Reduce, Reuse, Re… Circulate?

Reduce, Reuse, Re… Circulate?

The buzzword at COP25 in Madrid was Circular Economy. From business to water to land use, everyone was talking about the concept of developing a more circular economy, and this is right at the heart of corporate sustainability.

One of many panel conversations on circular economy at COP25. Photo by Katelyn Boisvert.

Currently, most products are disposed of after use. The culture surrounding products is make-use-dispose, but circular economy is working to change that model. Many people assume that circular economy is the same as recycling, but instead it takes it a step further, working to reuse or repurpose materials to keep them in the economy and preserve resources for other uses. 

So many potentially valuable products, such as electronics, are thrown away on a regular basis. One of the speakers at a panel I attended joked about how the future mining operations of the world won’t be in the ground, but in the drawers and attics of people’s homes. 

45% of emissions are a result of how we make, use and handle our products; how we grow our food; and how we manage our land. This shows that these sector economies need to change in order to become more sustainable.

There are two main ways that companies can work to improve circularity in their business and reduce emissions:

1. Product Design 

Circular Economy of O’Right Shampoo Products. Diagram from O’Right 2018 CSR Report.

Many companies are starting a movement to prevent emissions at the source by reevaluating the design of their products in order to be more sustainable and circular. At an event I attended at COP25, IKEA discussed how they are re-evaluating their entire product line to align their products with their climate goals. 

Another company which presented at Investment COP, O’right, based in Taiwan, is creating shampoo completely out of used coffee products. The bottles are fully biodegradable and each has a coffee seed in the bottom, encouraging consumers to grow a new coffee plant from their bottle— a perfect image of the idea of circular economy. 

2. Customers

The carbon footprint of a shampoo product is 90% the use of the product—the hot water and/or the use of a hairdryer. While the use of a product after you buy it is not often considered in the footprint of the product itself, this is an important step towards moving towards a more circular lifestyle and economy. 

As circular initiatives continue to grow, they could offer a new edge of competitiveness for sustainable businesses. Currently, many circular economy programs focus on recycling programs. However, new and innovative pilot programs, such as programs for appliance re-manufacturing, will be the future of circular economy.

Circular economy is gaining momentum, but there is still a long way to progress. In the beginning of 2019, the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) published a Circularity Gap Report highlighting leadership and actions needed to bridge this gap.

Overall, circular economy plays a key role in improving the sustainability of a company. The power of a company’s supply chain and their connection with consumers can be used to drive change in the private sector and beyond.


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