Interview with Michel Wolfstirn

Michel Wolfstirn is french, based in Norway for more than 12 years now. He his consultant and has founded Biomimicry Norway. For this interview, Michel speaks about his former experience as mechanical engineer in the oil industry and how he left this industry to bet on sustainability by following his heart. He was one of the first to join the Circulab network in 2015 and share with us the reasons why he joined this network and the best moments he shared with other consultants.

In a few words, could you present who you are and your background?
I have studied mechanical engineering through a double diploma program between the engineering school Arts et Metiers ParisTech’ in France and the University of Karlsruhe, KIT, in Germany. This opened up for writing my masters thesis in Norway, in an oil company, back in 2006-2007. I fell n love the country and have here since.

After having worked during 8 years in the oil industry, how did the idea of working on positive impact projects did appear?
In fact, working with sustainability has always been on the agenda for me. I fooled myself a bit when I joined the oil industry, my thought was that knowing that the end is nigh, oil businesses would probably soon invest in innovative and sustainable technologies to balance their business model. It took me a few years to realise that this was not what was happening and I got blocked by my manager to join the few projects heading in that direction… It took me some more years to leave a situation which was after all rather comfortable (good job, well paid) and follow my heart and bet on sustainability end of 2015. Changing career as a self-employed consultant was not that easy, especially since the focus on sustainability in Norway is still relatively new and there is a lot of talk but not necessarily that much action. The country is relying at least 70% on its oil industry which is also a hindrance for increased sustainability focus. I first started with workshops and consulting services in biomimicry since that niche was not yet taken in Norway. Then I realised that circular economy was starting to create a buzz and decided to add that to my offerings.

Norway is relying at least 70% on its oil industry which is also a hindrance for increased sustainability focus.

 

Do you have any advice for those who wish to follow the same path?
Yes: just go for it! Build your network, create synergies, observe your business and social environment and respond to its needs. I struggled a lot in the start because I was lacking skills in selling my services and also because I had a bit of an imposter syndrom… With the help of a coach I improved a lot on the first one and selling workshops to companies and universities has helped creating relationships and develop my business. Regarding the imposter syndrom, I quickly realised that my engineering background was still helping me a lot and that I always had something to bring to the table, the most important being to listen to and understand the client’s needs before starting any work. Wherever there is a gap in my competencies I can rely on the network I’ve built and bring on board the relevant  skills in order to deliver quality work.

Circular economy is one of the pilars of life in the natural world!

 

You work a lot on biomimicry; especially through BiomimicryNorway that you created. What link do you make between biomimicry and circular economy?
Well, in nature, what is waste for one organism is a valuable resource for another one. Stress on ‘valuable’! Circular economy is one of the pilars of life in the natural world!

Innovation, creativity, sustainability; what relationship do you make between these key principles?
To me, creativity is essential in the innovation process, and in order to find truly sustainable solutions, we’ll need to accelerate the pace of innovation and increase our creativity. I’d like to see a lot more focused efforts on sustainable innovation so that we meet the more optimistic scenarios of the IPCC!

It has been 3 years since you joined the Circulab network, Is there a key moment you would like to share?
Difficult to stick to only one really! What I love with this network is its diversity and the opportunities it generates. I have for instance been invited to co-facilitate workshops with Wiithaa on several occasions in Paris and London, this summer i was invited by Phoebe Blackburn to support her on great workshop in Berlin and now I’m working with Taco Snippen from the Netherlands to organise in Oslo a Circulab workshop that he specially developed for procurement specialists. More locally it has also allowed me to network and co-facilitate workshops with my Circulab peers like Kia Klavenes, and I’m really looking forward to work together with Helle Moen who recently joined the network in Norway!


A key project in Norway that inspires you particularly?
Today I had a great meeting with the big architecture and design firm Snøhetta regarding a project on recycling plastics that we’re trying to put together with a client in Oslo. They told us about a project they started last year which initially only was research on plastics materials and recycling opportunities based on Netherlands’ Precious Plastic. They ended up with a very exciting project where they managed to bring together an injection moulding company in Northern Norway with an actor of the fishing industry which was almost a neighbour. Turned out the fishing company was throwing away about 50T of fishing nets a year, which is fairly close to the volumes the moulding company is importing as primary raw materials… The materials of the fishing nets is compatible with some of the products the moulding company produces so the company will soon be able to source its raw materials from the waste of the fishing industry by using another local company that can transform the nets into pellets for moulding. The only issue was the color of the fishing nets’ plastic which is not homogeneous … But Snøhetta turned this into an advantage for the moulding of parts with semi-random color patterns. Their first product, which is an iconic chair of Norwegian design should soon come out of production. Very nice example of circular economy I think!

 

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