The Circular Economy is Coming Our Way. Here Are Some Things to Think About for Product and Product Delivery…

The Circular Economy is Coming Our Way. Here Are Some Things to Think About for Product and Product Delivery…

G&A's Sustainability Highlights (02.12.2020)
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Tuesday, February 18, 2020 - 2:15pm

During your travels, or even going about your usual business and personal activities, do you recall the days when…  Pilots remember having to use cockpit instruments when flying over large cities because the “smog” (usually thick yellow) eliminated visibility below.  That was caused by belching smokestacks as dirty coal was burned for industrial use or for generating electric power. 

You may have seen deep and wide gouges in our good Earth where giant machine scoopers were pulling a variety of minerals out for manufacturing products.  Or as you traveled past a flowing river you may have seen thick flows of rubber or petroleum-based discharges…don’t worry, downstream the ocean will take it away, we were told.

In many countries, especially in Europe and North America, the good news is we have been moving far away from those days.  And as the linear model of many years in production recedes – that is, take, make, use, dispose – and moves farther into the past (as described by Tom Tapper of Nice and Serious writing for Sustainable Brands), the “circular model” has been steadily emerging. The effects are being felt all along the value chain.

So what does this mean for branded company leadership?  Tom Tapper cites examples of products and practices new and old from Unilever, CIG, Haagen-Dazs, Coca Cola, Stella, and Aesop, with a focus on their distinct product delivery (packaging, bottles, capsules, other means).  He offers us his perspectives in a sometimes whimsical but always firmly grounded style on what to expect in the coming years in brand marketing.

In a circular economy, the author sees five trends to watch:

  • We’ll be thinking of Bottles as “objects of desire”.  (Remember the classic, dark brown voluptuous-evoking Coca-Cola bottle of yesteryear?  And whatever happened to the little Pez dispensers!)
     
  • Product and Story. Or, as story.  The quality of and qualities of the product will be the main story told by marketers.  (The smart brand marketing leaders have been doing this for years!)  The drive to reduce plastics use gives smart marketers new ways to talk about product and packaging that has plastic workarounds (in product and packaging).
     
  • Hermit Crab Branding.  If the brand does not have that beautiful bottle or packaging to offer consumers, they can offer stickers in packs to enable consumers to do their own customizing.  Or to cover over the competitor’s bottle. That is thinking like the Hermit Crab, which live in other sea critters’ cast-off shells.
     
  • The Coming of Dispenser Wars.  Push here for soap – the product dispenser becomes the competitive battleground, thinks author Tom Tapper. Will consumers want “memorable refill experiences”? Will marketers entertain the customer as he/she refills their containers?  (With music, sounds?) Maybe.  Non-branded containers may become the choice of the merchant (more profit!), like store brands are today.
     
  • Refill Truck Revolution.  If individual product packaging and products in bottles as today’s delivery modes recede into the past, will a fleet of electric vehicles someday be visiting your neighborhood to bring you “a premium refill experience”?  Filling your vat when you run low?

So the opportunities inherent in the coming of the Circular Economy, Tom Tapper tells us, present challenges for us as well, especially in that we have to discard the old ways and adapt to change, as in the relationship of the brand and product to the buyers. 

Progress is always about adapting to change.  Just consider for a moment the work involved in the disappearance of those old belching smokestacks and smog over our heads and junk flowing into rivers from outflow pipes.  We are certainly more productive today than ever before!  And that presents many challenges as well – which the coming of the Circular Economy could help us deal with.

We’re reminded here of the favorite quote of the late Lee Iacocca (he was CEO of Ford Motor):  Lead, follow or get out the way – the Circular Economy is coming your way.

This is just the introduction of G&A's Sustainability Highlights newsletter this week. Click here to view the full issue.