Our Social Lab experience

Our Social Lab experience

Our shared mission was literally to explore the potential of ecosystem awareness and facilitate the co-creation of solutions for circular economy transformation in the Canton de Vaud. Although, before the Circular Resource Lab’ workshops, most of us didn’t know each other, and some didn’t even understand exactly what Circular Economy was.

So, why more than 20 individuals would commit to an intensive workshop plan while having their daily well-set comfortable lives? The initiative first raised our curiosity, then triggered a common call from the guts to join the journey, or actually let that journey try us. Passion, sense of responsibility and urgency, a bit of loneliness and extent hope to be part of a change for the better? Probably a mixture of them all.

What could possibly happen when people from different backgrounds, at different ages and stages of their lives have the opportunity to meet, think, breathe, debate, eat, stay silent, laugh, care about each other and co-create during 4 months? We grew as individuals and as the first impact-driven cohort for circular economy in Switzerland, fighting with an open mind and heart to make the current societal and economical model obsolete and be part of the construction of the next better reality.

Reconnecting with others

There are hundreds of point of views, ways to think, analyse, interact and act. The Lab brought 23 selected persons together to connect at the emotional and intellectual level. Every one having something unique and valuable to contribute, buoying the way to Circular Economy transformation. Some of us were ‘just’ engaged citizens and responsible consumers, students, employees in a non-environmental business, others would be entrepreneurs, engineers, geographers, PhDs, etc, but we all learned from experts on water, plastic and electronics topics, all brainstormed on issues (unsustainable degenerative consumption habits, pollution from the building industry, soil depletion and food security), and on the best ways to tackle each one by developing new synergies at different levels. We were provided with tools, we developed the archetype of our potential direct beneficiaries and developed our project ideas and implementation plan.

Although to welcome the best from each other, a very important basis was needed to successfully weave our feelings, knowledge and practical experience: respect and genuine interest to others. First, we learned to express our stucks and frustrations, let go our beliefs and assumptions, listen with an open heart and mind. We did become more aware of each other, and could opened ourselves to new approaches to create deeper links, build trust and even developed friendships. A lot of energy flowed during the journey. Have you ever took a paintbrush and started filling a 7-meter long blank page and have you ever hummed – with 20 other persons at the same time? It might sound anecdotic but it is much more efficient than any seminar or motivational speech to bring people together. A feeling of belonging would warmly trickled down from our chests to the ground and to others during these moments. We felt each one was becoming a key element of our created social ecosystem whose actions assemble and influence the well-being of us all. We knew a bit more each time why we wanted and were part of the journey to circular economy and developed prototypes for concrete solutions. We felt quickly responsible to honour our tacit commitment to our peers and convenors to give the best of ourselves to the Lab.

Collective painting to foster a feeling of connection and belonging.

Most of the time we would stay inside a four-walled space, although we had a walk on the EPFL campus and a longer contemplation time in the forest in the periphery of Bern. We went for a walk through the trees and the orange leafy carpet of the forest. And it is when left alone in it that we can really remember we have five senses. Have you ever taken the time to really listen, look at, smell, touch and taste the forest? Seeing for the first time the dozens of shades of green, yellow, orange, red, brown? Startling a dear that bumps into you, disappearing as quick as it arose but leaving a long-lasting impression on you? Overhearing birds chirping and the wind swishing in the leaves? Breathing into the fresh scent of a gently rubbed leaf, an earthy moss after the rain? Rubbing the soil between your fingers and embracing a standing proud tree? Or even crunching into wild beechnuts? Everyone should now and then do what a far-away culture calls a “forest bath”.

Reconnecting with nature.

Building a circular economy is not more simple than exploring our own mind (connect with self) and with each other, it is also trying to be more aware of nature knowledge and use its logics to respect its rules. Nature is a incredible library that has been undermined and burnt partially these last decades. Behind the scene of a forest, there are billions of years of evolution, of “try and survive, survive and improve”, logic of life. All this unconscious knowledge, existing for the sake of being. To build circular economy, we will need technology, but most of all we will need to understand Nature’s rules.

Forests are the richest and most diverse type of existing terrestrial ecosystems. We can first feel intimidated in front of this raw, maybe even a bit arrogant to us, level complexity in every single details. There is an invisible but fundamental element: the mycelium. It is the veins of the forest, the link between the trees, plants and mushrooms, a kind of “Wild-Fi” to share the forest’s ancestral knowledge allowing its components to be connected, to feed themselves, to keep the soil healthy and alive. That liant is what inspired one of the teams of the Circular Resource Lab, ours, at a ideological and practical level.

The Magic Mushroom project

Our team focused in applying circular economy principles to support the local agriculture of the canton Vaud. After different activities such as brainstorming, formulating hypothesis, contacting people and testing  ideas, we identified that one the main issues that both local farmers and organizations encounter is soil degradation. As a potential solution, we proposed that organic waste coming from the local mushroom industry could be use to improve soil quality. This organic waste coming from mushrooms naturally contain organic matter and antifungal activity that could regulate the presence of pathogenic mushrooms. In this way, local farmers do not require overuse of pesticides and agrochemicals. Despite the limited time, motivated team members run some tests and showed some promising preliminary results. By digging into the “Magic Mushrooms experience” we realised a few points:

  • The importance of being in touch with the people from different fields and expertise
  • Listening and non-jugement are essential principles for co-creation
  • The necessity to create safe and friendly spaces for collaboration to catalyse these interactions
  • Energy and willingness is not always enough but also commitment in time and work
  • Circular economy required a deep personal change to connect with others and nature

Discover our prototype here!

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