Going in Circles is a Good Thing

Nov 10, 2014 9:00 AM ET

Going in circles is a good thing

In October 2014, Coca-Cola Enterprises teamed up with the Financial Times to host the Future for Sustainability Summit. The summit included a keynote on the importance of design in process and product development, by Laura Storm, Director of Sustainia. Here she draws attentions to some of the great examples of innovations from around the world helping to drive the circular economy.

These years, more and more companies are going in circles. And that is a good thing! Let me explain:

Around the globe, new efforts are turning the fashion and food industries, buildings and transportation systems more efficient and sustainable. The result is clear: The global markets are witnessing a growing diversity of sustainability innovations, which is providing businesses with new market opportunities. At Sustainia, we spent the first part of the year researching over 900 innovations from over 70 countries. This work made specific developments and popular measures stand out. Right now, one thing is dominating and even disrupting green innovation in the market: The notion of a circular economy.

Fish skin: Some people’s waste – other people’s treasure

Across industries, corporations are joining the circular economy by deploying measures to close production loops.  We see a steady growth of new products designed for reuse, recycling, upcycling or even complete biodegradation in order to minimize waste. The end goal is to close the life cycle of a product by using waste or end-of-use material as a resource for a new product. 

One fantastic example of a company that has taken this to the extreme is Atlantic Leather that is using leftovers from fish-production. Yes, the skin from salmons and cods, which are normally thought of disgusting and smelly trash, is carefully treated and used for beautiful bags, shoes and jackets. Prada, Nike and Dior are among the loyal customer base. Another example of a very successful return system is I:CO that has created an innovative take-back system for your used jeans, sweaters and footwear. They are deployed in 54 countries and receive 700 tons of used clothing – daily! This material is sorted into 350 different categories that are re-used in the production of new materials, or re-designed. Again, the customers are rewarded with cash for their returned clothes. And I:CO gets a hold of cheap materials that they can re-use. A win on all ends.

The fashion industry is slowly seizing on opportunities

With a long history of troubling issues from workers’ right to polluting productions, this industry is not seen as a sustainability darling. That said, some are really starting to see the business opportunities for going circular.  Abundant innovations are now providing the materials, methods and technologies necessary to set new standards throughout the supply chains.

In the US, two different innovations are disrupting the way fashion is produced. Bionic Yarn is using recycled plastic bottles to produce high-performance fabrics that are being integrated seamlessly in the design at fashion brands such as Timberland, Moncler and Burton. The denim company Levi’s, has revolutionized their water management system by reducing the amount of fresh water used in the finishing process. This has led to savings of more than 770 million liters of water in their Water<Less collection alone. Not only savings that benefits our environment but also Levi’s bottom line.

Huge savings, new markets, new jobs            
The circular principles provides us a very strong and compelling business case. According to a study by the World Economic Forum an advanced circular economy could generate around $700 billion in materials savings each year in the EU alone. The savings potential is especially prominent in the fast consumer goods industries, where circularity could yield material savings of 21.9 percent per year. Building out this industry of circularity has a potential of creating 400.000 jobs in the European Union alone.

These numbers speak very clearly to me.

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Laura Storm is the Executive Director of Scandinavian think tank Sustainia. Joined by a global alliance of organizations and companies, Sustainia is working to identify and secure deployment of sustainable solutions in communities around the world. Laura has extensive experience in climate and sustainability. In the run up to the much-anticipated COP15 in Copenhagen, Laura was the Project Director of the Copenhagen Climate Council, a group of high-level CEOs, scientists and policy designers, including Steve Chu, Jim Rogers and Sir Richard Branson. Laura also organized the World Business Summit on Climate Change – the largest gathering of global CEO’s discussing a sustainable economy.

In 2013, Greenbiz named Laura Storm WorldChanger for her work with Sustainia.