Striving for Impact within a circular economy.

Striving for Impact within a circular economy.

In our community of changemakers, such words as: “mission”, “impact”, “change”, and “transformation” are used quite often. Every new social and environmental organization has set up big and ambitious goals to change the current system towards becoming more sustainable, inclusive, fair and social. 

Within Circular Berlin, we believe that the circular economy is only one of many approaches that can be applied for this cause. 

The circular economy per se, also needs to have a frame to operate sustainably. For example, “waste as a resource” strategy – what does this mean? It could be a good solution for a local problem: to bring waste into the loop and  be used further economically on a smaller scale. However, on a bigger scale, we then end up with a growing demand for waste, which can also fuel unsustainable economic growth. Thus the questions for the small organisations operating in the circular economy could be:

  • How can we scale and grow things within the circular economy world without harming the environmental baseline?
  • How can we make sure that we provide not only efficient solutions but actually significant changes to the system?
  • What is your system of operation, and how does it impact the system beyond it?
  • How can we measure the transformational impact of our activities and not fall into the hole of self-sustaining the organization?
Circular Berlin mission

Being a young organization, with a non-for-profit vision, we face the issue of to what extent a small organization can make an impact. 

In 2019 Circular Berlin’s members agreed on the mission statement:

We envision Berlin as a resilient, citizen-oriented region. Resources are sourced locally if possible, used only if truly needed, and their value is maintained as part of a continuous loop ー within the limits of our planet. Waste and pollution are non-existent. People’s lives and jobs positively affect their neighbourhoods and communities.

Moving forward with our work, we framed our focus around activities such as: knowledge-building through the projects work, community-building and education. The question remained: how do we make sure that we progress on our mission.

The impact framework based on the theory of change and how you can use this as an approach to operationalize your impact

The year 2020, became the year of crafting out our impact goals. We used the Impact Framework based on the Theory of Change, where you need to define:

Organizations’ primary activities

Inputs – financial or human capital invested, number of people.

Activities – concrete actions undertaken.Outputs – number of services, products, seminars, number of participants.

Where the social change starts

Outcomes –Is knowledge changing? Does behavior change? 

Impact – Has the standard of living improved? Has the prosperity of the local society increased?

For our work we used Social Impact Navigator from Phineo.

As the next step, according to our mission, by 2025 we strive for the impact:

  1. Provide equal opportunities for the engagement and skills development to support experts for local operation in Berlin / Brandenburg in the area of circular economy.
  2. Build a network of 1000 circular organisations, civil society initiatives, academics and practitioners in Berlin in order to raise awareness of the issues at hand, provide resources and knowledge to them to accelerate Berlin’s transition to the circular economy through their own work.
  3. Understand the city material flow for the key sectors relevant for Berlin / Brandenburg, to steer the circular economy strategy for Berlin by enabling continuous resource loops and 10Rs strategies.
  4. Develop the decentralised approach for scaling up local Circular Economy City solutions, through well-documented, open source and transparent approaches, which could be easily adopted by other locations.

The key learnings from that journey so far: 

  • Impact goals are not the same as organizational financial and operational goals. It remains quite often one of the biggest confusions, and misleading elements when you set up your impact KPIs. However, in order to track your impact KPIs, you need to have already set up an organization with a financial baseline. So, scale matters in terms of the initial resources you can put into your impact. 
  • Aligning the topic of impact with the organizational operation is not an easy task, but it is extremely important, otherwise it will remain only on paper. Thus, in order to roll out the impact framework, you need to have some organizational processes in place. In this case, scale also matters. The earlier on in your organizational stage you start working with the topic of impact, the better and faster you can bring impact into operation.
  • Impact measurement and tracking is very important, and do not underestimate the role of it. Sometimes we do not like to fill in any extra surveys or give backwards feedback. However, every organization appreciates feedback not only from the perspective of self-improvement but also because it is the only way to see if the actions we did a year ago, actually planted the required change. So, ask for feedback and reflection, and if you are the one who is asked, try to find 5 minutes time to share your thoughts. 

Circular Berlin is just in the beginning of its journey, and we invite you also to give us feedback on our role, work and  the possible impact we are aiming for.

Drop us a line or your ideas to, or feel free to support our work, especially if you already share our mission and work, which you can find here.

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