Jo Taranto: How can consumers support sustainable distribution of goods?
Acknowledgement of Country: This interview was conducted on Gadigal and Wallumedegal Country. We pay our respects to the traditional custodians of this land, past, present and emerging. We recognise their deep connection to the land and their unique cultural heritage, which continues to enrich our shared community.
Jo Taranto is one of the most prominent voices in sustainability. Jo co-founded Good For The Hood to help citizens and communities create meaningful change. She's also a presenter on Planet Shapers, a Channel 10 TV series sharing stories of individuals and organisations, who pioneer innovation and redefine the way we work and live.
In this interview, Jo shares insights on how citizens can support circular initiatives and make eco-friendly choices. She emphasises the importance of locality, community involvement, transparency and a holistic approach to sustainable living.
What's our role as citizens in a circular economy?
The circular economy looks at decoupling our economic prosperity from the degradation of our environmental resources and assets to do it. It's an incredibly exciting opportunity to create a new model, which will not only sustain and regenerate, but will also meet better human health outcomes and prosperity.
I'd like to think that the circular economy is also an opportunity to reframe what it means to be a ‘consumer’.
'Consumer' is a word we're already very comfortable with. It's you and I, the people who buy and consume goods and services. But calling ourselves consumers assumes that we'll play the same role—we'll continue to consume, as we always have.
I'd really like to use the word 'citizen'. As citizens, we're active participants, enabled to lead change. Being a citizen means we're empowered to advocate for changes and consider our own agency in the process.
We often feel we don't have a lot of agency to change. But when we see ourselves as citizens, there's a sense of empowerment—I know we've got a problem. I'm anxious about it, but I'm going to do something about it.
The circular economy won't be a static model. It will evolve and change. So our roles and voices are critical. We're one part of a large transformation. If we continue to frame ourselves as consumers, we're missing a really big opportunity in the role we can play.
Can you tell us about your project, Circular Economy Hub?
The Circular Economy Hub is a secondhand marketplace for students at the University, run by Rosella Street and University of Sydney and supported in its start up by Good for The Hood. The project was supported from the outset by the City of Sydney.
When we talk about circular logistics, how we get the goods back is still a huge challenge. One of the solutions is localised places, where we can exchange items, centralise collection for recycling activities, or gain skills to repair or reuse goods. So we looked at where we could build these localised places, which led us to the university.
University campuses have a huge issue with waste. Every year, students leave a lot of things behind when they finish their studies. These items carry value, but need to go somewhere quickly so that value is quickly overlooked. It's a very short turnaround time from exam period to when they have to move out.
On the other hand, new students are on the cusp of new lifestyles. They are transitioning into new housing and hunting for things, from fashion to household goods, tools and even things like camping equipment. There is a distinct shift in perceived value of items depending on the time of year and stage of their studies, for students.
Facebook Marketplace is good, but it doesn't enable people to borrow and lend for a period of time. Its a linear transaction and its also dependant on being able to pick up and drop off items. There's a real gap in that circularity, because it's still about ownership and what’s mine or yours and how long we can ‘own it’.
What Rosella Street do is to provide a space for the students to connect, rent, loan or swap those items. They have ID and fraud protection, tracking and booking services that help facilitate the process in a safe, convenient and accessible way.
It's been the very start of a transformational process for the university, but also for us to understand how we can make space for used goods, and find the right people to use them, within a very short timeframe.
How can we empower citizens to support the circular movement?
When we talk about big systems issues, we can lose sight of how we got there. From my years working with communities, I know the only way is to have a place-based approach to transition.
I'd like to look at communities by places, whether it's a business, workplace, street, an organisation or a not-for-profit or sports club. We can find problems in that space, and that's where the opportunities are to solve them. Great ideas come from people starting to think. A parent knows the problems at home; A teacher knows the problems at school; A store owner knows where value gets lost in their supply chain.
Citizens will make changes if enabled correctly. We can also make the difference between a system working or failing. For example, some of the biggest problems with recycling come from contamination because we continue to misunderstand how to sort recycling correctly.
So, an approach that aligns with the local residents, socio-cultural considerations, geographical context, and factors such as a place’s bioregion, climate, and access to logistics and transport needs to be taken. It's also critical to give the local community some control over the decisions in their area.
Once local, place-based approaches to circularity are embedded, they contribute to the broader systemic change. We could say tomorrow, we are going to mandate stewardship of all products in every industry at a government level. Still, people need to be enabled to play a part in reverse logistics, collecting or returning items correctly in their community.
How do we choose between imported goods and locally-produced products?
Obviously, location is important. Miles and distance are important but can get overstated. We need to consider whether the supply chain is ethically operated and part of a just transition, what cost there has been to biodiversity, and the embodied emissions, which for a citizen comes down to a layer of transparency.
