city, right. And I seem to have this feeling that not knowing, you know, behind the what what the organisation was doing was specifically but you know, there was this opportunity for Dresden to sort of go city by city, in many parts of the world to try and go after local manufacturing local assembly and reassembly as an operating model, and it's something that we're driven by it circulus is one of our principal mandates. So was that ever sort of part of the thought process or strategy or take me a bit? Yeah.

Elmar Kert: 21:32

100% 100%, especially in the early days, when we were like, you know, still quite driven by just, I almost want to say spontaneous sort of endeavours that we were working on. There were a lot of roadmapping into all sorts of directions, and one of them was absolutely, having a standalone sort of turnkey sell, it sits inside a container that can literally be shipped to anywhere around the world and the locality, or like the local manufacturing aspect of what we spoke earlier, from community to community, instead of having it just placed in one. On one standpoint, we haven't or like they've never done it, because we haven't really, we've gotten to the point up until the left at least, where we figured out the perfect sort of solution to analyse a waste material. And then quickly also figure out what sort of additives unnecessary interest Yes, milk, bottle lids and other exchangeable HDPE and PP materials. And waste streams will work similarly, because they're sort of made from the same Polymer. But then again, when it comes to structural stability, and depending on where they're from, and what they used to be, and how often they've been recycled, for example, already, they might vary quite a bit. So you can easily just put a injection moulding machine grinder and like material dryer system into a container and ship it around the world. But the quality control might be a bit difficult, but I did hear about people doing similar things. So it's definitely, I think what should be still in the cards not just for for dressing, but for a lot of other companies as well. And the whole microfactory approach, like you mentioned, I think will just take things to the next level, because you'll be more flexible in terms of your location. But also you'll be more flexible in terms of what materials you use, just depending on your location. And also from the viewpoint of training staff and finding staff because you're dealing with smaller machinery. The entry barriers are smaller for training as well because it's not as intricate as a very large machine. It's not as expensive, you just more flexible in your setup. And that just allows you also to be more creative and play around more with all those different types of materials that are out there to be utilised.

Nick Gonios: 23:50

Yeah. Wow, that resonates completely with mind. So what about with regards to you know you last year, you guys achieved sort of one tonne of plastic recycled, right, sort of a milestone that was achieved? At least from what I read. Yeah, that would have been a great achievement. What do you reckon is the total available sort of materials, you know, plastic specifically that you could actually have recycled in inverted commas and turned into your eyewear ranges? In just Australia, let alone the rest of the world? I mean, you know, I'm sure you guys would have sort of known and got a sense of it. That's one tonne. Are there 5000 tonnes, like what was it guesstimate? I mean, it's so hard, right?

Elmar Kert: 24:31

It's really hard to put an estimate on it, it'd be a huge amount, that's for sure. Because one thing I do know is that roughly between now and the 1950s, just 9% of plastics actually have been recycled. So whatever that estimate might be, if it's a million tonne, or like 100 million tonnes or a billion tonnes. 91% are still out there somewhere most likely, yeah. or partially degraded, hopefully. Yeah, yeah. So the potential is huge, obviously, not just the potential to clean up the environment and And sort of do the right thing and also go with that movement of circularity that is right now really lifting off that you can see around the world, but also, from a business point of view, because there's a lot of monetary value in those materials, a lot of them surpass us in in their life cycles, a lot of them will not degrade for like, around 1000 years. And that just gives you a good sort of indication of how strong the material is like a lot of plastic that actually floats in the ocean, including fishing nets that are made out of nylon and other materials. They withstand UV corrosion for like months and years on end, similar to salt as well, that is really, really resistant and durable. So yeah, the upside is huge. And potentials are I think they're not gonna become smaller anytime soon.

Nick Gonios: 25:48

Yeah, now I'm with you. 100%. We got it, we have to tackle it. It just, it's it's just not fair for the future generations that we don't, right? So you obviously had a collaboration with UNSW and the smart centre there with what they're doing sort of worldleading activities around sort of material science and so forth, then tell them a bit about that collaboration. And now that you've actually a part of UNSW... Going after and completing a Master's Right?

Elmar Kert: 26:14

I'm on the other side now.

Nick Gonios: 26:15

Yeah. Tell me a bit about that.

