Circular Podcast - Season 3 Episode 9 | Making Design Circular Skip to content

Circular Podcast – Season 3 Episode 9

Welcome to season three of Circular with Katie Treggiden, in which we’re exploring what it takes to cultivate a creative practice that enables you, your business and the planet to thrive. We’ll be diving deep into the nuances, complexities and paradigm shifts that we need to embrace in order to bring about a just transition to a more circular economy. 

In this episode, Katie talks about Define, another element of the Making Design Circular framework, this is all about working out your niche, your unique contribution to environmentalism, and letting go of the idea that you have to save the planet single handedly.

Below is a transcript of our conversation. Find the full episode available to listen on Spotify here.



Welcome to season three of Circular with Katie Treggiden, in which I’m exploring what it takes to cultivate a creative practice that enables you, your business and the planet to thrive. I’ll be diving deep into the nuances, complexities and paradigm shifts that we need to embrace in order to bring about a just transition to a more circular economy.



What I think is more interesting is thinking about finding your people, by building a community growing a community of people with the same values as you with the same world vision as you people who believe the same things you believe about the role of craft and environmentalism. I think there’s something really magical when people buy your products, not just because they like them, and they think they’ll look pretty on their shelf or there’ll be lovely to use in their lives, but also because they believe what you believe, and their values align with yours. And in buying that thing they want to contribute towards your mission, that I think is really exciting. That’s really juicy.



Welcome to another episode of Circular with Katie Treggiden and in which we are talking about Define. So this is one of the elements of the making design circular framework, which is a framework I devised to, I guess, encode codify, what we are already doing in making design circular, which is my membership for designers makeer craftspeople and artists who are moving towards a more circular and regenerative way of running their business. And define is all about working out your niche, your unique contribution to environmentalism, and letting go of the idea that you have to save the planet single handedly. So enjoy. And as always, let me know what you think.



So we’re talking about define and the idea that you don’t have to save the planet single handedly. And this might sound ridiculous, as Chris Miller says, in my new book Broken, I don’t have an S on my vest. But I think a lot of us have this sense of responsibility, I guess, and overwhelm for having to solve all the environmental problems. And we can’t. Like nobody can even a super incredible powerful world leader couldn’t, or they could maybe try a little harder. But I think as people who run tiny, tiny businesses and have creative practices that might involve one or a handful of humans, there’s only so much we can do. And actually, that can be empowering, rather than defeating. So I think if we let go of this idea that we’ve got to save the planet single handedly, because we can’t, what we can embrace and step into is that, actually, by identifying a really tiny niche area of focus, we can have a huge impact. And there is a story called The Starfish Story by Loren Eiseley, that I would love to share with you in order to kind of make this point. It’s included in his book, The Star Thrower, which is a collection of his favourite essays and poems. And this particular story is about a little girl who is walking on the beach, and there’s been a big storm. And lots and lots of starfish have been thrown up onto the beach after this storm, and they’re starting to dry out in the sun. So there is a danger that these 1000s and 1000s of starfish are all going to die. And the little girl is picking up the starfish one by one and throwing them into the ocean. And an old man asked the little girl what she’s doing and says, Well, you know, you can’t possibly make a difference, look at all these starfish, there’s no way you can throw all these starfish back into the ocean, what you’re doing is pointless. And the little girl picks up another starfish and throws it back into the sea and says well, it made a difference to that one. And I think that is the point, right? We don’t have to save the planet but if we pick a tiny area of focus, if we find our starfish, we can make a huge impact. So that is what define is all about within the making design circular framework. It’s about encouraging you to go niche. There are a couple of beautiful examples of this.

There is a company in Cornwall very near to me called Green and Blue. And their entire company is focused around using waste clay from the English China Clay industry or waste materials from the English China Clay industry to make habitats for solitary bees. They also make habitats for that birds and bats, but the focus is on solitary bees. And so there is this kind of incredibly niche area of the biodiversity crisis that they are really focusing on. And they have something called solitary bee week where once a year, they encourage us all to wear our stripes, which means to wear stripy things and sort of post on social media to raise awareness for the kind of challenges that solitary bees are facing. And also to earn our stripes. So to do some things to take some small actions that will help solitary bees. They make bee bricks and bee planters, and bee posts and all sorts of products that you can incorporate within your homes and gardens that will provide habitats for solitary bees. And Brighton and Hove Council has now actually made bee bricks a legal requirement of any new development. And so you can start to see that by picking something really tiny and niche, they’ve actually had a huge impact.

