Marianne Kuhlmann on Embracing the Uncertainties of Radical Innovation

Marianne Kuhlmann is the Co-Founder and Lead of Circularity, the do-tank for the Circular Economy in Germany, where she connects practitioners in business and society and works with them to implement circular solutions. She previously worked as Head of Sustainability at Grover and as a Management Consultant at McKinsey and Company. In her PhD at ETH Zurich, she focused on managing the transition toward a Circular Economy and shares her insights with us

by Rachel Johnson | Jun 27, 2023

“Circular start-ups are key drivers in the transformative journey towards a Circular Economy. With their creativity, agility, and ambition, they play a pivotal role in driving innovation and transforming industries. They challenge the linear economy by reshaping value chains and inspiring new patterns of value creation.”

1. Why does the topic of the Circular Economy have to be on the agenda of every company? Why is it worthwhile?

The Circular Economy represents a fundamental transformation of our economic system and the way we conduct business – and the transition is already in full process. Now is the chance for companies to proactively shape this transition and ensure their organization’s long-term sustainability and competitive edge in a rapidly changing world.

2. What are the biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge in implementing the Circular Economy is the need for shifting mindsets. For the potential of the Circular Economy to unfold, on a system as well as a company level, it’s important to not only focus on incremental efficiency gains and small steps, but embrace the transition as a holistic system change, being aspirational when reimaging the future. This also means embracing the uncertainties of radical innovation. There are no proven pathways to circularity yet, thus we need courageous entrepreneurs to develop, test, and scale novel solutions.

3. How would you convince people who are still critical towards the topic?

A Circular Economy is not something we have to do. The transition to a CE provides us with the opportunity to rethink the way we live, work, and conduct business, to reimagine how things could be, and actively shape a future we want to live in.

4. A thought-leader, book,
or podcast you would recommend?

Maja Göpel is definitely worth a read, especially her latest book “Wir können auch anders” (We Can Do Things Differently). She has a great way of explaining the interconnectedness of the various elements of our economic, societal, and political systems and the resulting need for a holistic system change instead of trying to change isolated symptoms. At the same time, she invites her audience to actively reimagine and proactively shape the future system we want to live in.

5. What are the key requirements for the Circular Economy to succeed and eventually become standard?

For the Circular Economy to succeed and become the industry standard, we first and foremost need supportive policies and regulations to create just and favorable economic conditions. However, we also need to encourage innovation and technological advances, as well as collaboration between stakeholders and circular thinking throughout society.