UNLEASH Lab 2017: The Birth of Encycled

In August 2017, 1,000 talents from over 126 countries were invited to Denmark for 9 days to participate in the inaugural UNLEASH Innovation Lab for the SDGs.  

This year’s UNLEASH sought solutions for 7 of the 17 SDGs: Water, Food, Energy, Urban Sustainability, Education and ICT, Health and Sustainable Production and Consumption.

Encycled is a product of UNLEASH Lab. We were born from the Circular Economy sub-theme within Sustainable Production and Consumption (SPC).

So how did this all come to be, and wtf is UNLEASH?


Days 1-2: Copenhagen Kick-off

The UNLEASH program kicked-off with a party for all 1,000 talents in Copenhagen's vibrant meatpacking district. The following morning, we gathered at Lokomotivværkstedet, a train station turned raw industrial space, for a day of inspirational speakers, icebreakers, and introductory problem solving exercises.

The biggest take-away from day 1 was this: talent is universal, but opportunity is not. There is diversity in circumstance and diversity in experience. As global citizens who have been granted access to opportunity through our circumstance, it is our duty to create space for others to be able to connect and flourish. We must not ever doubt our ability to change the world!

Day 2 commenced with a warm welcome at Copenhagen City Hall where we delighted in the city's famed pancakes, a treat reserved only for special guests. Following city hall, we visited a community space called Verdenshjørnet to learn from TagTomat, Beyond Coffee and Bugging Denmark, a group of brilliant local start-ups bringing the circular economy to Copenhagen through community-based business models. 

Days 3-7: Innovation Lab

On Day 3, we left Copenhagen and dispersed around Denmark at various Folk High Schools.

For a week, Snoghøj Folk High School became the home for 80 passionate world-changers, eager to change unsustainable patterns of production and consumption. As we arrived at Snoghøj and approached the grandiose structure and surrounding natural beauty, we were immediately captured and inspired by it’s magic. We owe great thanks to this magic, for it is the reason that Encycled has come to be.

The UNLEASH innovation process was developed by UNLEASH and Deloitte and, as all good innovation processes do, takes you through a series of gates involving insights, problem framing and solutions canvasing.

Our insight, co-created with our fellow UNLEASHers, was titled ‘The Vicious Cycle’. The Vicious Cycle aims to understand the root causes of over production and over consumption. What we uncovered in our problem framing was incredibly enlightening: the root causes of both over production and over consumption are the same for both producers and consumers.

We devised that the main factors influencing over production are greed (our definition of value derives only from money) and lack of sustainability integration into core business purpose; while similar, the main factors influencing over consumption are greed and lack of sustainability integration into mainstream culture (enough for it to be seen as ‘cool’). Because neither consumers nor producers are held responsible for the excess by government regulation or self-regulation, we are left with a huge problem- WASTE.

This was our aha moment! Although their barriers to sustainability are identical, there are no unifying models where consumers and producers are equally involved in closing the loop. At this point we knew if we could devise a system where both producers and consumers were empowered to be part of the solution simultaneously throughout the product’s lifetime, we would start to see a shift.

Enter: EncycleD

Currently, the circular economy is not fully realised because end of life products are not being utilised as resources and are not being linked to processes that reintroduce them into the cycle for reuse.

When we talk about creating solutions, we always have to consider the potential impact. Within apparel, promotional materials are a big problem. They are single-use, created in copious amounts, touch thousands of people, have no value in secondary markets, and ultimately end-up in landfill.

Pitched as a semi-finalist within the Sustainable Production & Consumption theme, Encycled is a circular service model where businesses can lease branded promotional materials (t-shirts, lanyards, banners, etc) instead of buying them. Encycled realises the circular economy while connecting both producers and consumers as active participants in the life-cycle and after-use destiny of the products.

So, how does it work?!

A customer enters into a contract with Encycled. For example, to lease 1,000 eco-friendly, Fair Trade, custom designed t-shirts for a particular event. Encycled prints and prepares the t-shirts for the event and ships them to the customer. With the help of event participants, after the event, t-shirts are collected in our special event collection bins and shipped back to Encycled, free of charge. A deposit is returned to the customer for every t-shirt collected. Encycled then cleans and prepares the t-shirts for reuse through re-printing. At this stage, the environmental calculator located on each t-shirt can be updated with environmental savings based on the product’s lifetime level of reuse. Encycled then lease the t-shirts to a new client, and the cycle repeats again. We estimate that one t-shirt could undergo 30-40 cycles.

Days 8-9: Culmination and Awards Show

After the final pitches and a ‘dragon’s den’ showdown in Aarhus, Denmark, a total of 7 winning solutions (one from each theme) were selected. After a long week of sleepless nights and hard work, in true UNLEASH style, all 1,000 talents unleashed at Turbinehallen in what one might consider the most epic multi-cultural dance party of all time. On the final day, UNLEASH participants gathered for a formal farewell. Winning solutions pitched to the Danish Royal Family and we heard parting regards and keynotes from inspirational speakers (including Ashton Kutcher).

Aside from being tons of fun, UNLEASH was an incredibly intense program. As Flemming Besenbacher, Chairman of UNLEASH, said during his welcome keynote, ‘you can be bright, you can be clever, but you have to work hard.’ UNLEASH is a call for leadership from all of us to look outside the box and find radical solutions to the world’s toughest problems.

Encycled is our solution.