Another example I like to talk about is a lady called Action Nan, who again lives close to me here in Cornwall. And one night, she watched a documentary about ocean plastic and couldn’t sleep that night, somebody should do something she said. And at some point, during her sleepless night she decided that that somebody should be her. And so she pledged to do a beach clean on a different beach every weekend for a year, which is a fairly small pledge, right? It’s not that difficult. And yet a year later, she had not only cleaned the plastic off 52 Cornish beaches, but she’d also convinced lots of local surrounding businesses to stop using plastic straws and stop using disposable coffee cups because she realised that was one of the causes of plastic on those beaches. She’s since done a TED Talk, she’s been featured by the BBC, and she has inspired 1000s of people to clean their own local beaches and to remove plastic. So again, somebody who chose a really niche focus just the plastic on just Cornish beaches, and yet she actually has had a huge impact with people all over the world now picking up their litter pickers and joining in.

So I think there is a sense that it’s slightly counterintuitive, right? That by doing less will have a bigger impact. And Seth Godin talks about specific being a kind of bravery. And he’s talking about niching down in business. And I talk about this a lot, because I think it’s really interesting. The idea that by offering less, you’ll actually have more business success is counterintuitive, and yet absolutely correct. If you tried to be all things to all people, you’re much less likely to attract a loyal band of customers. Whereas if you really focus on a very niche product, you’ll have much more success, because those customers that are right for you will really be attracted to what you’re doing. And that requires bravery because it’s counterintuitive, because it requires you to turn down business. But I think when you when you apply that to sustainability requires even more bravery. Because not only have you got to believe that this approach is going to make for a successful business, you’ve also got to believe that the people around you are going to pick up all the other stuff, right? There’s an awful lot that needs doing in environmentalism. And if we just focus on one tiny bit, and if we focus on solitary bees, like Green and Blue have done, who’s going to deal with ocean acidification who’s going to deal with carbon, who’s gonna deal with the rest of the biodiversity crisis apart from the bees? Although to be fair, a lot of the biodiversity relies on the bees, but that’s for another episode. So it requires courage. And I think being in community, with other people like my members are in making design circular can help with that. Because we can all see what each other are doing to have this sense that other people are working on the other stuff.

But I think the big question is assuming you’re convinced and you believe me that choosing your Starfish, finding your niche will enable you to have a bigger impact in environmental terms. The next question is, but which niche right what to focus on. And so I have built a whole course around this called The Seed, a very deliberate title. And it is one of my favourite things to teach. We did it live last year and I’ve now created a self paced version, so that you can sign up and get started whenever you want. There will also be a live digital version, and hopefully an in person retreat at some point. But I wanted to make the self paced version available so that you can dive in whenever you want to. So there’s a link to that in the show notes. But I just thought I would share a little bit of what we do in The Seed, and the tools that we use to help you find your niche. And it’s really interesting because these are tools I’ve been using in my career for 10 or 12 years. And so when I sat down to write the seed, I’d sort of blocked out two days of my time to create this course having done a bit of thinking and planning, and it was fascinating because it fell off my pen in 20 minutes. I use big sheets of paper and sharpies. I find big ideas need big bits of it. It was so interesting how quickly it came together, and what a joy it was to teach and to promote and to talk about. So I’m really excited to have this self paced version available. And I wanted to just share a little bit of what we go into in that course. So that you can even kind of make a start now with defining your unique contribution to sustainability.

