The concept of sustainability can be defined as a way to balance society, the economy, and the environment in order to ensure that future generations have access to the same natural resources we do. Since the 1960s, debates about the human impact on the environment have resulted in new concepts and strategies to help fight the ever-increasing problem of environmental pollution, a threat to global sustainability and to humanity as a whole.
One of these concepts is circular economy.
A sustainable alternative to linear economy (which is based on a “take, make, use, dispose” model of production), circular economy is aimed at eliminating waste and promoting the continuous use of resources through reusing, remanufacturing and recycling. Under this model, products and their whole lifecycle are planned to minimise resource inputs and the creation of waste, pollution and carbon emissions. Ideally, a product’s lifecycle would be 100% efficient, where no waste or other kinds of pollution are created in their manufacturing, use or disposal.
This model is grounded in the study of nonlinear, living systems and influenced by biomimicry, in particular cradle-to-cradle design. As opposed to what we call “cradle-to-grave”, this approach to the design of products and systems uses nature’s processes as models for human industry, viewing resources as nutrients circulating in healthy, safe metabolisms. In practical terms, this means that the materials used to create a product should ultimately return as a regenerative resource to nature in the form of compost, or be used as a resource for another industrial process. For this to be possible, products need to be designed and developed through processes that don’t generate any waste and allow for them to be infinitely reused or recycled.
But how can businesses benefit from all this?
In a not-so-surprising turn, circular economy can benefit not only the environment but also the businesses adopting these practices. For instance, by ensuring that all their products and packaging are designed to promote their efficient recycling or reuse, and that they’re produced using materials sourced from other waste products, manufacturers can significantly reduce their spending on supplies. Besides, companies adopting sustainable practices and promoting them as part of their marketing strategy can gain a competitive edge, given that environmental awareness is on the rise, which means that consumers are shifting towards “greener” brands and ditching those lagging behind on this matter.
A great example.
A great example of this model is Sundeala, the largest UK manufacturer of display and presentation materials. Environmentally friendly at the core, they’re the only European manufacturer of a 100% recycled and recyclable fibre board. Sundeala has a Zero Waste policy, so nothing is wasted in their manufacturing process — they use water from the river Cam to break down cellulose fibres before they’re pressed; their “waste” products from trimming and sanding the boards are returned to the process to create new boards; and the only byproduct is water that is cleaned and returned to the natural water cycle. It doesn’t get much more circular than this, does it?
Circular business models can be as profitable as linear models without decreasing the quality of products and the quality of life of consumers. It is important that more and more businesses follow this example and start adapting to this new reality by implementing eco-friendly processes, even if gradually, to minimise their waste, their use of resources, and their impact on the environment.