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Empowering individuals to go circular

Sean Trewick is a business process engineer and community organizer. He has worked to build people focused strategies and lean driven operations for SMEs, multinationals and community groups in a career spanning Africa and Australia. drawing inspiration from his roots in South Africa. Sean believes in the power of Ubuntu to unite people around a common goal. Currently, Shawn is Director at Circular Economy Victoria, a non for profit driving the transition towards a circular economy. On a community level within Victoria, Australia, through his work Sean champions and empowers citizens to apply circular principles in their daily lives.


Our current linear economic model of take-make-waste is utterly short sighted. These open ended processes degenerate the ecological and social balance we need to thrive. Circular principles help us close these loops and support the transition to regenerative economy. To activate the circular economy, we usually look at business and industrial systems to redesign what they do and how they do it. But what if individuals became the architects of the circular economy? What if each individual on our 7.8 billion team human drove this transition from linear to circular?


It will take circular citizens working together to shift our industrialised world towards a circular economy. In other words, creating a positive shift in society starts with individuals making a shift internally. Sean and the team at Circular Economy Victoria are grappling with this knotty problem and considering: how can individuals make an impact towards the global transition to a circular economy?

Circular Economy Victoria (CEV) brings together individuals around Melbourne who are interested in the circular economy, and passionate about change. An individual could be: an entrepreneur starting their business; an intra-preneur running a change project within the organisation; a stay at home parent; or a concerned citizen that simply wants to do some good.

CEV is creating an activation platform to empower individuals to see their own skills, values and goals through a circular lens i.e. by linking personal goals to circular economy principles. Once individuals see that they can achieve their goals in this way, it becomes a catalyst for community adoption of circular economy principles, and thus helps the circular economy to scale.

To achieve this, they have created the AECEA model.

The AECEA model

The AECEA model is based on a traditional impact model where specific steps lead towards achieving an objective. The AECEA model has five pillars: Awareness, Education, Collaboration, Empowerment and Advocacy.

Let's take some practical examples of someone who's going through this model.


If an individual arrives at CEV not knowing anything about the circular economy, they start by attending an awareness event. Some might have read an article or a book that’s got them thinking about the circular economy, and want to know more. CEV tries to host as many awareness events as possible that reach as wide an audience as possible to raise awareness about the circular economy.


Once individuals become aware about the circular economy, they usually want to learn more about it. Sean explains, “You might say, I'm really interested in keeping plastics out of the ocean. So you'll go and learn a bit more about that. Or you may be really interested in systems approaches like biomimicry, or industrial ecology, or maybe in something very specific, like, I want to grow my own fruit from my food waste to become self-sustaining”.

There's many different ways that an individual chooses to take that next step from awareness to education. So CEV asks how can we provide educational opportunities to these individuals? In many cases these education opportunities already exist. CEV’s role is to bring them all together and make people aware of them.


Once individuals become educated about the circular economy they generally want to start talking to others about it and find out more. CEV provides the place where people come together and really test what they’ve learned, whether it’s a specific element of circular, or considering a whole system.


Moving from collaboration to empowerment is the step individuals take when they shift from thinking to acting. For CEV, the goal of the empowerment step in the AECEA model is how do we effectively empower people to now act upon this research that they've done? CEV considers: how do we empower individuals to apply ideas within their own sphere of influence so they can act on that plastic waste research that they've done? Or actually go and grow their own veggie garden with their food waste?

Circular Economy Victoria are looking at partnering with different organisations like City of Melbourne with their open innovation competition on Waste and Circular Economy which is empowering people to act on the research and collaboration work that they've done. But Sean notes that there are many different ways to empower individuals beyond funding such as by providing support, networking and practical experience.


The next step is advocacy. Once an individual has gone through this AECEA process and has been empowered and actually succeeded, or even if they've failed and learned from their experience, they then become an advocate for the circular economy. This may be through a narrow lens of a specific project like the veggie garden mentioned earlier, or a wider systems lens such as biomimicry. Through this process they have access to different 'lenses' and these lenses can narrow, widen or change at any point in time.

The idea is that once individuals have seen results they can jump back to the Awareness stage and, for example, might be able to do something completely different with their partner such as creating a circular textiles business and together with their partner they could then go through the model again, with a whole different lens of textiles and what circularity can do in that space.

“If you try to solve all the systemic problems we face, you're never really going to succeed. So you really got to break it up into subsystems and base components, which for society is the individual. So Circular Economy Victoria has chosen to be system changers at an individual level”

Circular Economy Victoria and the Doughnut

For Sean, “The doughnut is a beautiful diagram that can be contextualised to the Melbourne context like in Amsterdam: creating a portrait of the current state of the city through the doughnut lens.” CEV has been talking to organisations like the Thriving Cities Initiative (TCI) to make this happen. He is also excited to note that some work is being done to create an indigenous Australian doughnut.

Top-down and bottom-up

Circular Economy Victoria’s vision statement is, as per Kate Raworth’s iconic doughnut diagram, to create a safe and just space for humanity within the means of our planet. They recognise the need for a top-down approach where a macro approach can be used to drive action like policy development, programme development or to direct funding.

According to Sean, “The beautiful thing about it is that at a top-down level, all these different projects can be viewed through the doughnut to make sure that everything that is being done is not leaving people behind on the social foundation side or pushing over the environmental ceiling side.”

The second approach is that CEV takes is rallying people at a grassroots level and building up a bottom-up approach. This approach is about bringing together individuals who are already doing circular or doughnut initiatives or who are advocating on a specific topic like gender equality, not necessarily recognising that this is part of the doughnut narrative.

“By bringing people together and collaborating we will compound our positive impact. So that's what we're doing at the moment.”

To listen to Sean talking about Circular Economy Victoria check out our podcast here and get in touch with us on:

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