Step One – Are You Circular Economy Ready?
The circular economy’s early beginnings are deeply rooted in ecological and environmental economics and industrial ecology. For more than 20 years, scholars such as Kenneth Boulding, David W. Pearce, R. Kerry Turner, Walter Stahel, the architect William McDonough and chemist Dr Michael Braungart all significantly contributed in varying degrees to shaping the circular economy as we know it today.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, which began in Britain around 1760, manufacturing was often done in people’s homes, using hand tools or basic machines. Industrialization marked a shift to powered, special-purpose machinery, factories and mass production. The iron and textile industries, along with the development of the steam engine, played central roles in the Industrial Revolution, which also saw improved systems of transportation, communication and banking.
While industrialization brought about an increased volume and variety of manufactured goods and an improved standard of living for some, it also resulted in often grim employment and living conditions for the poor and working classes¹.
This shift in the modes of production is now called the linear economic model (take natural resource, make products, then waste) and not only will planet earth, eventually, run out of natural raw materials to extract and manufacture into consumer products we are also being overwhelmed by waste. This is how the circular economy grew into a coherent set of guidelines for resource management.
The foundations of the circular economy lie with understanding Cradle-to-CradleProducts are manufactured with safe materials that can be continuously recycled the Butterfly diagram (see Circular Economy for details) and the Circular Product Design Model (see Circular Design for more details).
Getting Started – The 9R Framework
Several circularity strategies exist to reduce the consumption of natural resources and materials, and minimise the production of waste. They can be ordered for priority according to their levels of circularity. Smarter product manufacturing and use, for example by product sharing, are generally preferred over extending the lifetime of products, because this product being used for the same product function or more users being served by one product (strategy with high circularity).
Lifetime extension is the next option and is followed by recycling of materials through recovery. Incineration from which energy is recovered has the lowest priority in a circular economy, because it means the materials are no longer available to be applied in other products (low-circularity strategy). As a rule of thumb, more circularity equals more environmental benefits.²
The adapted 9R Framework begins to provide a legal structure for businesses and consumers that are bound to come up in the course of consumer transactions. These legal parameters need not be fixed as businesses must remain competitive and offer a range a options according to their capability. For example not all repair businesses may be able to test the strength of their repairs or include a warranty. Yet the broad scope of language ‘may not’ ‘usually includes’ and ‘and includes a warranty’, specifically for repair, refurbish and remanufacture sets the legal groundwork and provides the opportunity for both business and consumer choice.
Without this legal structure circular economy practitioners run the risk of working within a very undefined grey area leaving it up to businesses to make their own rules. This will have a detrimental effect on consumer uptake and may even damage the perceptions of the circular economy in the long term.
The Eight Skills for a Circular Team
Regardless of the size of the company leadership and commitment from the CEO and senior management is vital for staff to implement circular economy values and principles as they progress through the internal and external processes. Establishing a team who meet regularly to review progress and identify bottlenecks as part of an ongoing commitment towards the transition to the circular economy will result in successful outcomes.
Although making a commitment is the first step and the optimum position for a company is to establish a cross-functional team to begin the transition to circular economic many company’s are not large enough for a full-time dedicated team. What is more important is the skills, attitude and mindset of the people who do form the team. Here is a list of what each company should be looking for and the types of questions to consider.
1. Entrepreneurial and Development Skills
Is your team able to create business models with a focus on the future and circular thinking?
2. Innovation Aimed at Products and Services
Does the team have an eye on the benefits for the end user or is he/she focused on technical issues?
3. Systems Thinking and Identifying Feedback Loops
Do the members of the team have an open attitude to feedback and acknowledge the need for systems thinking?
4. Future Orientated and Out-of-the-Box
Is your team future oriented and do they focus on the solutions of tomorrow?
5. Celebrate Diversity
Does your team see the value of diversity in social, economic and ecological contexts, and do they know what it means for the stability, resilience and quality of the organization?
6. Address Insecurities
Is your staff and management team able to challenge or address insecurities: insecurities, ignorance, denial and create positive action.
7. Design Circular Systems, Products and Services
Designing directly or guiding the designers with a focus on the quality of circular thinking and taking care of innovations is an ability your company can enhance through internal discussion and connections with stakeholders.
8. Creative, Innovative and Connected
Creating a sense of openness for new solutions and looking for other network arrangements transforms the circular team professionals into cooperative thinkers. That is what you need for management, sales and product/service development.
¹ History.com ‘Industrial Revolution‘
² The 9R Framework, adapted from ‘Circular Economy: Measuring Innovation in the Product Chain’, Policy Report for PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency by José Potting, Marko Hekkert, Ernst Worrell and Aldert Hanemaaijer, January 2017.
Image: Adapted from Cradle-to-Cradle from EPEA – The Cradle of Cradle-to-Cradle