Circular Economy, Sustainability

Circular Economy – Activities in the Midwest

Flyer DIF2015_Open Mic

Decline of the midwestern United State’s industrial sector, sometimes called the “rustbelt,” began in the 1970s as manufacturing outsourcing became more common leading to job and population loss and urban decay. Yet in recent years, much has changed in the region with many activities that can be included in the circular economy.

As part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Disruptive Innovation Festival (DIF) 2015, we spoke with nine panelists from Indiana and Kentucky to talk about how their organizations are moving beyond rust belt industries to foster economic, natural, and social resources. Our group was diverse, representing a broad spectrum of organizations and professions. It is reflective of the diversity of the Midwest and the need for connections between diverse partners in a circular economy network. These panelists were a small representation of the activities occurring in the region. In the following sections, I provide a brief description of their conversation. You can click here to watch the Nothing Abandoned: No Place for Rust Belts in the Circular Economy panel discussion along with a followup session.

If you are interested in learning more about a specific panelist’s organization, you can click on their organization name to access their websites linked below.

Imhotep and Diop Adisa, Kheprw Institute (KI), addressed the importance of attending to social capital as an essential element of the circular economy. They discussed the work that KI does as a community empowerment center and independent private school in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana. Their work involves building a culture that is in harmony with the environment and creating economic opportunity through social entrepreneurship. They focus on training and empowering young people through projects that are attractive to them, like social media or aquaponics, and that they can share with other young people and their community.

Duncan Campbell, an architect and historic preservationist, discussed that reusing buildings is far more efficient in many ways than demolishing them. Constructing buildings incurs an environmental debt because materials, fossil fuels, and labor are expended in building structures. If buildings are demolished, the environmental debt is not recovered. The new structures will incur more environmental debt resulting in great waste. Reclaiming structures and repurposing them has shown to reduce economic and environmental waste not to mention the added social benefits of revitalizing commercial areas and neighborhoods.

John Gibson, State Coordinator of Earth Charter Indiana (ECI), provided information about ECI as it pertains to the Circular Economy. ECI launched its first major project in 2006—Sustainable Indiana (SI) 2016. The mission of SI 2016 is to discover, document and celebrate Hoosier­based sustainability initiatives as a Bicentennial legacy. On its website, ECI has a list of sustainability projects across the state in a variety of categories from agriculture, architecture, arts, business, to universities. These stories are explained in detail on the ECI website.

Tayler Glover, Vice President of Indiana Hemp Industries Association, talked about her organization’s work in Indiana as it relates to the Circular Economy. Their mission is to promote the research and development of industrial hemp products and foster industry development within the state of Indiana. Tayler talked about Purdue University’s research with growing industrial hemp. She works to promote the growing of industrial hemp in the US because of its many sustainable properties. The US is largest importer of industrial hemp.

Kelly Kepner, Director of Economic Development for Benton County, Indiana, talked about the benefits from wind farms within the county. The county has three wind farms, the Benton County Wind Farm, the Fowler Ridge Wind Farm and the Hoosier Wind Farm – numbering a total of 495 wind turbines within the county – operated by energy companies Orion Energy Group, BP Alternative Energy and enXco, respectively. Since 2009, the county has collected close to $5 million in combined property taxes from the three wind farms. The tax revenues from these farms enabled the county to pay off all debt, remodel its community center along with purchasing emergency extraction equipment for its various county fire departments.

Sean Vandevander, CEO, and Elisa Owen, Vice President of Ecobridge Industries, talked about their company’s mission to work with local farmers in sustainably growing and harvesting crops that can be processed into bio­composites, bio­plastics, and other Eco­friendly products. They described how they partner with farmers and manufacturers from the Louisville, KY, area which is within a one day’s drive of 65% of the U.S. population. The benefits of local sourcing are many. One is that manufacturers of plant fibers reduce their carbon footprint and meet their personal sustainability goals. In the automotive and green building applications, their feedstock allows for light weighting of components while maintaining strength and cost­competitiveness. In addition, they discussed how their feedstock has superior retention of mechanical properties during recycling when compared with glass­reinforced thermoplastics.

Kyle Squillace, Impressive Prototypes, discussed his firm that specializes in local preproduction prototypes. The firm has experienced model makers with 20­30 years experience in model making, whose skills are maintained, put to continuous use and transferred to a younger generation, including Kyle’s. Several of their pieces of equipment come from previous manufacturing plants that were de­localized to low­cost countries. In addition, Impressive Prototypes use 3D printing as part of their production to create prototypes quickly for local manufacturers. He discussed how they recycle waste materials from their 3D printers.

Please take look at our discussion to see some of  the interesting circular economy activities in the Midwest.