Nick Gonios
December 22, 2021
55 min.

The Circulist Quest #9

<iframe src="" width="100%" height="232" frameBorder="0" allowfullscreen="" allow="autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; fullscreen; picture-in-picture"></iframe>

About the Episode

Episode 9: Show Notes

Steven Liaros and Nilmini De Silva are co-creators of a circular economy village concept. Together they run Polisplan, a strategic engineering and town planning consultancy, as well as their organization, Beautility Developments, where they are developing the Circular Economy Project. Listeners will hear the story of how Steven and Nilmini met, were introduced to the circular economy, and began to traveling around Australia, researching how to implement circular villages to revitalise rural areas. They also share how they realised that the idea of a network of connected villages was not so far-fetched after all, because people were already starting to seek out these connections.

You’ll learn about all about the different kinds of communities they discovered and why they have opted to replace the house as the unit of design with the village. As they work towards developing zero waste systems. with deep roots in Australia’s indigenous heritage, you’ll also find out what they envision for the project and how it has been achieved. Steven and Nilmini think of circularity as the next revolution rather than trying to recreate the past and, in today’s episode, they share what this looks like, from philosophy to logistics.

Quotable Quotes:

“We feel that a lot of people that are in this space, really thinking about ‘what’s the meaning of life?’ and ‘how can we make things better given all the crises we are facing?’, it’s usually people who have experienced some sort of crisis in their life.” — @steven_liaros [0:05:25]

“I started to think: isn’t the internet similar to the printing press in making information widely available? Isn’t there a possibility for another renaissance?” — @steven_liaros [0:08:51]

“We began to see that the idea of having a network of villages that were connected was not so far fetched because people were already beginning to look for these connections.” — @DeSilva_Nilmini [0:15:28]

“We can see this yin yang thing happening again. We think of cities as planning for people’s housing and work and you’re anchored to a place. We don’t think of it as a balance between the settled life and the nomadic life.” — @steven_liaros [0:17:58]

“So far, the unit of design has been the individual house, but it’s hard to really get proper sustainability in that environment, be it economic or social, using that means. When you think of a unit as a village, it is much easier to have these decentralised systems.” — @DeSilva_Nilmini [0:20:55]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

Steven Liaros on Twitter

Steven Liaros on LinkedIn

Rethinking the City

Nilmini De Silva on LinkedIn

Nilmini De Silva on Twitter

Nilmini De Silva

Fate or Destiny

Beautility Developments



Host Nick Gonios
Producer Jim Lounsbury

Episode Transcript

Nick Gonios: 0:06 Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Circulist Quest Podcast. I'm Nick guiding us and today I'm speaking with Steven Liaros and Nilmini De Silva, who run Polisplan. a strategic town planning and engineering consultancy and are Co-reators of the circular economy village concept. Several years ago, they embarked on a road trip across Australia, where their Circular Economy village concept was crystallised into building a movement of people who together apply their skills to the development of a network of circular economy villages. These are high tech regenerative villages striving towards self sufficiency and zero waste within their bio region. Each village will house a diverse community of 200 people and will be integrated into affordable co working and CO living spaces with water and energy micro grids, and the regenerative agricultural system. In this episode, we're going to look back into Stephen and Nilmini's careers, and aim to unpack how they're designing garden cities in the 21st century to support economic growth in regional areas. Welcome to The Circulist Quest podcast, Steven and Nilmini. How are we doing? Doing really well. Thank you, Nick.

Steven Liaros: 1:16

Great. Thanks, Nick. Thanks for having us.

Nilmini De Silva: 1:18

Thank you. So I've just gonna go through and for the audience. And viewers provide a bit of a background on both of you quite exciting sort of backstories and jointly what you're doing together. But I'll just give a bit of a backstory on both of you. And just give me a little bit of a time to get through this. So Nilmini, you're a qualified civil engineer and project manager, working across local governments for many years, managing water systems and the natural environment, amazing documentary photographer as well, which is pretty cool. And I've seen some of your work, and author of the book, fate or destiny with the central theme, being Don't be trapped by your fate, pursue your destiny 100% agree with that, but haven't read the book. Stephen, your background is quite extensive. And you've got qualifications in civil engineering, town planning and environmental law. you've authored a book called rethinking the city, an exploration of the historical ideas that underpin the organisation of cities. And most recently, you've achieved a Doctorate of Philosophy with the thesis titled, network of circular economy, economy, villages, are political, economic principles and spatial potentials. Very academic, for me, but I want to find out more about that as we get into a conversation. And your general aim was to create a new model for Regenerative land development based on the principles of the circular economy, which is great. So together, you guys have been running policy plan, a strategic town planning and engineering consultancy. And for me that's quite exciting is the development organisation called utility developments where you guys are both creators of circular economy, towns and villages, with the circular economy village project, an amazing concept and amazing opportunity to go forward with. And so that's pretty much the cornerstone of our conversation today. I hope I did a good job in you've been delivering your backstory there. Now let's find out a bit more from your point of view, who is Steven and nil?