So I think the interesting thing is that your unique contribution is unique to you, right? It’s the way in which you personally can have the biggest impact. There is a Venn diagram, there’s a couple of Venn diagrams, you know, I love a Venn diagram that I talk about a lot. And one of them arose spontaneously in a conversation I had with somebody I worked for in my very first job in this career, which was actually as a copywriter for Maggie’s cancer caring centres. So these are incredible architect designed, home sized buildings within the grounds of cancer specialist hospitals that provide everything you need, when you’re going through cancer apart from the medical treatment. So when I was there, we used to call it calm, clarity and a cup of tea. So it was this sense of a space that you can sort of have as a second home that will support your emotional well-being, that will provide practical hands on support for things like accessing benefits and how to get your parking repaid. I find it slightly insane that cancer patients have to pay for parking in hospitals. But that’s a whole other episode again, and the cup of tea, the sense of community. So when I started working for them, it was my first job as a writer, and I drew a Venn diagram on a napkin in a cafe in a conversation I was having with the woman who would become my boss at that business. And the Venn diagram had three circles. And they were what I love, what I’m good at and what can do good in the world and I explained that I wanted to work at the intersection of those three circles, and that I was only interested in the job if I would be able to do that and we established that I would be able to do that and I got the job and had a very happy few years working there, as their in house copywriter. 10 years later, I heard Dr. Ayana, Elizabeth Johnson, a woman I respect an enormous amount, describing a very similar Venn diagram in answer to how people can work out what their contribution to environmentalism is. So that’s really exciting, because that sort of validated my thinking. And there is another Venn diagram doing the rounds, which also adds in things you can make a living from doing, which is important.

So the first thing we do in The Seed is that diagram, we play with this idea of finding the sweet spot between the things you love the things you’re good at, the things the planet needs, and the things you can make money from doing, that you can support yourself and your creative business from doing. And I think that’s really powerful, and really important, because this is going to be the work of your lifetime, I hope. And so it’s really important that it fills your cup, and that it nurtures and nourishes you, it’s really important that it plays to your strengths, so that you can have a sort of disproportional impact by doing this thing because it’s stuff you’re better at than other people might be. And stuff that you’re better at than other stuff you might try to do. It’s something that will enable you to have a financially sustainable business as well as an environmentally sustainable business. And it’s also stuff that world needs, right that that is important to the environmental movement.

Then the next thing we do is work out what your values are, because I think it’s incredibly important that this work is aligned to your values. And I talk a lot about how there is no such thing as doing environmentalism right or wrong. It’s kind of a myth that we can get this stuff right or wrong. What’s important is that you’re doing it in a way that is aligned with your values. And we will have a whole episode with Laura Eigle who’s written incredible book called Values First, in which we will dig into this a lot more. But it’s also something we do in The Seed is we have a couple of exercises that help you to define your values. And I think I have done a lot of work over the last 10 t 12 years. And a lot of the exercises I had done, sort of gave you a list of values and you’ve circled the ones that matter to you. And what happens I think with that approach, often is that you can end up with the values that you think you ought to have, or the values that have been handed down to you from family or education or upbringing or sort of previous careers. And I ended up with a lot of values like hard work and integrity and courage, all of which I value don’t get me wrong, those are important things. But those values felt heavy to me. They felt like kind of weight and duty and responsibility. And going through the exercise which I’ve included in The Seed. I’ve ended up with values like connection and curiosity and creativity, spaciousness, evolution and alignment. And those are values that excite me, that open me up rather than sort of, it’s really interesting, I’m recording on this on Zoom so I can see myself, and when I was talking about my previous set of values, my shoulders kind of hunched in and down and when I was talking about the values I have now my whole chest opened. And I think that’s really interesting. We want values that make you feel open to the world. And we have an exercise within The Seed that helps you to identify those values. And then in the episode with Laura will also be talking about the boundaries that you put in place to make sure that your business remains in alignment with those values. And in working out your unique contribution to environmentalism, this niche, you want something that is in alignment with those values. It’s just a complete shift when you have a business or a creative practice that is in alignment with your values, everything suddenly comes into flow. And the people you’re working with share your values and there’s just something magical that happens when you can get all of that in alignment. So that’s a really exciting part of The Seed.



We’re going to take a short break now to do four things. Firstly, I would love you to hear from Inhabit who are the brand partner for season three. So Inhabit are the hotels that I actually stay in when I’m in London because they’re absolutely gorgeous and super sustainable. So, I reached out to them to ask if they would be interested in helping me bring this season of the podcast to life. And to my delight, they said yes, so you’ll hear from them shortly.

But first, I want to talk to you about a few things.

