A group of women undertaking a leather shoe making workshop together. The main focus is finished custom designed trainers on the workbench and a pair of trainer soles. All the material used is ethically sourced and the business is committed to a zero waste approach.

Circular solutions for a changing world: Q&A with Adrienne Yuen and Yuna Song

Adrienne Yuen and Yuna Song smiling

Environmental sustainability and the circular economy are closely connected ideas. Their main goal is to ensure we don't exhaust our resources or continue to harm the planet excessively. The two work together to find smart ways to use things and save the Earth—not unlike Adrienne Yuen and Yuna Song in their standardization work.

Adrienne and Yuna (pictured left to right) are sector specialists in SCC’s Climate Change and Sustainability team. Adrienne leads SCC’s work in advancing standardization strategies to help Canada tackle plastics waste and move to a more circular economy, in addition to promoting the uptake of standards relating to weather monitoring and flooding. Yuna has supported SCC’s circular economy workstream and manages several files related to extreme weather, including urban heat. As young professionals, they have a deep understanding of both the challenges and opportunities of transitioning to a circular economy. They discuss here how their experiences and work in this area have impacted their life choices, values and outlook on the future. 

Yuna: From your experience of working with standards, what do you think is the relationship between standardization and circular economy?

Adrienne: Standards and conformity assessment are the grease that allows the machinery of our modern world to function. We don't worry when we walk into a building, turn on a light, or plug in an appliance because we know that there are standards, certifications and regulations ensuring that that those things were made to acceptable standards of safety and performance. 

The challenge now is that our economic system of production and consumption is overtaxing our planet. If we want to survive – and thrive – on a livable planet, we need to transform our linear economy into a circular one. This is a huge undertaking. We need different ways of thinking. We need new standards and conformity assessment schemes, such as standards for product design with end-of-life considerations built in; standards that enable the large-scale collection and remanufacturing of used goods into new things; and standards for recycled content. ISO/TC 323 has just published the world’s first international standards on circular economy, which is a much-needed starting point. 

Adrienne: Speaking of turning used materials into new things, I know that your undergraduate thesis was on sustainable fashion. In an ideal, fully circular economy, what would the fashion industry and the way we clothe ourselves look like to you?

Yuna: If I could wave a magic wand, I would overturn the way that those of us fortunate to live in societies with abundance see and treat our clothes. Some studies estimate that on average, an article of clothing is worn merely seven times before it is thrown away. I'm not saying that we need to go back to Victorian times, but if we are to truly revolutionize the fashion industry, we need to transform the way we value our clothes. They protect and benefit our bodies. Instead of treating them as disposable, we should commit to being responsible with our clothes. 

Yuna: On the flip side, I am hopeful that people are becoming more aware of the critical role that standards play in implementing circular economy in Canada. How do you envision SCC playing a greater role in advancing circular economy in the future? 

Adrienne: My vision for SCC, in the long term, is that we can be a key player in the Canadian and global circular economy space: connecting industry and governments to standards and conformity assessment solutions; leading new standards and conformity assessment schemes; working closely with governments, industry and others to shape strategies, plans and pathways; linking Canada to international standardization and conformity assessment forums; unlocking international markets for Canadian circular solutions; and working continuously to increase harmonization so that circular solutions can replicate and expand their reach. 

Adrienne: I’m curious to know on a personal level, how has the concept of circular economy changed how you live and what you value? 

Yuna: Circular economy is so much more than a theory or a social concept. It is a worldview, and now that I have learned about it, I cannot unlearn what I know. Perhaps because we are so used to the convenience of our non-circular ways, the incorporation of circular economy into our daily lives may seem radical and unnatural. But I have come to believe that it is actually our current way of life that is unnatural. Circularity and closed-loop systems are replicated in systems that we see in the natural environment. Far be it from me to give up my phone or live in the woods, but learning about circular economy has pushed me to adopt more sustainable habits and life choices when it comes to what I spend my time, money and energy on. 

Adrienne: I agree with you. Today, we know how destructive the cumulative impacts of take-make-waste thinking is. I like to think that it doesn’t have to be this way. For example, the underlying logic of, say, a vacuum cleaner with a three-year warranty, with few straightforward options for end-of-life assembly or repair, is that it is acceptable to landfill it, and all the resources it took to manufacture, package, and ship it, after just a few years of use. 

The defaults we live with were designed by someone at some point in time. People who came before us set standards and pushed for their use to ensure health, safety, compatibility and convenience. We benefited from that. It’s now our turn to do the same for our kids, our grandkids, and our future selves. 


Adrienne is a member of the Canadian Mirror Committee to ISO/TC 323 Circular economy, visit the committee page to learn more or get involved. And check out the new international standards for circular economy! 

  • ISO 59004 Circular economy — Vocabulary, principles and guidance for implementation 
  • ISO 59010 Circular economy — Guidance on the transition of business models and value networks
  • ISO 59020 Circular economy — Measuring and assessing circularity performance