The Circular Economy, More Practically Speaking

In my last two updates, we’ve talked about the circular economy, a “green revolution” that’s beginning to take hold among retailers, brands, manufacturers and consumers.

So far, we’ve defined what the circular economy is, and we’ve discovered why it’s time to take it seriously.

But now, we’re going to turn our attention to more pragmatic matters. First, we’ll look at what retailers, brands and manufacturers are currently doing to bring the circular economy to life. Then, we’ll outline some steps you can take to prepare yourself for this new “circular” reality.

Current Efforts

Today, more retailers, brands and manufacturers than ever before are exploring alternatives to the traditional production model of “take, make, use and dispose.” The number is still modest to be sure, but some companies are making real progress toward “zero waste” manufacturing.

Take Nike, for example. Its GRIND program takes manufacturing waste and used footwear and turns it into new footwear, apparel or even playing surfaces. This innovative program encourages smart production decisions (reusing production scraps) and post-consumer use (recycling used items), all while providing a sustainable option for building sports facilities.

Or how about Storm Creek, whose EcoMade insulation for vests and jackets uses at least 35% recycled fibers, mostly from plastic bottles.

These innovative efforts are often jump-started by organizations such as the Global Fashion Agenda, which works to elevate the profile of the circular economy. The GFA asks retailers, brands and suppliers to publicly commit to strategies that will promote zero waste production.

The vision of the GFA is to “engage industry leaders to spearhead a sustainable movement.” To advance this goal, the GFA publishes annual reports that communicate the scale, impact and progress of its partners’ key initiatives.

But that’s not all. The GFA’s work also serves to inspire and educate. Smaller organizations can follow the example of large-scale companies in their quest to establish zero waste environments.

Getting in the Green Game

So now, if those current efforts have inspired you, and you’re a retailer, brand or supplier who wants to “go circular,” here are the first steps you can take:

  • Educate yourself
  • Advocate for the cause
  • Assess your readiness
  • Join forces with external partners

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

Educate Yourself

Start your green efforts by learning more about the circular economy. There’s a wealth of information available to help you and your organization understand why zero waste in retail production and consumption is fast becoming a necessity.

Here are two great resources to check out:

  • The MacArthur Foundation is the leading authority on the circular economy. You can peruse the information on the site, sign up for newsletters, read forums or attend workshops.
  • The US Chamber of Commerce Corporate Citizenship Center holds an annual summit and provides a toolkit for organizations looking to launch their zero-waste efforts.

Advocate for the Cause

Once your education is underway, add advocacy to the mix. Think of ways you can motivate your organization to begin its circular journey.

You may want to start with this fact: resource depletion will only continue to grow in expense for manufacturers and retailers. So ask yourself: how effectively has this change-inducing idea been socialized within your teams?

When your organization fully understands the cost of sitting on the sidelines—that is, failing to pursue meaningful sustainable initiatives—it’ll set the stage to mobilize the resources you need to make progress on the circular front.

And remember: it’ll take significant commitments, including financial investment, to launch and build zero-waste initiatives. You’ll also need (or be) an energetic champion to sustain these efforts.

Assess Your Readiness

As you build your case for change, it may also help to assess your current readiness for all things circular. You can approach this in a couple of different ways.

First, you can complete a self-audit, often found at the education centers or in the toolkits I mentioned above. If you’re looking for a basic assessment, try this one from the Circular Economy Toolkit. Or, if you need something more in-depth, you can complete this self-evaluation from the MacArthur Foundation.

You can also hire an external resource. For example, The Circular Economy Club may be a good option if you’re ready to make a move and want experts to help evaluate your readiness.

Join Forces

To sustain the momentum for your burgeoning green efforts, join forces with like-minded external partners.

Start by attending a few courses or summits. Not only will you learn a ton, but you’ll also find other companies who can help you grow a whole host of zero waste ideas.

And don’t forget to enlist the help of your existing production, supply chain or retail partners. Find out what they need to go circular. See what you can do to enable or supercharge their effort.

In addition, share the early “green” priorities you’ve identified and see how your production partners might be able to help. Do they have access to more sustainable raw materials or manufacturing methods? Is there a recycling program they want to build or leverage?

Becoming Better, Greener Consumers

Beyond the work we do as retailers or suppliers, we’re also consumers who want to make a difference for our planet. And we can, when we choose to:

  • Learn about the brands and retailers that prioritize sustainable production, supply/distribution chains and end-of-life product support.
  • Patronize the businesses and brands that best demonstrate our value system.
  • Take advantage of the solutions our businesses-of-choice offer, whether it’s recycling garments, bringing them in for complimentary repair, or buying resale. This is important, because even the most promising green technologies such as Re:newcell, Evrnu and Worn Again, are still years away from achieving scale.

So now, let me leave you with this final thought. Whether you’re acting as a consumer, retailer or supplier, Planet Earth needs you. Don’t follow this zero-waste movement, lead it.

And Happy Greening to you all.

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