Steven Liaros: 3:19

Okay, well, I'll go first, then, I don't like to be put in a box at all. I'm now starting to call myself a polymath and a futurist. Okay. So I'm interested in in how the world works, and how we can all contribute to making it better for everyone. And so my undergrad qualifications in civil engineering gave me that grounding in how the physics of the world works. But all my work in town planning, environmental law and political economy, is about how we collectively create the myths and stories and narratives that underpin the primarily economic and political systems that we work. We live by basically the way we organise ourselves to satisfy our our needs, needs and wants.

Nilmini De Silva: 4:11

You did a good job of introducing me Nick. But I think the biggest thing that has happened in the last 10 years is sort of the treadmill workload, because trucking companies and local governments for such a long time in three different continents and having to you know, go go go. And about 11 years ago, I took a break, I had a sabbatical and I spent a year travelling solo around the world and the book was the result of that journey. But that journey of trying to stop thinking about life and what I wanted to look back on when I was 18 years old, has really brought about a big change in my life. And you know, Steven and I have been together now as a couple. So 11 years after I came back from my solo trip, and a lot of these ideas have come from us taking the time to think about But we really wanted to do the rest of our lives. Yeah, I can appreciate that, you

Steven Liaros: 5:05

know, that experience that we're, that experienced that we're all failing with COVID now where people have been forced in a way to stop and reflect on life and what's important, and you know how to go forward. I think we've experienced that maybe a decade ago, through our sort of personal life crises, and, and we feel a lot of people that are in this space really thinking about, you know, what's the meaning of life, if you like, and how can we make things better, given all the various crises we're facing? It's usually people who, who've experienced some sort of process in their life that they're, you know, they've had to reflect and reorient things. And I think that's where we are collectively as a result of,

Nilmini De Silva: 5:46

yeah, I can completely relate to what you're saying is, you know, as some sort of certain point in time, when you start to look back and think, Okay, well, you know, that journey that we've just had, we start to connect the dots that have happened, they may not be, they may not be connected in any way. But over a long term perspective, they do get to be connected, in my view, from what I've my journey. And I had a personal moment in time, when I had my father passed away, I was running a public listed software company had father passed away. So in take his last breath, this is sort of probably this is about five or six years ago, and sort of take his last breath. And I thought to myself, you know, a few days later, I had to deal with everything that came along with that pose, passing, and walked out of my house for just to go for a walk, everyday walk right, just early in the morning. And I could see, I could see the birds flying and the the, you know, the leaves on trade, you know, trees still, you know, leaving and seeing people keep on passing by, right. And driving past walking past, nothing myself had this moment, this pivotal moment in time for me to say, life goes on, right, I had this Yeah, everything was abstract at the time, it became real. And it was that point in time that I started to think about what next, you know, I've had, I wanted to start to enter my third age, so to speak, right. And that's how, you know, five years or six years in, you know, the circular sort of quest had sort of come about, and it's now become the mission for me for most likely the rest of my life. Because on a long term horizon, if we succeed with Circulus, it'll, it'll be above and beyond my lifetime, right? With that will be success for me. So I can relate very much with your thinking around that. So with that deep personal point of view, I let's take it up a bit and go through and reflect at a point in time that both of you had, which was very much around, you know, your circle economy village concept, you know, they are sort of ideas, concepts and constructs of what a future could look like, when was that moment in time for you both? When was that when you said, aha, that's the that's this is it?

Steven Liaros: 7:44

I think there's a number of different strands that fit into it. There wasn't a single aha moment. But there was for me anyway, some time, about 20 years ago, I was watching a documentary on renascence. Florence, right. And it was talking about one of the issues, one of the ideas that came up was how the printing press the invention of the printing press, you know, triggered this flourishing of information, availability of information for a lot of people, and created the renaissance in a particular city in, in northern Italy. Right. And being a Greek background, like yourself, I started thinking, Well, what was so special about not just renascence, Florence, but classical Athens? You know, 2000 years before that? What was it about these particular points in time, particular cities that have this huge, amazing concentration of creativity, and development in this amazing way? That kind of shaped Western society? And I started to think, you know, eventually evolved into well, isn't the internet sort of similar to the printing press in making information widely available? And therefore, isn't there a possibility for another replacements we can have? And I think that's how that's a broad framing of how some of these thinking developed on a anyway.

Nilmini De Silva: 9:12

For me, I guess it's been Steve and I started working together. So we worked together for about six years before we kind of became a capital we met in 2005. And during that time, we became very close friends. And every time we sort of have had a conversation, Steve would be talking to me about these ideas. And I'm like, okay. So I started to ask him, you know, have you ever lived in community because I, as a student, you know, I left home at 25, and to California, all interested in dorm and so I had experienced all this stuff on living with other people. And I knew the challenges of all of that, but also the benefits. And so when we actually came together as a couple and we set up this plan a few years later, in 2013, I said, you know, this is all great, right? Think about all this stuff, theoretically, why don't we take six months and go to Europe and actually live in these places, eco villages that have already been functioning there for quite a long time, and see what that's like and see if you can take the pros and cons and, you know, feed that into your research. And, and so when we started doing that, you know, that's when the journey started for me.

