We know that our current economy isn’t working well for the planet, but did you know it could be working against you too? World Economic Forum research recently revealed that consumers strongly believe doing good for the planet should be part of a company’s core business plan.
Clearly, there are business benefits to going green, however brand reputation is not the only one. Through working towards a circular economy, your business could make cost savings, efficiency improvements and increased profits.
Unlike in the current “throwaway” or linear economy – a system of buy, use and refuse – the circular economy works to use resources in a closed loop, where raw materials, components and products are bought, used and re-used as many times as possible before reaching the end of their life. Saving the environment whilst saving companies costs, the circular economy is truly the system of the future!
This transformative approach is based on three key principles: working with waste, circulating materials and reducing environmental impact. Here are some practical ways to get your company in the loop, and examples of startups already working towards circularity.
In a circular economy, we look for things that can be reused, repaired or remanufactured again and again. The easiest place to implement this policy is in packaging, which makes up the largest share of fossil-fuel-derived material use at a whopping 36% of all manufactured plastics. Some companies are modelling returnable packaging schemes, riffing on the time-honoured business model of the local milkman, delivering product to individual homes.
The packaging is then recollected by the company, who clean and process it at an external facility before returning it to the home refilled. Customers pay an initial deposit for their packaging, which is then refunded when they have it picked up – either by leaving it on the doorstep old-school style, or dropping it off at a convenient collection point.
This not only gives the consumer the satisfaction of making an environmental difference, but also changes the whole mentality around plastic consumption. Plastic products are now seen as a non-consumable, apt considering how long they take to break down.
Chilean-based startup Algramõ rewards its customers by giving them credits towards future purchases every time they reuse packaging for any household product. Consumers can get a refill from on-the-go dispensers installed at convenient locations, on supermarket shelves or even by home delivery (via electric tricycle!)
Even if you don’t choose to profit on your plastic by leasing it out, your company can also consider its non-biodegradable waste as a resource, and look for ways to reuse it internally or as a raw material for other uses.
Work with Waste
To go forward as a green economy, we need to start thinking of waste and pollution as design flaws, rather than inevitable results of the things we make. By changing your mind-set and harnessing new materials and technology, you can make sure that waste is a thing of the past – essential to an efficient business!
Currently, global food systems contribute 30% of global emissions, with a third or more of all food produced worldwide being wasted due to spoilage or overproduction. All this waste has real potential to make profit, through devising or implementing new technologies.
US startup Apeel have invented a layer of tasteless, odourless, plant -derived protection that is applied to the surface of fresh produce. This edible coating slows the main factors causing spoilage: water loss and oxidation. Rather than being wasted, products stay saleable. Alongside the eco benefits of moving from a linear to a circular economy, Apeel is also discovering the commercial benefits of circularity; food companies are always looking for new ways to squeeze every penny and make juicy profits.
As well as preventing waste, startups can also go circular by making waste into new, marketable products. Pigmento Naturale are based in Mefi, Italy, producing 100% natural chemical-free dyes from agricultural and food waste. The dyes are then sold to the textile, bio-housing, alimentary and cosmetic sectors. In the circular economy, one company’s trash can be another’s treasure.
For companies with less tangible products, circularity may seem like more of a challenge. Or what about businesses that can’t avoid unsustainable materials? These businesses can also become part of the circular revolution, by helping reduce the impact of the economy on our planet more generally. Everybody’s heard of carbon offsetting, but what about plastic? Plastic offsetting is when companies invest in environmental projects to balance out their unavoidable plastic usage, such as paying for clean-up operations on waterways and beaches swamped with plastic pollution.
Of course, this is not a viable alternative to reducing plastic production, but it does go some way to alleviate the impact of businesses that are unable to fully do so. These complementary strategies will definitely help us all to achieve the “plastic neutrality” that would come from a circular economy, removing as much as our businesses put out.
Singapore startup Seven Clean Seas has recovered over 180,000kg of plastic pollution from the world’s ocean since 2018 with revolutionary river cleaning technologies, providing plastic offsetting for other businesses and clients. Clearly, there are also big opportunities in facilitating others’ moves towards a circular economy, not just from doing it yourself!
These practical ideas could help get your startup in the loop on circularity, a fast emerging trend. As the environmental crisis deepens, change only becomes more necessary, and business has the potential to lead the way. As the World Economic Forum says, “business as usual is no longer an option.”