One is that I am a member of something called 1% for the planet, which means I donate 1% of my turnover, not profit to an environmental charity every year. And the charity I’ve chosen to partner with is Surfers Against Sewage, who are headquartered in my home county of Cornwall. So surfers against sewage is a grassroots environmental charity that campaigns to protect the ocean and all that it makes possible. It was created in 1990 by a group of Cornish surfers fighting to clean up the sea that was making them sick. Now surfers against sewage campaigns on everything that threatens the ocean. So plastic pollution, the climate emergency, industrial exploitation and water quality, by taking action on the ground that triggers change from the top. And if like me, you would like to support surfers against sewage you can do that

I’d also like to talk to you about a couple of other things while I’ve got you.

I have got a new book coming out at the end of April called Broken: Mending and repair in a throwaway world. I’m really excited about this book. It looks at the cultural and social roles that mending and repair play in a world where we don’t really need to fix things anymore. It also profiles 28 amazing remakers, menders, fixes, hackers curators and artists who are using mending and repair techniques in their work. So if that sounds up your street, you can pre order a copy via link in my show notes or by talking to your local bookshop, wherever you usually get your books you should be able to pre order that. And pre orders are what makes the world go around in publishing, particularly for smaller books like mine, so I would be incredibly grateful if you’re interested in that book that you pre order a copy before it comes out at the end of April. That would be amazing.

The last thing I want to tell you about before I hand you over to hear from inhabit. So I know from personal experience how easy it is to feel hopeless and depressed and kind of all in the doom and gloom of the climate crisis. Right? It is a lot. And so I’ve created something called Cultivating Hope in the face of the climate crisis. It is a three part mini course all delivered via email into your inbox. It’s free. It’s gorgeous. I’m really excited about it. And I would love for you to sign up for that also via a link in the show notes.

Alright, I will hand you over to here from in habit and then we will dive back into the second part of this episode.

Inhabit hotels, located in the Bayswater area of London, offers restorative environmentally and socially conscious places to stay in the city. Wellness and wellbeing also play a major part in the brand’s ethos Mindfully designed for the modern traveller everything at this new hotel has been considered with a genuine commitment to environmental initiatives and meaningful community partnerships. To find out more please check out our Instagram at inhabit_hotels.



The next thing we do having sort of really honed down to five or six values, I’ve got six which is probably slightly too many, I think five is perfect. But the next thing we do is then visualise that. So I am a huge fan of vision boards and it’s something, I don’t know I’ve been a bit embarrassed to talk about in the past because it sounds a bit, I guess, it doesn’t align with that sort of rational scientific upbringing that I had and some of those old values, but I do find them creative and expansive and all of those sorts of things. So I think there’s a couple of ways of thinking about vision boards. There are those who believe that you are sending a message to the universe that the universe will then deliver it in quite a spiritual sense. I think for me, it’s more about getting super clear on what you want and what you’re aiming for and putting that somewhere, you can see it every day. So then as you move through the world, you will spot the opportunities that align with that, you’ll spot the opportunities that will get you to that. So for me, there is something a little bit magical in one of the ways, so you can kind of think in advance about the images that you want, or you can just flick through magazines and pull out the images that speak to you. And there is something a little bit magical sometimes in the images that speak to you, that perhaps tell you something you didn’t know about your vision. But I am a huge fan of vision boards, I’ve actually given over my whole notice board in my studio to one enormous vision, that’s sort of talking to the three pillars that I want to move towards this year and in my life generally. So we spend some time creating a vision board and visualising the impact that you can have in environmentalism, visualising the contribution that you can make in alignment with these values and with this Venn diagram we’ve created. And that is always a really fun session that is, is just really joyful to see those kind of magic moments where people pull an image and think, oh, gosh, I didn’t realise this was part of where I was heading. And I love seeing the vision boards that people create and hear them talk about kind of what that means for them.

