Recap: Falling Walls Lab Factory on Circular Economy

A little exercise after a long day

At the end of February, it was time for another chapter in the story of Falling Walls Lab. We invited 12 of our Lab alumni from the years 2015 to 2019 to our Falling Walls Lab Factory on Circular Economy, a two-day workshop with hands-on challenges and inspiring talks by experts on the topic of circular economy and sustainability.

On the first day, all participants started by introducing themselves and the projects they are currently working on. Travelling from as far as Canada, Mexico and Senegal, the international group of young scientists and entrepreneurs certainly had a lot to talk about. From growing seaweed to building roofs out of recycled plastic bottles, from finding a healthy sugar alternative to checking the quality of air with the help of artificial intelligence – every alumni had their own fascinating project to share.

Afterwards, it was time to learn more about the concept circular economy or rather the question on how to create a more circular product. Under the lead of Natalie Betts and Laura Konieczny of Circular Berlin, our alumni learned how to apply circular theory to their own personal ventures and how to get into a more sustainable mindset. Working in small groups, everyone was able to work out how they might adapt to new challenges and work with stakeholders.

After lots of theory crafting – along with some well-received relaxation exercises – the group went to visit the Berlin store of Ecoalf. The Spanish company is making fashion out of waste and recycled materials, such as used fishing nets and plastic bottles, thus creating a fully circular product. After a brief presentation, it was time to end the day at FREA, Berlin’s first zero-waste restaurant, for a truly spectacular dinner. Of course, everyone also got to take a look at the restaurant’s very own composting machine.

Day 2: Design Thinking and Circular Economy

The second day kicked off with a presentation by Dirk Helbing of ETH Zürich, Fellow at Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and Falling Walls Conference Speaker 2015. The highly decorated sociologist gave a glimpse into his idea of a new socio-ecological finance system based on sustainability and decentralization. After the theoretical framework, it was once again time for group work and this time it was all about Design Thinking: Julia Rummel, co-founder of creative agency INNOKI, took the stage and introduced the different stages of Design Thinking, which our Lab alumni then had to apply to a couple of selected projects.

Over the course of the day, and after a complementary presentation by Reinhard von Wittken of the Circular Economy Initiative Germany, the participants not only had to do some proper brainstorming, they were also asked to create some rapid prototypes by using crafting materials. Needless to say, watching a group of brilliant young scientists having fun with Lego bricks and cardboard pieces certainly made for some entertaining pictures. And judging by their reactions, everyone had fun as well.

At the end of the day – and the workshop – the group moved over to the nearby Falling Walls office for a final presentation of their projects and solutions. Along with the Falling Walls staff, they got to enjoy farewell drinks and organic and seasonal food. Hopefully, everyone also took away some insights on how to apply both the idea of a circular economy and design thinking into their future work. We definitely enjoyed inviting a few of our distinguished alumni back to Berlin – and we hope it was not for the last time!

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