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Five minutes with Dr Leyla Acaroglu

Tue 7 March 2017

Dr Leyla Acaroglu recently joined our Sydney think tank event as a keynote speaker and led our recent disruptive design member workshop in Melbourne. Dr Leyla is a design disruptor, creative boundary pusher and cultural provocateur. Her 2013 TED Talk is one of the most viewed talk about sustainability and has amassed over one million views. In 2016, the United Nations Environment Programme presented her with Champion of the Earth award. We took five minutes to chat with Dr Leyla and hear her thoughts about the first APC think tank.

You inspired us to think differently about disruptive design for sustainability and helped to facilitate an engaging, collaborative forum. What did you think of the think tank?

The think tank was really exciting! I was particularly impressed with the keen interest in circular systems, high level sustainability initiatives and systems thinking that the group had. It was clear to me that there has been a big shift in the way the packaging industry is approaching its responsibility to pioneer product and systems changes so that they can maintain competitiveness whilst also closing the loop on their production processes.

You describe sustainability as an opportunity to shift our perspective. What exactly do you mean by that? 

We need to think about sustainability (just like any big complex problem) as an opportunity, and learn to love the issues at hand so that the approach to solving them will be with excitement and interest. For too long sustainability has been pitched and framed as a painful thing that many companies were embarrassed about or scared of, so that needs to change rapidly if companies are going to compete with the changing global marketplace.

The circular economy is the inevitable future. It is up to companies if they want to be pioneers and benefit from making the changes first or fall behind the leaders.

You said that a good driver for competition is to see a competitor do something well. How can you use that to your advantage? 

As humans, we are all socialised to be motivated by rewards and competition. It is a huge motivator for many people, especially in business! So, what we need to really get ahead in the sustainability and circular economy game is to have more pioneer companies pushing the boundaries so that their competitors will follow suite, we have seen this happen in the apparel industry and we need to action more initiatives from industry leaders, otherwise you will get disrupted! 

In your presentation, you shared some successful international examples where brands were leading the way. How do you think Australia compares to the rest of the world?

Australia needs to level up its game with regards to industry lead change if it wants to avoid regulation and be competitive in the global marketplace, especially Europe. We must get over the tall poppy syndrome and start leap- frogging over the reductive ‘status quo’ issues that have held us back in the past. We need foresight in government and industry, which I see starting to happen slowly, but we need a fast boil to get to leadership position in the circular economy.

Any more thoughts that you would like to share with our members?

Everything worth doing requires work; sustainability is not some easy thing. If it was then it would have been done already, so see it as a challenge that if done well has the potential for huge payoffs and rewards. 

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