A Fellowship Without a Ring

I wish I could tell you that I was recently involved in the forming of a fellowship of brave people, about to set off on a perilous journey across thousands of miles of rugged terrain to deliver an incredibly powerful and dangerous object to a fiery volcano deep within the heart of enemy territory…but I can’t. The fellowship I am a part of is slightly different and noticeably less hazardous.

Not the destination of this Fellowship thankfully...!
Not the destination of this Fellowship thankfully…!

The Schmidt-MacArthur Fellowship was formed not to destroy the One Ring, but to accelerate the transition to the Circular Economy. It brings together students and academics from around the world to create and share knowledge and research across business, engineering and design, all within the context of the Circular Economy. We are a fellowship of 17, instead of 9, and come from top universities around the world including MIT and Stanford in the US, Tongji University in China, The National Institute of Design in India and my own Cranfield University.

This week we will be coming together at C4D, Cranfield for the annual Summer School, an intense week of workshops, lectures and challenges aimed at developing the systems thinking perspective necessary to tackle the challenges of the Circular Economy. During the week we will be attending the CE100 Summit, taking place at the Royal Institution in London, where we will have the opportunity to network with businesses and academics leading the charge towards circularity. It promises to be whirlwind experience and I will be sharing my thoughts and photos on Twitter if you’re interested in what we are getting up to.

The video above formed part of my application to the Fellowship and as it highlights, my particular interest is in collaborative consumption. My research project is taking a slightly different, but no less interesting, direction. Titled “Fast-Moving Circular Goods 2025″, my project involves developing a vision for the future of the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry in a circular economy. I will be working with global FMCG companies to develop provocative stories aimed at inspiring action to realise that vision.

Frodo, Sam, Gandalf and their companions set out to destroy a ring and save their world. In a sense (and with considerable dramatic license) the Schmidt-MacArthur Fellowship is not too dissimilar. We are setting out to save our world from the perils of our current linear system in the hopes of improving our world. We won’t be fighting orcs or riding eagles, but that’s not going to stop me thinking of myself as Frodo…

Tongariro Crossing

In a recent piece about the most wondrous place on earth, Hobbiton, I let slip the fact that I am a class one Lord of the Rings nerd.  Now, there is no point in trying to deny this and sweep it under the rug so I am going to do the opposite and embrace it.  I will freely admit that there were a number of times while I was in New Zealand that my decision making was heavily influenced by the epic trilogy.  I may have even purchased a location guide while in Hobbiton.  Well, I am now going to tell you about one of those times: the Tongariro Crossing.

Volcanic pools known as the Emerald Lakes
Volcanic pools known as the Emerald Lakes

Firstly, I must say that while there is a Lord of the Rings connection here, the Tongariro Crossing owes none of its reputation to the movies.  It was most certainly used as a location during the filming (and you will see why in a minute) but people were crossing Tongariro long before Sam and Frodo made the journey.

The Tongariro Crossing is the name of a hike.  A hike through the most incredible active volcanic landscape that I have ever seen.  I was doing the hike as it is one of the quintessential stops of the Stray bus and one of its most highly rated experiences.  I only found out while in New Zealand that it is also the site of the infamous Mount Doom, the volcano into which Gollum swan dives with the One Ring.  The hike itself takes you right to the base of Mt Doom, whose real name is Mt. Ngauruhoe, while traversing another volcano called Mt. Tongariro.  It is known as the Tongariro Crossing because you begin at one side of the mountain and, you guessed it, cross to the other side.  However, this was not the case when I undertook the adventure.  Months earlier the volcano erupted!  While people were hiking!  As a result part of the track was closed and hikers were advised to turn back upon reaching a certain point.

Mt. Doom shrouded in cloud
Mt. Doom shrouded in cloud

I, Dale “Kingsley” Walker, decided that such advice was for the weak.  Did Frodo turn back when the slope of Mt. Doom was too steep?  Did Sam give up when he was hit in the face with a rock thrown by Gollum? No! And neither would I.  After climbing what felt like a million stairs, crossing a barren volcanic crater and scrambling up sheer rock faces I saw the sign advising that I give up, lest I be squashed by raining volcanic debris, and pushed on to reach the Blue Lake.  When I came to another sign that told me not to stop, to prevent myself becoming a static target for falling rocks, I took it to heart and pushed through the final kilometre, finally reaching my goal.

I now know how Frodo and Sam must have felt as they lay, exhausted, upon the rock having saved Middle Earth from annihilation.  As I reached the lake I collapsed onto a tussock of grass and gazed upon the beauty that surrounded me.  It was a truly spectacular landscape made all the more impressive by the barren, volcanic surroundings complete with steam venting from the ground and ancient lava flows scarring the hillside.  After spending 20 minutes absorbing the silent serenity I gathered myself to myself and prepared for the journey home.

Volcanic wasteland and crater
Volcanic wasteland and crater

Heaven On Earth (Hobbiton)

To say that I am a Lord of the Rings fan would be a rather major understatement. I am obsessive. I have got the extended DVD collection and have watched the entire thing numerous times, commentaries and special features included. Thus, when the opportunity to travel around the world came up and I started thinking of the places I would like to visit, New Zealand swiftly jumped to the top of the list. There were other reasons for this of course, but I would be lying if I said that the land of the Tolkien trilogy was not an influencing factor in my decision.

There was not a chance, having decided to visit New Zealand, that I was going to miss out on seeing Hobbiton, the home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins and all of their little hobbit friends. I nearly wet myself at the thought of wandering the lanes and frolicking in the fields of the Shire. I had heard of this mythical place where the vision of Tolkien’s Middle Earth spreads out before you and I wanted to visit it. I told you I was obsessed right?

Access to Hobbiton comes via a 1.5 hour bus trip from Rotorua. You have no choice but to go on a guided tour of the hobbit village which sets you back a not insubstantial sum of money and doesn’t give you the freedom to explore to your heart’s content. However, by sneakily hanging back I managed to let the tour go on ahead of me and by doing so was able to walk around free from the throng of people listening to facts about the movie that I knew anyway.

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You can just imagine little hobbits running around.

Hobbiton truly is a masterpiece. Over 30 pristine hobbit holes litter the immaculately crafted landscape, each unique down to the last detail. Clothes hang on washing lines and shoes lie outside little round doors, waiting for their owners to pop out and tend to the colourful garden on the porch. When you stand outside Bag End you can almost see Bilbo and Gandalf blowing smoke rings on the little bench in the garden. For the 2 hours that the tour lasts I was in Heaven.

The tour ends with a visit to the Green Dragon, the hobbit’s pub of choice. You get the opportunity to sample a free hobbit-sized (tiny) brew. Before I knew it I was on the bus back to Rotorua and the real world, where hobbits and elves exist only in the imagination and Middle Earth can only be found in the pages of a book.

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I hope you appreciate the colour coordination