Steven Liaros: 10:21

Yeah, you could say this yin and yang. of theoretical, I've learned a lot, you know, from them, you know, they're contrasting of opposites. And that's really helped me. And it's also been, you know, the difference between engineering and anchoring, understanding the physical world and the way that economist, even a lot of people in the circular economy space, think of the economy as this abstraction as this, you know, numbers on spreadsheets, and not as something that's particularly anchored in the physical world and influenced by the way that we construct and build our infrastructure and buildings. And I think that's where we really complemented each other

Nilmini De Silva: 11:07

to say from, you know, meeting you several times over the last, you know, even bliss within the last six to nine months, I could, I could say, I can agree with your approaches to be, you know, the philosophical and think are and to be fair, polymath for yourself, Steven and yourself, Neil, sort of that, you know, as I said, get shit done attitude and move on and get on with things, right. So, I think that's, it's common, and it's good when you've got a complementary team to get on and get things done with such a large vision and venture, which at the same time, you know, relates back to, you know, what we're trying to do at Circulus, as well, we believe success will be like, probably 50 100 years out blue, and it will be mainstream, right. So really going long term on this, because they're massive global systems that needed to be reimagined, then. And Steven, I remember the first time we met face to face that was it was at a BVN architecture launch of their si two project, and that the wonder that their office at their amazing office in the city here in Sydney. And you know, after the event, and just post drinks, we caught up and I had this amazing, I did have a bit of a aha moment for me, because I found that we were kindred spirits, so to speak, coming, you know, just language that we were using in our conversation was very Oh, my God, this was this person come from? He's talking about the same thing about me, but in two different ways, you know, systems thinking is what it's all about, right? And systems re reimagining, not just pieces in the puzzle that need to be solved for. Right. So, you know, it sort of goes into that area that we believe in is in sort of our point of view that there's circular economy, version one and version two. And most people think, think this circular economy is just version one, which is to really much deal with the symptoms of the economy that we are operating in now, which is, you know, simple things like what simple, but complex things like waste recycling, right to repair, and extended product life, are all things that are features of the operating system right now that we're living in, that actually does not, if we just focus on solving those problems, we still haven't, we're kicking the can down the road. And we're not solving them by shifting to a new model, which is what we call Circular Economy version two. And that's very much around eliminating all those symptoms out of the equation and building a new operating system, right, that actually doesn't even we don't even cooperate waste and recycling and, and right to repair in the equation. Right? So and you come at it from a different from a similar yet different sort of point of view with regards to Circular Economy villages, right, which is just an amazing opportunity, from my point of view, sort of leading into, you know, the world, we need to be sort of doing sort of leading back into sort of circular economy villages, you guys went on a road trip, right. And that road trip was about some you know, it was it was a journey was a must have been a super exciting journey. What did you guys, you know, when did you pick it off? What was the journey? Like? What were the, you know, learnings good and bad that you experienced? And that took that went back into sort of re reiterating what you guys are working on now? Yeah, so we started the journey in 2015, when we moved into a motorhome, rented that house without really defining what the end point might be, we started having a business plan. And this was a new thing for me, because I'm the planner, you know, Steve's got qualifications in term planning, but I'm on the planner, when it comes to setting things down and saying, get going here on such and such a date. And it was completely spontaneous. We said, let's just go out and find those synchronous mystic moments and just let the journey evolve. But of course, we have some plans in terms of, you know, conferences and meetings and things like that. But there was a lot of room for things to happen serendipitously. And as we started travelling, you know, people said, Oh, well, one of the first places not the first but sort of towards the end of 2015. We went to Tasmania, and we were connected with an eco village now be able to To stay there for a while and interact with people and staff, and guest lectures and new tabs. And we started to find pockets in all of the states that we went to like Cygnet in Tassie, or the northern regions in New South Wales, you know, lots of places in Victoria, Denmark, in Western Australia, there are pockets where these ideas seem to resonate, really resonate. And people just came out of the woodwork and asked to do presentations. And, and so we began to see that the idea of actually having a network of villages that are connected is not so far fetched, because, because we were already beginning to see these connections. And so that was really, you know, very revealing to be able to then, you know, having researched eco villages in Europe to be able to see what was happening in Australia. And the other thing was the whole thing about living nomadically, simplifying your life to work out the basics of what I want, you know, just living in a very tiny space, and then started to see that there were so many other people who were choosing to live nomadically. I mean, we always had the grand nomads, you know, the, the people sort of who come in their 60s 70s and 80s, and sort of finish their work in life and move into a caravan before this happened in Australia. But we began to see two other groups, the van lifers, and the digital nomads. And the van lifers were the kids in their 20s and 30s. Were saying, we just don't want to be trapped by a mortgage and be anchored to place. We have careers like being an artist, so musicals that mean, we need to move around, and they were choosing to live his life, but then also creating these communities through the van life, Katherine's at the head all of Australia. And so we've actually asked to present. And we began to see that designing for nomads in the places that the lien was going to be a really important component of this project. And the other thing, of course, digital nomads, people all over the world will sort of come into Australia with a suitcase of coming to Sydney from another state just to work here for a year, and then move on to other places. And so there's these residential apartments now that have been built, fully furnished with Wi Fi and mortar and three other classes, everything built into their hands rental system, to cater to people who just want to be in place for a short time. Lucky Yeah. And so during these five years, we also tried one of those places here in the inner city in Sydney called Yuko. That was the first co videos face that came out. But now they're also mushrooming all of Sydney and lots of other class and certainly around the world.

