Graham Birkenhead, August 29 2023

Joining the Circular Economy

Sometimes going round in circles is a good idea

The circular economy is an economic model designed to minimize waste and maximize the efficient use of resources. Within the Triple Bottom Line (Planet-People-Prosperity) model, this approach can make a significant contribution to the Planet consideration while ensuring the company's ongoing viability and Prosperity; it also can help People feel empowered to have a positive impact.  

Unlike the traditional linear 'value chain' model which follows a "take-make-dispose" pattern, the circular economy approach aims to minimise the 'take and dispose' elements.  It does this by focusing on creating closed-loop systems where products, materials, and resources are reused, refurbished, or recycled to extend their lifecycles. The goal is to reduce the strain on natural resources, lower environmental impact, and create a sustainable and regenerative approach to production and consumption. In essence, the circular economy aims to create a continuous cycle of value, where products and materials retain their worth and contribute to long-term prosperity while minimizing environmental harm. 

Here's an idea list to help you start going round in circles, and it includes a few examples: 

1 - Think in circles rather than straight lines: To start the wheel turning, there will be ideas you can adopt quite quickly, although sometimes, your product or service may have to be redesigned (a little or a lot) to become suitable.  Circular economy thinking is more straight forward to apply in some industries than others and so this is a great opportunity for innovation. The cycle will often require partnerships with other companies and customers that help the product through the next phase of its life.

2 - Reduce Resource Consumption:  Identify opportunities to integrate recycled or upcycled materials into your products to decrease the need for virgin resources.  Tire companies are increasingly incorporating 'recycled rubber' into new tires - or the old rubber can be made into new products such as mats.

3 - Design for Durability and Repair:  Create products with modular components or easy-to-repair features to extend their lifecycle. Electronic devices could have replaceable batteries and accessible parts for simplified repairs - especially the parts that get damaged often or degrade quickly. Snow shovels could have replaceable blades - the blade often wears out, but the metal shaft / handle is still in perfect condition. 

4 - Reduce Manufacturing Waste:  Optimize production processes to minimize waste generation and repurpose byproducts. Manufactured (eg modular) homes hugely reduce the amount of building waste - and the associated transport of waste material - compared to the more traditional 'stick build' approach. 

5 - Create Closed-loop Systems:  Can you develop a system to take back used products for refurbishment or recycling? If a product uses bespoke rechargeable batteries (such as power tools), can customers exchange their old batteries for a discount on a new one? 

6 - Consume Collaboratively:  Explore rental or sharing models for your products to encourage multiple users and reduce overall consumption.  Many DIY stores have a tool rental service where users can rent tools they only need occasionally. There are car-sharing services. 

7 - Use Sustainable Packaging: Source eco-friendly packaging materials and design packaging for minimal waste.  Many small plastic items are now being replaced with paper or card equivalents that can more easily be recycled, or that will biodegrade if not recycled.  Air-filled cells that are often used in packaging can be made of paper rather than plastic film. 

8 - Innovate and incorporate:  Transitioning to circular economy practices will probably require rethinking of products and services. There is a lot of innovation happening, and some companies are focused on providing niche services.  If others have solved the problem first, then incorporate their products and services into your offering.   A plastic component manufacturer may partner with a company specializing in advanced plastic recycling, allowing them to convert post-consumer plastic waste into high-quality source materials. 

9 - Educate and Celebrate:   Let your customers and suppliers know about the  benefits of circular consumption.  Include information on product labels and instructions - how they are part of the process of completing the circle - how to dispose of or recycle the product.  And let everyone know what you and they have achieved - let everyone know that their and your actions have made a positive difference.

We are not going to create a fully circular economy overnight, and there will always be the need for disposal and extraction of new resources, but we can go a long way, one step at a time, to reduce those environmental impacts.  And even if you cannot directly implement circular economy principles, there is always the option to select or prefer suppliers who are moving in a more circular direction.


If you'd like to discuss how you can start going round in circles, I'd be happy to help straighten things out.    Give me a call.


Written by

Graham Birkenhead


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