Circular economy aims to design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems (Ellen McArthur Foundation).
Circularity is a system change, not doable for single products or companies: you need suppliers able
to use recycled materials, partners for reverse logistics, customers willing to repair or return the
product… Transitioning to a circular economy requires innovation embracing whole ecosystems.
Therefore, the first step towards a circular economy is to understand the ecosystem in which you operate.
Circularity within a system
What is an ecosystem map?
An ecosystem is set of actors that contribute to a collective outcome. The actors share a common
(circular) value proposition, interact in the value creation and get a fair value capture.
An ecosystem map (actors map, ecology map) describes all the entities, flows and relationships that
characterize the surrounding ecosystem.
There are many ways to build and visualize an ecosystem map, all based on common main steps: first
display all actors involved, then connect them based on the value they exchange. You can include
only physical resources, or extend to information and money, or intangible assets.
You can use fancy visualization tools or work with paper and pencils, the effect will be same: you will
understand the system in which you operate, see how the actors interact, uncover existing gaps and
identify opportunities for synergies.
Case study: mapping the touristic ecosystem in a small alpine community.
In this work we mapped the ecosystem around the touristic activities in Sauris, a small alpine village in the northern-east corner of Italy.
The community of Sauris has a long tradition of sustainable tourism and a strong sense of belongings,
derived by the far origins as settlers from a foreign region and by the long isolation.
Already in the early '80 they defined a common strategy to strengthen the community based on sustainable tourism
and handcraft activities, with good results: today Sauris is a renowned touristic destination and
exports different high-quality products. To many extends this common strategy was already a
definition of the ecosystem, with a common value proposition (make the community more liveable
and stop the migration of its members) and a fair value capture (based on small players and kept
within the community), but that visionary project left relationships between actors and possible
synergies in the background.
To fill this gap and enable and enable a further step towards a sustainable ecosystem
we developed a high-level ecosystem map with the material and energy flows.
The map helped to focus and structure the analysis: Which flows can be closed locally? Which can be narrowed, or slowed?
Which ones are in our hands?
The analysis was quickly restricted to the hospitality, and led to few main ideas:
act on transport solutions for persons (narrow the flow), for example on demand shuttle bus among points with
optimized route and times: reduce private traffic, noise, save parking space;
reduce food waste and food packaging related to tourists (narrow the flow),
for example with a zero-package minimarket: reduce packaging waste and food waste;
- use the excess heat from the heating plant for new activities (greenhouse) (close the flow)
use heat and water from the spa for a small local laundry, to avoid long transfers and
plastic foils (close and narrow)
Ecosystem map analysis
All in all, the ecosystem map revealed unsuspected synergies and led to a fast focus on few topics.
How to implement these ideas, or which ones are viable, will be part of future work.
How can we help?
- Organizing workshops to map your ecosystem
- Exploring ideas and topics emerged from the ecosystem maps
- Support the whole innovation process