Steven Liaros: 17:51

Yeah, so cities are evolving because of changes like the internet, where people just working online so you don't have to be anchored to place. So you can see this yin yang thing happening again, we, we think of cities as planning for people's housing, and work and you're kind of anchored to a place we don't think of it as, as a balance between the settled life and the nomadic life, the mobility and stability, as opposites and both need to be planned for, as well as visiting these cutting edge projects and rough edges around the country. We tried this idea of nomad living as well and, you know, everything, you know, saved everything on the cloud and worked off the cloud rather than being anchored to a particular place. But the other thing about travelling around the country was this idea of really connecting to country in that indigenous sense of understanding the land in which we're in and we tend to be so focused, particularly in the cities that you know, the cities the whole world, almost. And so understanding the geography of country, the scale of the country, you know, the ecosystems and variety in different parts and, and the different actual cultures that, as in the culture is in the motives that people have for life for what's important in life, in different parts of the country. And also, you know, as we travelled around, particularly when we were travelling from Adelaide up to the centre, we really heard about how Australia's sort of European first explorers really depended on the indigenous people to guide them through and they were guiding along their soul lines for otter hole to waterhole. And so this idea emerged of a network of water holes connected by songlines as the model that we were talking about and it wasn't just when you talk about circular economy, villages, people, always your your mind locks village and you forget about the connections between them. And we will emphasise the connections between places and that idea of waterhole connected by songlines really conveys that? Well, and that's another thing that came from travelling around the country and connecting to various indigenous trees as well as we travelled around. So that was great.

Nilmini De Silva: 20:12

So I gather, one thing that we haven't done yet is actually, you know, we've been talking about the term Circular Economy village. But we haven't actually explained it or set the vision or, you know, the pathway forward and the roadmap. So why don't you guys tell us about what Circular Economy village actually means, and what the pathway for, for bringing it all to life would look like? I think when we talk about circular economy, a lot of people automatically think managing waste, because there's nothing left at the end. And we are bringing this term to how we design the places that I'm in so far, the unit of design is being the individual house. And it's hard to really get proper sustainability, whether it's environmental, or economic, or social. Through that means, and but when you think of a unit as a village, it is much easier to have decentralised systems of energy, and food and water all integrated into architecture, so that the end product of one can be the input to another. And so that's the whole idea of a circular economy Village, we are designing to zero base so that you can have a school water and the water can store energy, it can water, your agricultural agriculture, look after your food waste, you know, you have all these connections between systems.

Steven Liaros: 21:37

So essentially, the model that we've developed, so it's a replicable development model and the idea, we're moving from that household scale as a unit of development, as we build a house, two, we build a village and the village would help in our model 200 people. And we can discuss reasons for how we arrived at that scale. But they will include affordable, co working and CO living spaces, and energy micro grid or water micro grid, and the regenerative agricultural food system as all together as an integrated system. So as no saying the energy and water systems integrated, they're not trying to shift away from silo thinking to systems thinking, how do you develop a village as a system, and that's to do with the physical design of the space, as well as the process for its development over time. So thinking of it as a product, if you like, what's the design process, financing, and planning and development and construction, and also post construction management? You know, so thinking in terms of lifecycle costing and lifecycle planning, and construction, you know, thinking of a circular economy also in terms of durability, so extending the life of products so that we don't have waste. Yeah, so, so energy energy, micro grid, water micro grid, through regenerative food system, co working and CO living space is also talking about shared electric vehicles powered by the energy micro grid for connection within the village and beyond.

Nilmini De Silva: 23:16

And the other important aspect of that is the fact that we're not talking about one but we're talking about the network, to enable us to break down these complex supply chains. I think that's one of the things that everyone started to realise with COVID how fragile we are because of our dependence around systems and offering so far away from us. And by creating a network, we can start to share within about a region. So that even though one village might not be fully sufficient, the villages around them could be shouting stuff that they don't have themselves. And so while you might not be 100%, sustainable, who can come pretty close to that in this manner? So the concept of a network is very important.

Steven Liaros: 24:01

Just to emphasise that and explain it in a different way. Again, with the definition of a circular economy, we tend to think in abstract terms but also in the product lifecycle. Now, that's sort of time based circularity. We don't think in terms of space based spatial circularity. So, how far are things travelling? As we close the loop? And cleanly if things are localised the distance you travel and therefore the infrastructure and energy that you need, in order to transport a goods around a system is significantly reduced? And so this spatial circularity is circulation of energy and resources and goods within a region is a key element of this re localising as much as possible and then connecting to neighbouring communities to work in by regional scale for increased resilience And then the things obviously you're not going to get everything then we can work towards a sort of global supply chains eventually. But it's about maximising local rather than maximising global supply and global trade, which is the current model. Yeah. 100%

