The world is currently discussing the concept of a circular economy.
In a nutshell, the circular economy refers to the re-imagination of business models in which resources are finite, and must be harvested from within the existing system without consuming more natural resources.
This would need the redefinition of business models and approaches, and the revamping of operational models, including product design, manufacturing processes and logistics, to reuse materials to sustain themselves.
Developing a circular model for the automotive industry would probably be a much bigger venture.
Today, steel and plastics still make up the biggest percentage of materials in a vehicle. Yet, as trends clearly move towards lighter materials in cars – recyclability of raw materials in a circular economy becomes an area of concern for vehicle manufacturers, product designers as well as process and material engineers.
However, the circular economy is not the main focus of this article, but rather the progress of society towards discussing such an issue. The key question is – how did advanced countries get to the point of discussing issues such as the circularity of the economy against traditional linear economy?
It is here that consumers and businesses need to play their role! Admittedly, governments have historically initiated the framework in product improvement, especially in the areas of human concern such as vehicle safety and environmental preservation.
In the 1950s, it took experts to initiate public opinion in designing of safer cars on the roads. While public disinterest in safety packages offered by major manufacturers at the time was predominant, governments worldwide reached their first milestone by establishing the World Forum for Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulations later in the decade.
Within the same year, a Volvo engineer named Nils Bohlin invented the three-point seat belt – a huge leap in passenger safety at the time. Most interestingly, given the significance of the new design to the lives of millions of people on the road, the patent was made available to anyone – a mature and altruistic decision by a business entity, sacrificing profit for the greater good.
Fast-forward half a century later, the level of awareness among the public has increased tremendously in these countries, many recording a reduction of vehicle related fatalities by half.
The advances above would not have been possible without the maturity and awareness of both consumer and business alike. In today’s age of information, one would assume that this would be much easier – as long as the amount of information doesn’t overwhelm us into a state of disinterest in the fast – moving events that shape global trends.
I was attracted to a story I read recently about a person who stopped reading online news, in favour of printed subscriptions. He described his routine to be transformed, and found himself more focused on his reading and achieved more depth in his knowledge.
While I can’t imagine endorsing such extreme resorts, it made me realise how the vast amount of information reaching us today desensitises our awareness merely to soundbytes and headlines – often giving equal weightage to the mix of important and petty issues that affect our daily lives.
As consumers and builders, we must come to terms with the increasing complexity of our future – and they will challenge our norms and values if we do not grasp such complexity through mature and informed decision making.
We, as consumers, need to capture the important aspects of the changing technologies that will disrupt our lifestyle. This comprehension will allow consumers to drive future product and services offerings that will maximise value.
Let’s all take a step back and think about our roles as consumers and businesses. They are the building blocks in adapting to global change.
The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive Institute.