Most citizens have very little understanding of where and how an item has come to them, and therefore don’t know if they are making decisions which support circularity or are simply feeding the beast so to speak.
We need transparency in products, so that we know where they come from, how they are made and whether the people who made them were paid correctly. I'm excited about technology like blockchain that will enable us to understand all of that information in a snapshot.
Choice is powerful, but unless we have transparency, we have no idea which is a better choice and that’s why greenwashing is such a concern. No one wants to feel their good intentions are useless and contributing to more issues. We need to make sure that businesses are doing what they say, and create a fair and transparent environment for good businesses to thrive.
How do we balance between convenience and environmental impact involved in home delivery?
The convenience factor is such a challenge to overcome. With home delivery, we have extreme convenience which is only worsening with access to last mile services for even things like tea bags being delivered to your door within hours. So, we need to design solutions that ensure circularity in every aspect of their operations while continuing to emphasise the importance of things like social connection and supporting local people.
Many of us go to the shops not only to buy things but also to have a moment of human interaction. We watch people, say hi to the shop assistant, and run into someone from our sports club. Being a citizen is also about being socially connected and having a sense of belonging to a place. It's about having networks of people we talk to and engage with, and we should never lose sight of that.
Circularity in logistics is part of the decarbonisation challenge. However, the solutions won't come from purely focusing on logistics and the supply chain. In my opinion, sharing skills, social connections and citizen participation are all part of the change. Good policy, good governance and good citizenship are the foundations of a circular future.
How do we balance between financial costs and being sustainable?
Value in a circular economy is more than a dollar figure. It's the full impact, and the sooner we stop thinking of value as money, the sooner we will be better off. When we look at the Doughnut Economy, the environment, people's health, and social well-being are all part of the value system. We know that we must operate within planetary systems, but we must also operate within systems that serve our citizens. Doing this gives us a much better indication of actual costs and savings.
In a circular economy, if things are designed to last longer or inherently have better performance outcomes by design, then value must also extend to how we care and use things over time. I'm a big fan of circular businesses, even if they're not perfect yet. Whether it's a product with recycled content, a rental business, a refill or repair service, these businesses hold longer value for me as a citizen. With fashion as a service, I've actually saved myself money and dressed better than I would if I had bought new clothes. When I’ve purchased a reconditioned appliance or an item that has content reclaimed from other materials, I look at it differently. A circular product or business has a higher value because of what it has enabled.
How can we make prices more accessible for citizens to support circular businesses?
Circular startups sometimes face challenges, dealing with a fairly new business model, perhaps in a widely adopted space. Citizens are prepared to pay higher prices to support businesses when they believe the latter will make the world a better place. But as with any brand, trust has to be built, and user convenience needs to be comparable.
But the circular economy is about system change, and the citizens shouldn't be expected to do the heavy lifting. In many cases, a circular and low-emissions solution is more expensive, not just because it involves new technology and new infrastructure.
Procurement policies that consider, for example, a well-being economy or social procurement may give some businesses an opportunity without dismissing them solely based on the price of their service. This space is helping to provide more opportunities for Indigenous-led businesses, not-for-profits, and social enterprises, which are doing a lot of the heavy lifting in the circular economy at a citizen level.
What’s your vision for the future?
We need to achieve swift Net Zero within the next 10 years aggressively, but unless we do that with circularity in mind, we won’t meet our climate targets. I honestly think we have to talk circularity first and Net Zero second.
We've seen a shift in the conversation around climate. But we haven't reached the point where people understand that the circular economy is how we solve climate change. I hope we'll continue recognising opportunity and being frank and fearless about our ambition.
I hope that we start looking at circularity holistically, too. It's easy to get caught up in another economic model and talk only of resource flow or embodied value or building infrastructure. To me, it’s got to factor in how we come together and build it. Place and people are not just agents of how we make the circular economy work. They are foundational to how we make better decisions.
We need circular leaders, including empowered active citizens, who create opportunities for belonging, connection and liveability in communities. Communities can be swift, vocal and active very quickly. When an issue pops up, the community is often the first place you'll hear about it. Without a community on board, we can slow things down. So it's important that citizens are included and empowered in this transition and that they feel part of it.
Two of Australia's great gifts are its natural capital and vast social capital. Whether you're a business owner, a student, a parent, or a grandparent, we all have a role to play in our community. Be active and participate in the circular transition as much as possible.
Danling is the co-founder of ReCo and creative director of reco.digital. Danling has an unwavering passion for creativity, spirituality and the pursuit of positive change in the world. Connect with Danling on Linkedin.
October 31, 2023
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