Companies that don’t see the value of their waste often miss out on an opportunity to enjoy a boost to their fiscal success and reputation.
In fact, forward-thinking waste management that utilizes the concepts of a circular economy can advance a company’s competitiveness and reduce its dependency on resources - some of which are becoming scarce or experiencing price volatility.
As a business owner, your priorities likely involve growing your business, reducing costs and ensuring your company operates in a safe and sustainable manner. But how do you become a company that fully embraces and excels using circular economy principles?
Understand How The Circular Economy Applies To Business
What is a circular economy? In its most basic form, a circular economy is a system that focuses on eliminating waste and reducing the use of precious resources.
Companies that embrace it have focused on using as few resources as possible and keeping what resources they do use in circulation. This way of thinking - and doing - is spreading among both domestic and global companies that are renewing their commitments to sustainability and looking for ways to boost the economy and create jobs.
Understanding how this definition applies to your business model is key.
Currently, many companies operate under a “take-make-waste” approach, otherwise known as a traditional linear economy business model.
The problem with this approach, however, is that unpredictable raw material prices and the cost of constrained resources can make sustaining a business model difficult. This model also relies heavily on large quantities of cheap, easily accessible materials and energy.
Companies that go beyond this traditional industrial model focus instead on designing a system that doesn’t produce waste and pollution and keeps materials in continual use.
Develop A Sustainability Plan
Once you have understood how you can apply the circular economy concept to your operations, the next step is to develop a sustainability plan, which outlines how your company plans to achieve these goals.
It’s important to note that a critical part of developing goals is having a way to measure them. If you incorporate milestones that demonstrate success, you are much more likely to achieve your goals.
Before developing a sustainability plan that works toward incorporating circular economy concepts, ask yourself questions such as:
- What is your mission?
- How is your business structured or organized?
- Do you have the right staff in place to accomplish your goals?
- Do you have sufficient financial resources in place?
- What obstacles do you anticipate you will need to overcome?
Once you answer these questions, our article, What Is A Sustainability Plan?, expands on these next six steps for developing a plan:
- Identify what needs to be sustained.
- Identify what resources are required.
- Create case statements that communicate your mission.
- Determine financing strategies.
- Identify potential partners that can help you with your mission.
- Create an action plan that describes each task in detail.
Keep in mind that sustainability plans often require assistance beyond your company. That may mean you need additional funding from investors, require additional licensing or need to partner with another company to achieve your goals.
There’s no better way to gain inspiration than to learn from others on how they have transformed their linear economy business model into a circular economy business model.
Because many companies are moving in this direction, it’s not difficult to find a business that is keeping its products in circulation through recycling, secondary uses and harvesting as long as possible and extracting the greatest potential value from them.
Even leading national retailer Wal-Mart has jumped into the fray by salvaging and reusing parts when in-store refrigerators break down and can no longer be used. These parts are then used to repair other refrigerators across the country.
This Wal-Mart example illustrates an easy solution that just about any business can incorporate into its business model - use the resources available to you rather than draw on more expensive and less available resources.
Another success story involves Lehigh Technologies and this company’s effort to reduce the number of tires that go into landfills. After cryogenically freezing the rubber from waste tires, the company then shatters the tires into powder, which is then used as a raw material in many consumer applications.
Finally, PolyPeptide, a global biotechnology company, generates solvent waste as part of its manufacturing process to create peptide-based generics for the veterinary and pharmaceutical markets.
As part of its waste management plan, the company used to send its solvent waste from southern California to Arkansas to be processed. Once the solvent waste reached its destination, it went through a fuel blending process.
Sending its solvent waste across the country not only increased transportation costs for the company, it also dramatically increased its carbon footprint through the burning of fossil fuels needed for fuel.
The company decided it needed to make a change not only to cut costs, but also improve its corporate sustainability. Rather than ship its solvents to Arkansas, the company made the decision to send their solvent waste to Temarry Recycling. Temarry now manages that waste through a distillation process that repurposes the solvents for continuous use. Whatever is unable to go through the distillation process is used for manufacturing cement - rather than being incinerated.
By transporting the solvents just 70 miles south of its San Diego location for this process, PolyPeptide has also dramatically reduced its carbon footprint.
You can read more about success stories from companies that have embraced the circular economy concept in our article, Five Unbelievable Circular Economy Success Stories.
Analyze The Benefits
Investing in any type of sustainability practice will provide benefits to your company, community and environment. In fact, a survey of CEOs found that more than 90% believe integrating sustainability practices in your business plan is important to the success of your company.
As you begin to analyze the benefits of increasing your sustainability, you’ll begin to see how implementing these practices will:
- Reduce costs
- Improve your image
- Reduce your carbon footprint
Once you begin to determine how these benefits impact your particular operations, you can decide whether it makes more sense to focus on designing a process that produces less waste and pollution, keeping products or materials in use, or another approach that reduces the use of resources.
Lay The Foundation
More companies are examining ways to incorporate circular economy concepts into their business plans. Doing so has enormous benefits on your public image and bottom line, from boosting the economy to breaking a reliance on resources that experience price volatility.
Becoming one of the top companies to embrace a circular economy involves analyzing what specific ways your business can keep materials in circulation and ultimately lay the foundation for a more sustainable future.