Nilmini De Silva: 25:16

agree with everything that you guys are thinking with regards to the the village's approach. And one of the things that was good to hear and sort of becoming better at, you know, engaging with me from a point of working and chatting with you guys is it's very correlated to closely it's been correlated, what we're trying to do at Circulus from our product, manufacturing point of view, and that's formatic of the theme. There's, you know, the world works in a big pendulum swing, it goes from centralization, to decentralisation, from decentralisation, back to centralization. And I think we're at the top of the maturity curve with regards to centralised world, right, centralised world meaning, you know, global supply chains, global mega factories, and bourbon, you know, mega cities growing and growing, and that sort of old theme of that, but I do believe in and that we are shifting towards a decentralised living on the edge, across regional sort of cities and so forth model not being tied down. If we compare villages across the last few 1000 years, right. We had local villages where, you know, people would sort of congregate and sort of live there for their whole lives to then go to, you know, smaller, you know, little bit more modern villages that actually had many blacksmiths doing different tasks. And that's what they, that's where they live for their whole life. And other time, we had sort of the industrialised era that actually in a paradigm that, you know, drove process flows in a centralised way out to getting stuff around the world, which create your credit, the position that we're in right now, right, which is, which is so much external waste. And with regards to specifically our climate crisis right now, and our environmental waste footprint that's growing and growing, and all these big, wicked problems that we're dealing with all because of that journey. So we've lost the essence of actually, or at least, the narrative has lost its efforts around villages and towns towards you know, urbanisation and mega factories, sort of mega factories. And in mega cities, all this language we read every day in a new sort of starts to become our just common way of thinking. Right. And I do believe that we're on that verge again.

Steven Liaros: 27:15

Yeah, we definitely are, I do believe they're on the

Nilmini De Silva: 27:21

We're on the verge of getting back to local connected villages by powered by the web is sort of your look at Village, village, village version 1.0, and 2.0. Now, I think you guys are focusing on actually even bringing out that village 3.0, in my view, you know, with regards to technology, integration, and being completely sort of human centred, uniquely driven by understanding what values people can deliver, but now with global reach, so Earth, who knows we go out to the universe, but I do think the version three is what you guys are trying to execute, which is empowering humanity to do the best you can, right and self sustain itself the best you can in the most, most environmentally and socially friendly approach. So

Steven Liaros: 28:03

yeah, I think I just wanted to say on that shift from centralised to distributed is a core theme that we're promoting. And you can see that with the energy transition we have, or had in the past large power plants that are highly centralised and provide for a big area, and now everyone can generate their own energy. So we're shifting from separated producers and consumers to this idea of everyone can be a producer and the consumer, the idea of prosumers. So that shift to local production of your own energy is also then experienced for the last at least 20 plus years in the water industry, where we're talking about harvesting our own water and managing the water cycle within the precinct, you know, and the internet itself is a distributed network, there's no central place where all the information is, you know, disseminated to everyone. Everyone can produce information and share information. So we're essentially shifting towards that interconnected, but empowered, if you like, to produce our own basic needs locally. And I think

Nilmini De Silva: 29:13

Yeah, and the other thing I wanted to pick up on, Nick, I think you mentioned something about human centred cities, we have a friend of cutie who's actually researching more than human cities. And so, you know, what we want to emphasise is it's not just about us, it's about the whole ecosystem. It's about our connection to the natural world. It's about, you know, living in this completely integrated way, reconnecting with value came from because, you know, so many people are so disconnected from the environment around them. And these this is what's causing a lot of the senses of isolation, and even your health. You know, it's just because we live in these conditioned boxes never go outside. And so that's what that you want to be like to be somewhere where you can go out and pick your food, you can, you know, connect to the people who live next door.

Steven Liaros: 30:08

There's a big debate that has happened in the early part of the 20th century in town planning about the distinction between a mechanical city, which is actually what we have highly urbanised, clinical separated from the natural world, as opposed to the organic city, which is connected with natural systems as much as possible. And we're having a similar sort of debate now where all the people in the smart cities face for example, I thinking, if we can just get that technology that will well, you know, tell us when the garbage bin is full, and we can empty it. And we'll create a circular economy versus this idea of a more than human city that we can't keep thinking solely in technological, abstract, concrete, clinical terms that we have to connect with the natural world, and connecting with our food system. And our water systems is integral to that. How do we create places with water and food systems integrated? Yeah,