Elmar Kert: 26:17

Absolutely. I basically swapped teams in a way, working with UNSW has been an absolute amazing experience and an absolute absolute pleasure, closely working with Veena, who is leading the smart centre and UNSW and she's been obviously doing amazing things. And she's amazing in all over the world, recycling rubber. And yeah, she's just done. She's incredible. And how UNSW came in to really help dressen was by sort of providing the material analysis side of things. Because quite often, we went off and just found shotgun shells, Lego parts, BMW bumper parts of like, Hey, we can just you know, shred it and put it in and then quite often, we ended up failing at either stage of preparing the material or moulding it and okay, now we need to actually put a framework in place to figure out okay, what is this exactly, it's easy to identify any sort of class usually because they have a number on them, it's showing you if it's an ad, like high density polyethylene, or polypropylene, or nylon or, or whatever, but really knowing what sort of spectrum it is on because it's never just HDPE or PP, there's quite often stabilisers in it and flame retardants and other things that sort of chang the profile of the material a little bit.

Nick Gonios: 27:28


Elmar Kert: 27:29

So we're like really, really need to like hone our skills and put something in place that helps us to identify what is a material really made out of and how can we then also make sure that it will work in our application and it's safe to be reused and also just stand the test of time so you NSW with the smart centre have they have this amazing capability with the variety of labs that they have to do all sorts of analysis on on the materials mechanically also with spectrometers? So it's it's really amazing and now me being part of this after coming out of dressings sort of dressing was the my practical yeah side of things I like hands on I shop fish and I had exactly now it's like I don't really know what's happening behind the scenes with all those molecular chains and everything and now I sort of get to hone and backup all that experience I have with theoretical knowledge which is just amazing. I think

Nick Gonios: 28:25

It's so cool to see you You know I'm a big believer in in your journey in life it's never linear and you know your its ups and downs and I've had many of those myself and you know you're connecting dots in your journey which is amazing I'm so six seven years ago when you're in your business school back in Austria you would never have been thinking that you'd be in Australia sort of you know studying a master's in material science right so but it's a checkpoint in terms of where you're planning to go going forward and I'm sure your What are your aspirations are my in terms of you know, moving forward post sort of masses I mean, completing it's one thing Yes. Then what are you sort of aspiring to try and software in the world I gather your your entrepreneurial at heart, right? So...

Elmar Kert: 29:04

Yeah, that's right. That's right. But actually as like you just said, it's a pretty linear for me, I've never worked that way. So I take things as they come, you know, one one step at a time. Usually things just end up happening. I think as long as you have a guiding sort of Northstar, I don't think you specifically need to exactly know what you want to do. But as long as you have direction, and you just follow towards that direction, things will just open up to and you know, one door closes, another one opens. And so far, I have to say I've been pretty lucky. I think with that approach, and I'm not sure what's going to happen next after the master but I definitely know that I want to stay sort of within the realm of sustainability and also help to create awareness to further establish like the circular economy movement, if, if somebody allows me to be part of any sort of endeavours, then I'm always happy to join. If I do my own thing, who knows? You'll be you'll be the first to know if that's

Nick Gonios: 29:59

correct. To hear you said at the beginning of our conversation, you're a globalist very much similar to me. So with that in mind, how do you see how Australia in our part of the world compared to European, Asian and North American and South American sort of market activities, in terms of, you know, circular economy, and the application of the fundamental principles in markets? I mean, a quite, it's quite a general open the open question, but I'm keen to hear your views because you've been a leading practitioner in it for many years, which is a rarity in Australia, in my view.

