News and Views

Circularity 24: Ten takeaways you’re welcome to reuse

May 31, 2024
News and Views

Circularity 24: Ten takeaways you’re welcome to reuse

Last week 1500+ professionals converged on Chicago’s South Loop to connect, discover, and share developments in one of the most exciting areas of sustainability today: the transition to a circular economy, or “circularity.” A circular economy is one in which materials continuously flow through the system as resources, without being lost to pollution, the landfill, or litter. 

Themes from the event made it clear that the concept of circularity is far more than a rehashing of the classic “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Circularity goes deeper. It demands an overhaul of systems across sectors and geographies — it can’t be achieved by solo actors. It also goes wider, with a lens on equity and a just transition that will benefit communities disproportionately impacted by pollution and the climate crisis. 

Below are our shared reflections from the conference. We invite you to reach out to Sheila or Anna with questions or to discuss how we can support your journey toward circularity. 

Fresh insights:

  • Circularity through a social impact lens. Like climate, the impacts of circularity play out in the social sphere, not just the environment. Just as the climate crisis drives environmental injustice, pollution disproportionately impacts vulnerable communities. Circularity mitigates waste, which could result in positive public health outcomes that should be prioritized along with environmental benefits.  
  •  CSO doubles as the CIO. A CSO’s role is to facilitate nothing short of a dramatic evolution of business models that regenerate ecosystems while hedging against risk. This requires innovation at every level of the company. By embedding the Chief Innovation Officer’s role into the Chief Sustainability Officer’s, companies can accelerate sustainable business transformation.
  • Ways to measure Circularity. Data is imperative for optimizing the success of programs, and demonstrating the importance of circularity to stakeholders. We’re excited about new tools to do just that. For example, WBCSD’s Circular Transition Indicators (CTI) offers any industry, at any level of the business (from whole industries, companies, or at the product level) with a metrics framework to measure impact. Their new CTI version 5 will also include social indicators. 

 Key discoveries

  • Hope as an activator. It is time-tested and well-proven that positive, action-oriented messaging is more effective at creating change than doom and gloom. Yet, consumers are inundated with the message that recycling is broken and doesn’t work. To bring people along in driving circularity and mitigating climate change, invite them to participate in building the future they want to see. 
  • Policy solutions as an accelerator. Achieving circularity will require massive scale and deep partnerships within and across industries. This complexity makes tackling the transition time consuming, costly, and impossible to do alone. Policy solutions may be the necessary tool to unlock broad action on the scale of industries, and ensure accountability.
  • Capital as a catalyst. One of circularity’s biggest challenges is addressing how to pay for the upfront costs of the transition, and this industry is historically underserved by private equity. Access to capital will allow innovative solutions to move past the pilot phase and scale. 
  • Plastics as a GHG reduction opportunity. If plastics were a country, they would be the fifth-highest GHG emitter in the world. We have a huge opportunity to mitigate emissions by focusing on plastics. Yet the topic is often overlooked in climate commitments, likely because of the need for better data and transparency. Companies can make a business case for plastic reduction by approaching it as an optimization strategy to meet Scope 3 targets, and mitigate risk. 

What’s ahead?

  • Resale as an offering. Apparel brands and retailers are increasingly launching buy-back and resell platforms. Brands with timeless and durable products like Patagonia or Levi’s find their resale value naturally supports reuse, sometimes over decades. 
  • Circularity at the scale of buildings. Coming out of the COP28 Buildings Breakthrough, the building sector is prioritizing opportunities to retrofit, explore circular building materials, and design new products with end-of-life in mind. 
  • Don’t call it circular. Brands aren’t using the term ‘Circularity’ or other complex sustainability buzzwords to connect with their customers, but instead telling circular stories in a way that resonates. In practice, this could include sharing how reselling products enables others in the community, or how reusable packages are higher quality or offer greater convenience.
Circularity 24: Ten takeaways you’re welcome to reuse
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