Nilmini De Silva: 31:11

it's interesting to hear that because we have, from a modern world perspective to live in sort of first world urban cities, global cities like ours, right now in Sydney, you compare that to some of the islands in the Greek Aegean Sea that have people on average, living many decades, more than the average person in you know, wealth first countries right across the board. And you do look back at those and think, How can we talk about and you see all these sort of 60 minute reports on all these amazing people that are living for over 100 years, on average, and even in Japan, right? So it's similar reality and trends that are going on and you think we all know that we're just not moving fast enough to shift towards the approaches that you're talking about. So there's a lot of it's going to be you and I we all know, there's going to be a hard struggle to get through to actually drive through this, this new approach and operating system in living in the way that your cells are talking about with circular economy villages. Now, with that in mind, and our great conversation we've had already with regards to sort of the philosophical and informatics sort of themes around the concept and opportunity. What is the reality been like? What has it been like today to go out into market and try and actually get this so obvious for me and yourselves, opportunity to happen and come to life and start to accelerate quickly in with many cities, or many villages, not just in Australia, but around the world? In my view? What has been the reality? Like when you? Yeah, I know what it's like, from a technology perspective, starting something brand new, and you're dealing with unknown unknowns, right? And you're trying to de risk all those along the way. I mean, there's my lessons learnt now, after 30 years of being in the game, how has it been in reality, knowing that we're in Australia, which is relatively conservative in execution, right? We seem to be really good at taking other ideas, and you bring them in here, you're in that zone right now, of a typical entrepreneurial, the entrepreneurial spirit trying to deal with unknown unknowns by bringing new behaviours to market. How has it been, I think the challenge in the cities is very different a challenge in regional areas. So in the big cities, like Sydney, people are very complacent, they have not been affected by some of the climate changes we've already seen by drought and bushfires. And you know, his food had a few stones. But so initially, like five or six years ago, when we started, when we got in the band and started going out, we noticed straightaway that people in regional areas were much more receptive to these ideas than people in the cities work, who were very complacent, resistant to change. But I think COVID has now brought a lot more people to my new awareness, there's a new consciousness that is arising. And more and more people are sort of saying, Oh, my God, imagine not doing a two hour commute every day, like you can't actually work, not sitting, you know, this is what I did, for many, many years to turn up in his roads in the continent, either one or two hours each day. And so more and more people. And we just see that even last little while in terms of the inquiries were getting in terms of the connection as well, making that resistance to change is breaking down.

Steven Liaros: 34:19

It varies in different places, as you mentioned earlier, all those particular pockets where it resonates more than than in other places. And so getting in the van was partly about finding those places where the early adopters, and the innovators are so yeah, so if you will.

Nilmini De Silva: 34:36

Yeah, and I think the other challenge was the language we were using when we first started this conversation, we were talking about religious because that's what we did. We went to Europe and listed and everyone's like, Oh my god, he wants to live in a comment. What the communist idea to talking about so it was strange for people especially in Sydney, because we are used to a much different lifestyle. And so we realise right away that, first of all, we didn't want to appeal just to a small pocket of people on the far left, we really wanted these items to be mainstream. And we realised that we needed to say, we really needed to talk about the points of difference from, you know, the ideas in the 60s. And we also needed to be mindful of our language. So we tried lots of different things like we started calling it innovation hubs, and then you sort of go to the regional areas, and they're like, What is this Tech Village, you're talking about? Only being an innovation hub. So klinika goodness. But the idea of a circular economy village seems to be resonating because the idea of a circular economy is becoming more widely understood, and more acceptable to people. And as more people become sort of aware that they can actually live a little bit differently, but still have access to what they're had in the cities, and perhaps have a better life because they have more community around them such food and time, you know, do really, I actually read an article recently, and it was called a time millionaires or something like people who are aspiring to have time in our life rather than so yeah.

Steven Liaros: 36:31

Yeah. So yeah, some of the challenges you mentioned, Samuels, covered off on those ideas of language and trying to appeal to the mainstream. And I think Circular Economy village has the kind of yin yang to it like circular economies, progressive next evolution of the economy, whereas village gives you that sense of community but has a little sense of going back. But we've really been keen to describe it as the next evolution rather than returning to some sort of an agrarian past. It's using technology in a way that, that enhances natural systems, and therefore provides us with our basic needs much more efficiently. Yeah, those challenges that you mentioned about conservative Australian culture is really a thing. It's, you know, the number of times you have heard, well, where's this been done before? You know, what do you think you can't be an innovator? If you're looking for things that have been done before we won counsel, not the spec, saying that we don't want to return to mediaeval Europe. And I'm thinking mediaeval Europe with some an older and an internet connection. Truly amazing. I didn't know they had an accent. But there you go. It's how people immediately lock you into a way of thinking as soon as you convey an idea. It's that kind of first instant. That's the challenge. How do you connect in that first instant to an open rather than closed views coming at you?

Nilmini De Silva: 37:58

Yeah, a lot of people are resistant to change. But like, I think we have to remember about change that is being imposed on you is frightening. But change that you impose on yourself is actually quite exciting and liberating. And so what we're really talking about is a model to empower ourselves. So we're not constantly reliant on government to provide our basic needs. And so I think that's what we have to convey, we have to convey to people that if we actually collaborate with each other, it's not that frightening, we can do it,

Steven Liaros: 38:38

it'll be more affordable, it will be more efficient. So we'll have more time and time to pursue our own passions. And it goes back to their very first thing about fate or destiny. Are we trapped by, you know, the place that we're in and the things that we have to do? or to what extent are we free to pursue the things that we love to pursue our own destinies. And this model is about liberating people about saying we can, we all have to have food and water and shelter and those basic necessities, it's a fact of being a natural animal rights. If we can do that as efficiently as possible, ensure everyone has their then everyone has the time and space to pursue their own passions, whether that's for, you know, just relationships or whatever challenge you're into, you know, it's just

Nilmini De Silva: 39:30

yeah, and I think that's, that's what many people have really discovered yet they have not discovered that creativity, and to discover your creativity, you need change, you need excitement, you need diversity, you need time, like you just need to step off that treadmill. And that's, you know, I know I had a creative bone in my body until I took a year off and, and one of the projects I did was a volunteer project in Africa on conservation and photography and it Do my mind. Creativity is, is within all of us, we just have to discover it.

Steven Liaros: 40:06

Just from an economic perspective, we think economic progress is about more productivity, more doing doing doing. And creativity comes from stopping stop they're doing and just be and, you know, reflect and choose your next direction instead of it being automated and dictated to you. So that kind of stop and reflect on and allow the creativity to flow is really important.

Nilmini De Silva: 40:35

I really think that we're at the closing the start of the decline of the the metrics value system that we've been using post World War Two, which is GDP and productivity, right. It's all about growth. And, you know, you spoke about it in one of your posts and resale that I've read, which is with regards to is closer basically to the end of growth and growth in land, I believe was the or some I can't remember term Exactly. But it was the combination of growth and land I believe was the point you're trying to be you guys are at right now believe you're working with a couple of two to three councils in regional Australia, that actually is sort of very, very on on Mark and aligned to what your what you guys are trying to launch and kick off without naming names, it comes to councils, we know, where are you at with sort of those conversations as much as you want to share, but also the challenges that come with that, which are the dependencies, you know, finance, many other factors, you know, local regulatory compliance around development and so forth. I mean, the specific challenges you're dealing with right now, which need to be sort of solved get these projects off the ground, right.

Steven Liaros: 41:41

Yeah. So I think so. I'll give you the example of and we can name it, it's Belgian council that we're working with, because they've adopted, we've been talking with them a couple of years as they've been developing their housing strategy and growth management strategy. And last year, they adopted an action in their housing strategy, or they adopted the Housing Strategy and included an action that we requested just to build a pilot project, basically a village. And over the last year, we've been talking with Sustainability Advantage, which is a branch of state government, who are supporting startups that advance the sustainable development goals. And so they're part funding this project, which is, which just commenced yesterday, actually, where we're setting up within the Belgian Council planning framework, the processes and the policy framework that is needed to assess a project like this, a new village. Right? And that includes, you know, what would be the service? In a strategic planning perspective, the first thing you think about is, how much development you want, what kind of development you want, and where do you want it? And so that, where do you want to locality planning is one aspect of what we're doing, then is kind of how does that fit into the infrastructure systems that they have in place? What would be the development controls that you would apply? And essentially, this goes to the issue that many villages have faced in the past. And that is that long timeframe and in terms of getting an approval, because it's not recognised or identified beginning the planning scheme. And so to make this process replicable, you need a process by which, you know, the application comes in and council can assess it and determine whether to approve or not. And that certainty provides certainty for people who are financing it as well. And future residents have that they'll actually be a project within a reasonable timeframe that they need housing, rather than, you know, in a 10 year timeframe, which has been the case in the past. And so we're working on that process establishment to allow this to be replicated and Sustainability Advantage wants to then take it to other councils and also to state government to see if it can be applied elsewhere across the state. So it's all about betting the process is just like you have a process, if you want to build a house is a process for submitting your application, what needs to be included in the application and how Council will assess it. If you're building a village, it's far more complicated, but there needs to be a certainty around the process. That's essentially what we're working on that first day.

Nilmini De Silva: 44:38

Yeah, I was just gonna say. So yes, there have been quite a few different challenges. You know, finding obviously, has been one of them. But the other challenge of being having a profile and we always said at the start that we need other people to champion us so you know, just even being on your podcast, for example, is an example of someone else talking about them. Look up. And more recently, we were approached by the Planning Institute of Australia to contribute to the ongoing professional development programmes for planners. And we just did the first teaser, a one hour workshop recently, about a week ago, and but next year, we'll do a full day workshop for them. And you know, opportunities like that, to bring these ideas to mainstream to the mainstream world, like to the planners, who are in the industry who might not have been exposed to ideas like this is another important segment of this, like, we really need to mainstream these ideas as a viable alternative, our another option ever is to something. Yeah.

Steven Liaros: 45:45

And I think it goes to that issue of, you know, the distinction you made between theory and practice, when we think of practice as being actually building a village, right. Whereas there's this whole process that goes on. Before that, then people are, you know, that's their work. It's practice, it's planning, design, strategy, development, you know, all the work that happens in council planning departments, in consulting engineers, and planners, and all that process is, you know, by the time you get to that stage of construction, everything's been dictated and determined. So you have to inform that leader process. And it's not thought of as practical implementation, but it is part of the implementation process. And it's all, we're all about mobilising populations, we're not about doing it all ourselves, we'd love to be to surf the wave. Because, you know, we'll be ahead of the game, but we want other people to be doing it as well. And so connecting with planning institutes, and architects and so on is really important.

