This autumn I’ve excitedly been watching the new businesses that are popping up around my home street like mushrooms after a big rain. What do they all have in common? They all represent a new wave of consumption that is about appreciating the good stuff, indulging in great food, great fashion and great home decor, without the sorry aftertaste of neglecting what consuming means for our world and the generations to come.
Four and a half trillion dollars. That’s the estimated size of the economic growth that the circular economy is expected to unlock by 2030 (Accenture, 2016).
In a circular economy resources mined from the Earth are reused over and over, while biological resources are used as long as possible and then returned to the Earth in a biologically sound way. It is an alternative for the “Take, Make, Consume and Dispose” -mindset and is pegged as the world’s biggest business opportunity, set to penetrate industries around the world.
These forecasts can sometimes feel a bit distant and intangible, which is why I’ve been excited to watch this transition on a micro scale in my own hometown of Helsinki during this past autumn.
I live in Iso Roobertinkatu, the address that still turns up in a lot of places when you search for Spark Sustainability, since back when we founded Spark, my living room pretty much served as our office; our board’s meeting room and our photography studio (not to mention after work wine spot and weekend hangout.. Needless to say, work-life balance is better now that our office is located elsewhere). In one and the same street, five out of fifteen storefronts are decidedly pro 1.5°C lifestyles, ushering us into the new normal and the exciting, limitless and inclusive circular economy that I believe will be the future. If you walk around the block, there’s even more of the same goodness.
"There’s a world of difference between the brands that sell you new stuff in good quality and the institutions that actually challenge the current mass psychosis of I-need-something-new-all-the-time-to-feel-valuable."
Now, I’m not talking about organic cotton T-shirts or bamboo toothbrushes, if that’s what you were expecting. I concede 100% with what my co-founder Anna wrote a while ago, that You can’t buy yourself out of climate change. There’s a world of difference between brands making you believe you need a new sweater because it’s a new cut this season and then selling it to you in a slightly better material to make you feel good (and to be sure to sell more of them) and the institutions that challenge the mass psychosis of I-need-something-new-all-the-time-to-feel-valuable. The latter are changing behaviours, hinting at a new image of prosperity (enjoying the good in life, not enjoying the new stuff in life) and showing us the way to a new world.
Last year Noora Hautakangas’ fresh take on the second hand store, Relove, landed on the corner of Iso Roobertinkatu and Fredrikinkatu. Relove sells consumer’s own preloved goods and pairs the always-packed second hand department with a superb and cozy café to draw in those on-the-fence shoppers who might otherwise never have set their foot in a second hand shop. Pure genius, and so many points for sparking sustainability! Next door to Relove is the oldie but goldie Fida, a Finnish missions and development organisation that sells donated items and sometimes has real gems on the kitchenware and furniture -front. What’s really great about these second hand shops is that they help us see the value in not-new objects: focus shifts from glossy-cause-it’s-new to classy-cause-it’s-well-made.
The 1.5°C world -friendly establishments continue at the other end of the street where we have wild child culinarist Richard McCormic’s fourth restaurant Yes Yes Yes, opened in 2017 and fully dedicated to vegan and vegetarian delicacies that will have you wondering what you ever thought you needed meat every day for. There was a time when I ate here almost every second week, sitting alone with my laptop or my book at the bar and ordering, without fault, the Heart of Palm salad and whichever risotto was on the menu at the time – their risottos are to die for. It’s comfort food with a luxe twist; it’s the coolest place to hang out in this part of town and it’s all of this without making a fuss about being completely vegetarian. I can’t say how much I love it. And how much it’s bound to have done to finally crush the “oh but what can you make that’s vegetarian…?” argument many of us used to hear all too often before.
Focus shifts from glossy-cause-it’s-new to classy-cause-it’s-well-made.
Amongst the newcomers for this fall are the blogger duo Nora Kyllönen and Julia Toivola’s second hand shop Flea that resells good quality vintage products, down the road is the perfected vegan café Anima – that did actually close its doors last month due to plans of moving elsewhere, about which I am totally crushed, their vegan eggs benedict and their apricot saffron oatgurt bowl where the stuff of dreams. Round makes heavenly vegan donuts that the Spark team eats way too much of. Oh, and did I mention the places nearby? A stone’s throw from Iso Roobertinkatu is clothes rental service The Ateljé that boasts carefully curated designer pieces that can be yours for that one special event or weekend trip (whenever you can go on those again). A truly brilliant concept that puts the playfulness back into dressing up, be it for New Year’s Eve or for a big work event. Some of the best nights of my life have been spent in borrowed clothes – there’s something so indulgently One Night Only about it, don’t you think?
"Some of the best nights of my life have been spent in borrowed clothes – there’s something so indulgently One Night Only about it, don’t you think?"
Close by are zero waste restaurant Nolla and Lovia that makes handbags out of leftover materials from other industries – if you are going to buy new or eat non-vegetarian, these two establishments that make sure to make use of side streams and prevent food and materials from going to waste must be the best options out there.
The storekeeper of Anki Rugs down the street said something interesting the other week when we were chatting with him about a project we’re helping them with: “People don’t know how to shop anymore”. I thought that sounded odd, isn’t that exactly what we know how to do?
Anki only sells rugs made-to-order, with exactly the measurements and colours that fit your home, to make sure the rug stays with you for decades to come. What Tuomas Tiitinen at Anki meant when he said we need to learn how to shop again was, that we need to re-learn to shop for what we need, not for what we find glossy and new lined up in the shops. That is: as consumers we've become great at choosing a product out of a collection in the store, less so at actually shopping for what we need ourselves. Here, clothes rental services like The Ateljé can help train us into the right mindset: I need a fancy dress for a party, but not for life. Second hand shops can teach us that great quality garments will look superb years from now, meaning it's worth ditching fast fashion – and putting up those things you don't use anymore for sale, as well as finding your next favourite outfit second hand. In many ways, the circular economy offers us even more possibilities to experiment with different styles or to switch up your wardrobe than the linear economy did!
Welcome to enjoying the good in life, not just the good new stuff in life.
I’m just waiting for shops close by like Urban A or Johanna Gullichsen to incorporate a Preloved-rack in the backs of their shops – what better way could there possibly be to show clients that the goods they sell last for years and are true classics even three, five or ten years from now? I'm excited to see how the landscape changes over the next five years. Meanwhile, it's up to us consumers to see the real possibilities for change in our shopping behaviour – be itrenting, repairing and making sure we learn how to shop instead of how to choose from a line of things.
If a visit to one of these establishments can help set our intentions in the right direction, that's a good start.
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Hi! I'm an energy engineer devoting my time and wits to making climate action the next big thing. In my spare time I read all books I find, cook eclectic meals and freeski.