Elmar Kert: 30:33

So kind, you're so kind. The experiences that I have mostly drawn from here, Australia over the last six years, and also mainly from Europe, I can't speak too much about the United States or, or South America or Asia for that matter. But Australia definitely has been lacking, especially when arriving in Australia in terms of what they have been doing with with their waste rooms, as everyone knows, like most of it, or pretty much everything was exported to China. And before the, the export ban happened, I have to say things look pretty bad here in a way because Australia is really rich country, it's a very secluded country has enormous amounts of space, which probably also makes people think, well, we have the space, we can just landfill like to keep building more and more landfills, because we're not going to run out of space anytime soon. So I think the band export ban was really a blessing in disguise to sort of turn Australia around a bit. And I did notice that there is now way more government funded projects where more grants were more initiatives to sort of engage with the movement of actually, hey, we need to set up our systems here. Now locally, we need to get on with it, we need to sort of turn it around and actually stand on our own two feet. So I think that was really a really good move in a way that Australia all of a sudden is forced to, to deal with all those restrooms itself. Yeah, Europe, obviously is quite quite a bit ahead, especially the Nordic countries in Scandinavia. Also, the Netherlands is absolutely amazing. They've had harvest maps and similar frameworks already. For decades, we actually based a harvest map that we sort of implemented in Vienna, also off the one in the Netherlands, that's what I mentioned earlier is it's to reclaim different materials. It's literally a map like Google Maps, you can open it, and you can filter through different material types. You can go through metals, wood, plastics, different types of plastics, and you will just be shown small dots, like sort of pins on the map in your surrounding area of what materials are available. Usually they are free, and people can just come and pick them up.

Nick Gonios: 32:46

Wow. Okay. I wasn't aware that there you go. Yeah.

Elmar Kert: 32:50

Yeah, fantastic.

Nick Gonios: 32:51

That's pretty cool.

Elmar Kert: 32:52

That's what's happening in Europe.

Nick Gonios: 32:53

Yeah, wow, I mean, the Europeans seem to be ahead of the curve, they take a long time to sort of come together and execute but you know, as a, as a federated body, they are ahead of the curve, and, and sort of philosophically going down the right pathway from that point of view, which is, which is great to see, having said that North America especially sort of really taken a massive turn on a positive direction, in my view, is where they're going with, obviously electrifying the nation, so to speak, in inverted commas, and, and shifting towards much more sustainable activities and bringing back manufacturing locally as well, right, in new ways, new and exciting ways which, which were quite interested in seeing adapted more. Absolutely. What are your I was just going to final question and sort of, I've got a bit of a twist on it. But do you think that we could really fix the climate crisis by recycling materials and changing our ways?

Elmar Kert: 33:46

There is a there is quite a twist, Nick. I mean, that's really hard one because I think there's so many moving parts to the current climate crisis. There's so many sort of actions and reactions that lead to certain outcomes. And I think purely being in a circular economy will change everything, all of a sudden, I think it's not the Holy Grail. I think there's a lot of different moving bits and pieces, like the way we consume food, deforestation through agriculture, obviously, pollution and reusing materials, instead of polluting the environment has also been a very, very big part of it. Because the way we impact the environment will also impact the way it works. The flora and the fauna, animals and their environments are basically or have been keeping the planet running. In a way it's basically the workers if you want to see that way. And I think the more we disrupt that sort of system, the more difficult it will be us to reverse the damage that has been done in part by us. Yeah, and yeah, I don't think there is a holy grail, but I think if we all work together on all those things at the same time, maybe we have to do a chance to like turn it all around.

Nick Gonios: 34:54

We have to, you know, as globalists and optimists need to be thinking in that way to basically drive the change in shape it right? So it's the only way. Yeah. Are there any final thoughts or points you wanted to share with with our listeners and viewers around the space you're operating in and learnings and looking forward, right?

Elmar Kert: 35:12

I think what you guys are doing is just amazing, you know, creating more awareness because I think that's a really huge part A lot of people. I think, once they are be being made aware, they are actually quite interested in contributing in some sort of shape way or form to establish a more sort of circular movement. And yeah, I think I was just really happy that you approached me I'm glad to be here and yeah, happy that I can contribute and share some some knowledge. So thank you so much for having me.

Nick Gonios: 35:39

Well, it's been great. Elmar, I've really enjoyed the conversation. So everyone, I'd like to thank you all for joining us on the Circulist Quest podcast. It's been great learning more about your experiences and the journey on innovating with materials towards a more circular world. For those of you interested in finding out more about Elmar andl keen to discuss any projects, initiatives, even learnings he's experienced and he's focused on you can check him out on on LinkedIn and his profile page and probably Connect. Elmar, is there is there any other way of reaching out to you if anybody does want to reach out.

Elmar Kert: 36:10

I can leave you an email if you want.

Nick Gonios: 36:13

Okay, we'll put that in the notes later on. Okay. 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 of someone we just have to talk to, or have any questions about the technology we're developing to help product manufacturers close the loop, visit our website at or write to us at

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