‘Take, make, dispose’, is the mode of production that most products and businesses operate under in our economy. The inputs to the majority of the things we sell and consume worldwide are designed to be used only once, and more often than not, the product we then buy is only used once as well. This is clearly a wasteful, costly and unsustainable way to carry on as the world develops.
A circular model for businesses aims eventually to replace this way of doing things and is underpinned by the following principle. Rather than wasting all or parts of a product or even sending them to recycling (which can often be more consumptive than producing a new product!), we can simply design them in the first place to be totally re-usable and crucially for businesses, re-saleable.
By retaining waste within business networks and thus minimising the level of new raw inputs to products and/or services, financial and environmental costs are slashed. The company can maximise the amount of profit extracted from each bit of resource it puts into a product and boost its ethical status as a brand. Crucially of course also minimising the amount of new resources needed for new products. As Douglas Braungart and William Mcdonough describe it: ‘waste is food’ (see further reading).
It’s irrelevant whether the next use for items is the same as the first; it could be a completely new one and the solution is probably incredibly simple, the key is to think of your business or even household as a part of a system of others. Most computer parts old or new for example, contain highly valuable and reusable materials that can be refurbished into top of the range equipment; chip-fat can be converted into biodiesel and the list increases with every day that goes by.
This may sound slightly daunting and complex, but its success is undoubtedly rooted in collaboration. The first step being talking to people and organisations surrounding your enterprise and then beyond, start in your own supply chain. You just never know which business/household/school or even friend could make use of your waste and even pay for the privilege. Don’t forget even if the next user doesn’t pay for it, you are still neutralising the cost of disposing of it yourself. So to get started, just talk to more people than ever before, search for uses of your waste and innovate!
Finally a word to everybody, not just business owners but all of us –
It’s very important for this means of business to become more widespread that we all tell the people we buy things from that we care that they are or should be acting sustainably.
This encourages firms either to take up sustainable practices, increase their current efforts or simply advertise more to other customers that this is the best way of doing things and pull their competitors and whole markets in that direction too. More buying like this will mean more selling like this and a gradual transition towards the sustainable economy that our future selves require.
By Andrew Woodhouse, Communications Volunteer
In the interests of brevity, here are a couple of useful extensions to this post:
Richmond Council GoGreen website
The Ellen McArthur Foundation for circular economy
5 examples of new business methods being used to circularise businesses.
Finally, a very enlightening book written by two pioneers of this movement who were also quoted above
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart