Davos Debrief: Delivering the Circular Economy to Main Street

Rubicon being honored at Davos

The term “circular economy” is one few people fully understand or use in their daily lives, yet it impacts us all. The same can be said for the World Economic Forum, also dubbed “Davos” after the small town hidden in the Swiss Alps where the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting takes place. Only about 3,000 people are invited to attend the Annual Meeting in Davos each year – an exclusive group of world leaders and activists – but this meeting is incredibly important to the business world and society at large, since these attendees tackle some of the most pressing challenges and opportunities facing the world.

This year in Davos, there was spirited discussion about China’s role in globalization, given the populist victories in the US and UK; about how artificial intelligence (AI) will impact the future of jobs, in particular well paying ‘white collar’ positions; and about how the spoils of technological disruption and advancement may be enjoyed at all levels of society.

I had the honor of a lifetime to travel to this year’s gathering in Davos last week, where investors and supporters of Rubicon, including Marc Benioff, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Salesforce and French water and waste giant Suez Environnement, represented by Group Senior Executive VP Jean-Marc Boursier, were present.  They attended alongside British Prime Minister Theresa May, Chinese President Xi Jinping, philanthropist Bill Gates, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan.  Even celebrities like Matt Damon, Shakira, and Forest Whitaker made their pleas on topics ranging from water security to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The reason I was in Davos was to accept The Circulars Award for Digital Disrupter on behalf of Rubicon, for which we were honored alongside world renowned organizations like Nike and Patagonia. The concept of the circular economy is to replenish supply chains with discarded materials to avoid wasting precious resources, and this concept is now recognized as the most sustainable way to treat superfluous or unwanted materials.  Nonetheless, the waste and recycling industry is largely built around a linear “make-take-waste” model where discarded materials are sent to landfills, never again to be harvested for value.

At Rubicon, however, we believe a circular economy is within reach, which will lead to economic and environmental benefits for all facets of society. We’ve found a recipe that uses technology to bring the circular economy from a concept to a reality. Our technology platform does not displace jobs or disenfranchise workers, but rather it empowers small and medium businesses to create jobs. For example, one of our hauler partners – some of the hardest working men and women who operate the waste and recycling trucks – was able to purchase more equipment and hire more staff in Arkansas soon after partnering with Rubicon, thanks to the business prospects realized by operating on the Rubicon platform. This is just one of many examples where Rubicon’s technology is creating opportunity and connecting the circular economy to main street – bringing to life the grand aspirations fostered in Davos.

My biggest takeaway from the World Economic Forum is this: As leaders, we do not need to shy away from deploying technology as a vehicle for advancement. But, we must be responsible and responsive in ensuring that it creates jobs at all socioeconomic levels and delivers a more sustainable future for subsequent generations. It’s fitting, then, that the theme of this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting was Responsive and Responsible Leadership. It seems like the world’s leaders are listening.