Corporate Waste Solutions - Profile Candice Quartermain, Circular Network

BY MICHELLE DUNNER

Circular Economy Australia founder Candice Quartermain is not short on energy.

A serial entrepreneur, Quartermain is in the throes of developing and crowdfunding a new business aimed at promoting healthy nutrition for children, running a Sydney advertising and design agency, writing books and encouraging innovation at every turn – all while awaiting the birth of her son, as this issue of CWS went to press.

An in-demand speaker on the circular economy, Quartermain has a mission to create ever-increasing networks that embrace the widest possible cross-section of the business community. For her, it’s all about driving “resourcefulness”.

“To me, Utopia would be getting businesses to understand the value of resourcefulness and start driving towards greater efficiencies. We need to encourage new ways of thinking and empower businesses and their staff to go on that journey.

“We’ve got to move away from the old Industrial Revolution way of thinking, which is ‘dig something up, make something, throw it away’. The only way to battle that, to ensure what we take out of the ground becomes products that can be continually reused and provide the same level of value and that has to be a business-led solution.”

Originally from the UK, Quartermain arrived in Sydney in 2010, having already cemented her entrepreneurial credentials.

“I actually started out at 21 with my first events company. It was all about delivering extreme sports events – skateboarding, wakeboarding, surfing and skiing. It just reflected the things I really enjoyed. I loved the outdoor way of life.

“And then I got approached by someone working in the mobile industry. Mind you, this was before the first iPhone and when this guy told me mobile was going to be the next big thing, I pretty much laughed. But then his assistant sent me a load of reports and I became very intrigued.

“That’s where I fell into the innovation space and my eyes were opened to how technology could help us drive solutions. I was talking to people about how ‘one day’ they’d be buying cinema tickets through their phone or navigate to a location. They thought I was crazy, given most of them were still trying to get their head around how to text at the time.”

The experience also taught Quartermain about the need for good design. “I saw how important a factor it was in being able to facilitate solutions and that led me to work in design and marketing agencies. At the same time, I still had my businesses on the side. One of the things I did was run pole-dancing and burlesque courses for women and the impact on a lot of them was incredible. They’d come to me to tell me about how their confidence had soared, that they were prepared to try new things.

“At Circular Economy Australia we keep a ‘tossery glossary’, which has around 30 words in it, including ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ that we simply choose not to use as part of our branding or in positioning ourselves. It’s not that those concepts aren’t important, but we prefer to focus on identifying the values and how they can be applied to create positive changes for us all – that also has economic benefit.

“I’d always been a bit of a project manager, but understanding the humanistic elements was a real turning point. I saw technology enabling design, design thinking being explored and all with recourse to people’s needs and what they wanted to be getting out of life. It opened me up to consider behavioural factors.”

Another watershed moment came after moving to Sydney. “I was working crazy hours in a tough, ruthless environment. One night I was working on a brief on how to sell a particular product to a teenage demographic and failing miserably.

“I started reading the ingredients on the back of the packaging and did some Googling. Everything that came up was carcinogenic, toxic; there were lawsuits in the US. It really got to me. How could I be so passionate about my work when this product I was trying to persuade a young audience to buy could potentially cause negative effects on their health? I had to shift gear.”

It led Quartermain to investigate companies that were aligned with her values. “I wanted to work with people and on projects that were creating a positive behaviour change, rather than just try to sell something.”

She found herself at agency Digital Eskimo. “It was like finding my tribe. I learned so much about what you can do with design and how design thinking can result in positive social change and add so much more value and wealth. It was the point [at which] I discovered the circular economy.”

We’ve been greenwashed
Promoting circular economy principles is a business concept rather than a green initiative, Quartermain says. “No one really knows what ‘green’ is. The concept has been pushed and pulled in so many directions.

“At Circular Economy Australia we keep a ‘tossery glossary’, which has around 30 words in it, including ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ that we simply choose not to use as part of our branding or in positioning ourselves. It’s not that those concepts aren’t important, but we prefer to focus on identifying the values and how they can be applied to create positive changes for us all – that also has economic benefit.

“This is the world we live in – we constantly ask ourselves, ‘what is the business case?’, ‘how are we going to make money from it?’, ‘how are we going to be profitable’? That is the number one driver of genuine change – and interest, and uptake, and momentum.

“The principles of the circular economy give me something I can take to a boardroom. I can go to a CEO and talk about a viable business opportunity and identify the knock-on benefits – the social positivity, the improved ability to collaborate, the greater transparency with your staff, your suppliers, your customers. You’re going to generate outcomes using these principles that make great stories for your business.”

Personal heroes
Quartermain cites US architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart as key sources of inspiration. “Their book Cradle to Cradle really opened up my eyes; I thought their way of thinking was absolutely revolutionary. (Systems theorist) Buckminster Fuller is another fascinating person.

“For me it’s about thinkers who not only can see things differently, but also create. I’m heavily dyslexic; I have the reading and spelling ability of a 12-year-old, so I never really fitted into the traditional education system.

“Being exposed to these thinkers was a shift – it told me you can solve problems and create value by leveraging your imagination. My whole world opened up and it was very empowering.”

Quartermain says she’s also developed some exceptional international and Australian networks, including with the noted UK-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which has a mission of bringing business, government and academia together to build a restorative and regenerative economy.