The industrial revolution and the rise of a capitalistic society have, in a short period of time, changed our planet and our lives. Overconsumption stands at the foundation of modern society and has brought along climate change and its string of environmental hazards and social issues. Overpopulation and growing demand for goods result in mind-boggling volumes of waste as well as air, soil and water pollution with high negative impacts on human and ecosystem health.
A circular economy works quite differently. Products and services in a circular economy are designed in a way that allows them to be reused, either in the biological or technical cycles. All products are manufactured in a way so they can be disassembled and materials will either be broken down by nature or returned to production. Biological material therefore consists of non-toxic, clean feeds and technical materials are designed to be a resource to be used industrially again. The goal is to throw nothing away and to reduce the need for purchasing new commodities, while production and transportation is best achieved with renewable energy.
The circular economy is a markedly different way to do business, forcing companies to rethink everything from how to design and manufacture products to their relationships with customers. One of the biggest differences is the customer’s role. The focus is no longer on consumption, but instead on the use of a function. This places different demands on the business community to build long-term relationships in their business models. The advantage is that companies benefit from each other’s success in this cascade of different cycles.
It also brings new opportunities in infrastructure, energy and production in their adaption to fit the circular economy model. Some business models are easier than others to begin with, such as the leasing of products instead of buying (everything from jeans to trucks), companies which collect and renovate their own products and then sell them in the store in a separate department or peer-to-peer models. Companies will find new ways to extend the life of products or components, to find value in the waste, or the design of circular use.
In the end it is all about encouraging the next generations to think and design in a sustainable way as well as using circular business systems to build a better future.