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Circular economy- isn’t it just about being human?

Arpita Raksit

Widen the lens across time and businesses begin to look like a full-stop, a revolution, a mark in history, one that future generations will be developing anthropological studies about. What is the message we want to leave?

The fact is, we live, work and play within a living system, one that is constantly adapting, evolving, correcting, so that current economic growth within a linear system is an obvious contradiction. As long as we keep on digging, we’ll keep on throwing. Our current modus operandi – one of take-make-waste-dispose – is rapidly backfiring. Negative feedback from all over the world is sending alarming signals that we have partied far too hedonistically.  A company taking directly from the earth’s support systems – from natural resources, to biodiversity and freshwater- with no regard of the wider implications this may have within an organic system, goes against our very innate capacity as human beings to share, protect, multiply and evolve. This is why I advocate for the circular economy. Not because it offers a theory which we can all use to place blame upon the current capitalist market – but because simply put, it is a theory that should be able to resonate with us all.

Our world is changing. The reformulation of power structures across the globe, exemplified through Occupy Movements, Slutwalks, NSA leaks, and #icebucketchallenges, signal a revolt against hegemony, hierarchy, linearity, and order. Instead, we as consumers are looking for solutions, within and outside of the current market system, to find purpose in what we do, share experiences, voice opinions, regain our rights, seek happiness and live. In our newly released paper on the circular economy we quote from the aspirationals index that “95% believed in the idea of consuming less to preserve the environment for future generations”. The tipping point is now and with it comes great opportunity. Breakthroughs in technology are heavily escalating this new global order, as is better data analytics and scientific evidence of how much we can safely push our planetary boundaries. Companies keeping up with the pace of change are realising the benefits of co-creation – that the impacts of collaboration can be bigger than the union itself.

The good news is that the hard thinking is done; circular economy principles offer a robust framework to rethink and redesign the future. Thanks to McKinsey, we know that converting to a circular economy would generate in excess of $1 trillion material cost savings per year globally by 2025. Thanks to Forbes, we know that more than $3.5 billion in revenues were generated from transactions in the sharing economy. Our paper offers four compelling reasons why companies would benefit from moving towards circularity – new business models, optimised resource use, enhanced stakeholder dialogues and protection from system shocks. We discuss how Phillips has saved €471million last year by simplifying its operating model and how construction company BAM UK is experimenting with product-service models where customers now pay for light quality rather than light fixtures.  We emphasise the importance of waste and resource management companies such as NISP, who are creating new markets for resources falling out of the loop and being overlooked.  Whether a CSO of a large manufacturing company or an SME supplying bubble wrap, what do all these grand theories and numbers actually mean? In our latest paper, we aim to answer this question.

At the end of our paper we offer 10 practical ways in which we believe you can act. These can start with simple steps such as benchmarking your company against first movers, conducting a horizon scan and futures exercise to inform future strategy, to a more in-depth lifecycle assessments. All are important, integrated steps to establish what your current position is at this point in time and how circular interventions tailored to your needs can help you create a value network. It’s a journey of exploration, experimentation and belief. No one-size-solution-fits-all. Just like individuals, companies have individual organic challenges and needs. But our advice would be to start by taking any one of these practical tips and see what unfolds. Zoom in and zoom out. Finally, this is not just a question for the C-suite and environmental managers. It is for everyone, working within this interlocked system. Question what it is you are doing, why, how, for how long and for who? Now reflect on that and think about how you can continue doing what you’re doing, but do it better.

Circular economy works as a theory because it seeks to nurture and enhance our systems. It offers a way in which we can build resilient, restorative ecosystems that protect our very basic instincts to survive and thrive. Be brave, be bold, but most importantly, consider what it means to be a human sharing our planet with so much more than ourselves.

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