Companies that are not already thinking about circular economy need to get going. Otherwise, they risk having to play catch-up in the big shift toward more sustainable business strategies, according to AAU researchers. Along with international partners in the consortium KATCH-e, they have developed 10 commandments that should underpin business strategies in all companies wanting a share of the lucrative market that circular economy stands to become.
- The commandments contain all three aspects of sustainability: the environmental, the social and the economic aspect, making for an ambitious interpretation of the circular economy, says Kirsten Schmidt, Postdoc in the Department of Planning at AAU, Copenhagen.
The AAU researchers have scheduled a workshop 29 January on the opportunities in circular economy; after a few days, it was overbooked and there is now a waiting list.
Changes on the way
The world has finally figured out that most of the Earth's resources are limited, which makes the traditional way of thinking – create, use, dispose – both unsustainable and hopelessly out of date. The future of food, clothes, houses, cars, furniture and everything else will instead be a part of a circular economy that conserves resources by reusing, sharing or repurposing.
Examples include rented furniture that is repaired and re-rented, car sharing, reusing materials in the construction industry or buildings, machinery or consumable items that are designed from the start for different uses depending on the age of product.
- The idea with circular economy is that things take place in closed systems so that we don’t dispose of too much and consume too many of the Earth's limited resources. The shift from the current way of thinking to circular economy will provide a lot of opportunities for those companies that take action early and promptly incorporate circular economy into their business strategy. So we created the ten commandments to help businesses to both get started with circular economy and keep their eyes on the ball going forward, says Kirsten Schmidt.
Circular economy encompasses everything
Circular economy is not only about production. It is also about services and recycling.
For instance, a service in the circular economy can be leasing furniture to schools. Instead of schools buying furniture and throwing it out when it gets too old, they instead can lease it for long periods of time with terms for service and repairs.
It may also be the case that new learning methods require new conditions and furniture, and schools then do not have to switch out all the furniture purchased. For example, the business concept for the Danish company Højer Møbler, a participant in the KATCH-e project, is to sell learning environments rather than school furniture. The leased furniture can instead be designed to be upgraded to meet new needs so that the furniture retains its value. Thus, the circular economy is concerned with design, service and reuse.
A third possibility could be to design children’s beds to grow as they do so they can do with only one bed their entire childhood instead of switching out every 3 to 5 years.
Must be part of the construction trade
Similarly, circular economy can also be part of the construction trade, where we today often tear houses down in order to use the building materials as filler in asphalt. In that scenario, the value of the building materials is drastically reduced whereas the bricks, window elements and roof tiles themselves are much more valuable if they are integrated into a circular economy and reused.
This approach to designing, reusing and servicing things like furniture and buildings requires a mindset that understands not only the complexity but also the possibilities in circular economy.
- Our 10 commandments are tenets of circular economy; if you can integrate them into your business model then you are well prepared as a company to meet future demands for more sustainable business models, says Kirsten Schmidt.
Ten ambitious commandments
The 10 commandments for a sustainable circular economy:
- Think circularly from the start during the design phase of products, services and business models.
- Think functionality instead of product.
- Analyse where value is created and where it disappears in order to understand how it can be maintained.
- Any circular solution must also be sustainable.
- Work based on a life cycle perspective to avoid simply relocating problems or creating new problems.
- Involve stakeholders in the value chain in developing new solutions.
- Lead the way and take responsibility – be a good example for others.
- Understand how your new, circular solution changes or requires new practices for users.
- Make the circular solution attractive to users and be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
- Incorporate social aspects in the solution and see whether the solution can create local jobs.
- We’ve made this ambitious interpretation because we believe that when we educate people about this large, complex jigsaw puzzle that will transform our society into a more sustainable one, it’s not enough to think only in terms of easy recycling solutions. Instead, we need to understand all the elements that go into the circular economy, and the opportunities they hold, says Kirsten Schmidt.