Nilmini De Silva: 46:55

You know, over time, we've been able to eliminate risk early on along the way never deliver, from a software perspective is an ability to deliver proven data driven value around positive upside and positive behaviour change, you know, it's been nearly 30 years that we've been able to get to this position. So within three to six months, you know, you know, whether what you're taking to market digitally on the web is of value in use in market through, you know, real, you know, life cycle execution, thinking very being customer journey driven. So, the other reality is with and, you know, I'm experienced, as well as seeing the fact that when you're dealing with hard hardware related place related built world related experiences that are going to market like circular economy, village village, it takes too long to actually be able to prove the point. And you know, possibly, there'd be an opportunity to think about designing and building a digital twin equivalent and tested proven through like a Sim City style approach to validate the learnings and experiences to be able to take to market and learning on that journey. But I think where you guys are at very much is sort of super early on the curve. And ultimately, the advice I would give is very much around taking this first project. And I wish it does come through with the village and council and apply hypothesis set around it right across the whole operating system of the circular economy village. And then you go about scientifically demonstrating through real life use and behaviour and behaviour change over time, a blueprint, right? A validation of the behaviour change that can be then replicated and taken to other cities or countries around the world, right. So I do think that we can apply a lot of learnings from software ventures or SAS ventures, so to speak, and applying hypothesis, theories and tools to then be able to come up with a blueprint on the outcome based on validated data, right? So, yes, it's quite amazing what you guys are working on in there, it's to be fair to say that there are not it's not just yourselves, sort of taking this pathway. There are many other organisations globally that are sort of trying to get to this sort of global, you know, this sort of connected village thinking and, you know, we'll name if we do different plays here, but you got, you know, region villages out of, you know, the US and we've got VR tingles, you know, we mouthful Toyota eg at the doorstep of Mount Fuji where they are developing another amazing, similar type of project. Well, you know, even Bill Gates looking at building looking at building a brand new city that's completely circular in their approach right in the US, whether it's obviously coming there, the city's approach are not the same as sort of the 200 max people village approach that you're talking about and wanting to build out. But when I look at all those examples, what's common with most of them is you have a large corporate backer, or investor that's actually backing them and the challenge that you use, I believe, and we've probably our conversations we've had, we haven't been able to align the approach with that with you know, getting sort of good corporate backers, or government backers or, or investors that actually believe in this story and backup as much as we can. So it's, you know, it part of the process of taking it to market is to spread the word about what you're doing and connect with more, you know, institutional or certain type of cohorts of corporate partners that can come on board are natural for me naturally, it'd be a natural opportunity for one of the existing built world players, mostly in Australia to sort of partner up with as a new form or new category of development. Right? So have you had experiences in trying to deal with that of late?

Steven Liaros: 50:16

So, we're aware of those examples that you've talked about. And I can tell you that, you know, the whole history of town planning starts with a modern town planning in sort of, from the UK, with the Quakers, who were entrepreneurs and businessmen, and particularly Cadbury is set up a, basically a village around these factory, so that he provided the housing and schooling and other facilities. So this, the idea of the garden cities that have been is powered, promoted in around the turn of the 20th century, came out of those capitalists, basically, who were building villages around their factories. And so the idea of the Googleplex today is very similar, except for the housing, it has all the other facilities, restaurants and entertainment spaces, and doctors and laundromats and all sorts of things within the campus. And so thinking in terms of that campus model is one way of looking at it. But you say all of these models that are driven by and Toyota included driven by the capitalist is for the benefit of the capitalist, right? And the, you know, a lot of the models in China were built in the same way they talk about precincts where the factory includes housing and services for the workers around the factory. But what we're trying to say is, the model, as it looks on the ground, is something we should pursue. But why don't we look at it from the perspective of being collectively funded by the people who are living there for their own benefit, rather than for the benefit of someone else who builds it? And I think that's the point of difference that that we're proposing. You know, if we get that model that's built by Toyota, and by Atlassian, here or whatever else, other companies in, you know, they're looking at doing it? Well, that's great. That's a good start. But I think we have to keep pursuing the model that is collectively funded and developed by the people living in it for their benefit. And I think that's, that's going to be the long haul, you know, the physical design, I think, you know, a lot of companies are starting to think in that way.

Nilmini De Silva: 52:33

You've actually shared with me some of the concepts, ideas, and even a person flying through the village, so to speak, or a bird flying through the village. And it looks just unbelievable. So you know, if we can bring the concept with the architect that you guys are working with, to life, it will be an amazing experience. And I would love to see 1000s of those around the world. Basically, the bring back literalized to decentralised, right and distributed, which is sort of the next big frontier. Well, look, I just noticed, we've hit nearly an hour on this call on this podcast conversation, I'd expected it to be long. Do you guys have any final thoughts on in closing our podcast today,

Steven Liaros: 53:08

I was just going to repeat the Buckminster Fuller quote, You never change things by fighting the existing reality, to change something, build a new model that makes the model obsolete. That's what you're trying to do. Yeah. And Einstein said something similar, that we can't solve problems with the same thinking that created them, we have to stop thinking in silos about, you know, the climate crisis, or the plastic pollution crisis, or the housing affordability crisis, or you know, political dysfunction, or whatever else. They're all symptoms of a systemic problem. And we need to think of new systems. And I'd really just like to emphasise, we're not talking about one village here of 200 people, which we always seem to come back to, we're talking about a network, a distributed network of self sufficient communities where people enhance and regenerating the land on which they live. And, in that sense, connected the country connected to the place where they live. And so that indigenous perspective of, of a network of waterfalls connected by soul lines is really the final message on I'd like to leave because as far lines that are important in your life journey, through the villages not not anchored and stuck in one place.

Nilmini De Silva: 54:21

Thank you both. (in unison) Thanks Nick.

Steven Liaros: 54:24

That's blending beauty with utility, Yin and Yang again.

Nick Gonios: 54:29

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 or write to us at

Stay up to date on all things Circulist.