The next thing we do is we have a think about the people that will be part of this contribution. So if you’re going to make a unique contribution to environmentalism, who else is going to be involved, right? Who are the people who are going to buy the things you make, who are the people who are going to, whose values are going to align with this and are going to join you on your journey, who’s going to support you, whose advice you’re going to listen to. So we spend some time thinking about that, and thinking about the worldview that those people hold. So the traditional way of doing this sort of what used to be called pen portraits, and probably still is in the advertising world, is to get really specific about who your target audience, which is the phrase used, which I don’t love is and thinking about things like age, and demographic and shopping habits and facts about how these people spend money, essentially. What I think is more interesting is thinking about finding your people by building a community growing a community of people with the same values as you with the same world vision as you people who believe the same things you believe about the role of craft and environmentalism. I think there’s something really magical when people buy your products, not just because they like them, and they think they’ll look pretty on their shelf, or they’ll be lovely to use in their lives, but also because they believe what you believe, and their values align with yours. And in buying that thing, they want to contribute towards your mission, that I think is really exciting, that’s really juicy. So we dig into that in The Seed.

Then we also use a model called boardroom 2030, which is about thinking about if you had a board, so if you’re a really big company with a board of directors, who would need to be on that board to help you achieve this unique contribution to environmentalism. And we blow this wide open. So these people can be alive or dead. They can be famous or known to you. They don’t even need to be humans. So when we ran this, we had a furniture designer who put an oak tree on his board, and wanted to make every decision in his business in a way that that oak tree would approve of. We had someone else who put a river on her board. My favourite example was a person who put an empty chair, you know, that expression, if there isn’t a chair here at the table, bring your own. Well, this particular maker didn’t want anyone to have to bring their own chair. So she included an empty chair to always think about the perspective she might have forgotten or her blind spots, or the people who might not be included in that conversation. Its giving me goosebumps just talking about it now, that or its really cold in my house. But this is a really lovely exercise. And then what you can do is when you’re making decisions around your unique contribution to environmentalism, you can sort of mentally ask each board member for their advice, for their wisdom. So you can have the wisdom from that oak tree. And it might be you do this for real. So you might set up an advisory board and you might, for example, ask somebody from the Woodland Trust to be the representative for that oak tree or somebody to sort of represent that river. You might literally put an empty chair in the room and have a moment to think about the perspectives that you’ve forgotten. Or it might be more of a mental exercise that you do every so often but I love it. It’s a really beautiful thing and actually I’ve been inspired by this to set up my own real advisory board which I’m super excited about for making design circular.

And finally, we tried to codify all of that into a manifesto or what Simon Sinek calls it just-cause. So we think about the change we want to bring about in the world, and how we’re going to use our gifts and our talents to bring about that change. And we tried to sort of codify that into a written manifesto that can go up on your pinboard as part of your massive vision board to help you move forward.

So it is a really beautiful course it’s my favourite, it’s my favourite thing, and it runs across four sessions. And as I said, I’ve created a self paced version ao you can jump on board straightaway and work your way through, or there will be live digital versions later in the year. And I’m hoping an in person retreat at the beginning of next year, and you can absolutely do all three of those, there is value to digging back in, in different formats. So we will pop a link to that in the show notes. But I just wanted to talk through kind of the structure of that programme, because it really beautifully illustrates what I mean when I say define as part of the making design circular framework, and why it’s so important to kind of have the courage to really niche down and focus and make that commitment to the difference that you can make and only you can make in the environmental movement.

So I hope that’s given you some food for thought and as always do hop on to DMS on Instagram if you’ve got any questions, I’d love to chat more. Thank you.



Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed what you’ve heard, follow me on Instagram @KatieTreggiden.1 And if you’re a designer maker who’s interested in sustainability, DM me a little recycling symbol and I’ll add you to my close friends group, which is especially for sustainable designer makers.

You might want to sign up to my E-newsletter via the link in the show notes. And it would be amazing if you could follow or review the podcast in whichever platform you’re listening on, that really helps other people to find it, so that’s super helpful.

I want to say one last thank you to Inhabit my gorgeous brand partner for this season who have helped bring it to life and I also want to give a shout out to the Ko-Fi supporters from the initiative that we did in series two. So Kathryn Kernow, Bob Shankley, Eleanor Burke, Vicky Pulter, Leslie Curtis, Val Muddyman, David Clarke and Nolan Giles all bought me a virtual coffee to help with the production of season three.

And last but not least, I want to say a huge thank you to Kirsty Spain whose production skills you are listening to as I speak.

Thank you so much for listening.

All copy is reproduced here as it was supplied by Katie Treggiden to the client or publication.

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