What does circularity mean - featured image 2

What on earth does circularity mean?

Sustainability and business have been frenemies for some time. Still, while many companies are pretending to be sustainable, others are working in a more sincerely ‘circular’ way. It’s a far better way to do business.

But what does ‘circularity’ even mean?

The circular economy, or circularity, is an economic model that follows the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. It’s a concept that turns the more common linear economy of Take, Make and Dump, on its head.

The circular economy aims to retain the lifespan of products through repair and maintenance, reusing, remanufacturing, or upcycling. To sum it up, circularity is about maintaining value and not creating waste in the process. 

But why should more businesses invest in circularity?

Well, every year we create about 2.12 billion tonnes of waste, which is abetted by the fact that 99% of the stuff we buy each year is thrown out within 6 months. In this year alone it is estimated we have already dumped over 10 million tonnes of plastic into the ocean. If more businesses adopted a circular business model then this absurd amount of waste could be reduced. And it is not just the environment that will benefit from a shift to circularity, people will too. By changing to a circular economy we could see a net gain of 18 million jobs worldwide, according to the ILO, and for every tonne of solid waste recycled, $101 in salaries could be gained rather than topping-up landfill.

If more people supported circular businesses, then we could start to see our struggling planet in better shape. But enough with the doom and gloom. Who is doing circularity well? Which businesses can you support that embrace circular sustainable practices? Here are two great examples:

Day Owl

A company that takes circularity in its stride, Day Owl produces backpacks and bags that are made from 100% recycled materials. To do this they take plastic bottles from the polluted streets and canals of Honduras and Haiti, following an augmented four Rs respect, reduce, reuse and recycle ethos. They’ve also started a second hand marketplace where ‘every bag counts’, to make sure their bags don’t end up in landfill mounds.

This Pittsburgh based company is also B Corp Certified. What on earth does that mean? See one of our earlier blog posts to learn more about B Corp certification.

Circular brand example 1 - Day Owl-min

Levi’s

As one of the most well known denim brands in the world, Levi’s has taken the lead from Scandinavian denim circularity leaders Nudie Jeans (more about this fantastic brand here), to strive towards a more circular way of doing business. Their goal is to create products that are used more, made to be made again, and made from recycled or renewable inputs. You could say jeans designed for not just the next wear but the next owner.

Levi’s is known for the quality and longevity of its jeans, which contributes to sustainability, and some circularity has now been added to that approach with in-store tailor shops. In these shops, which are located worldwide, your old denims can be repaired, recycled, or even transformed into a new product – say a wallet or a pair of denim shorts. It’s a way to provide wearers with the services they need to get more from their jeans and not default to binning or buying new.

Circular brand example 2 - Levis-min

Of course it doesn’t end there. There are many other leading brands that are moving towards circularity such as Adidas, Timberland, Ikea, Dell and Energizer. One of those brands, Adidas plans to use 100% recycled polyester in all products by 2024. This is to add to their existing partnerships with sustainability leaders Allbirds and Parley for the Oceans, to drive recycled product and material innovation.

It is encouraging to see such a variety of well-known brands moving away from the wasteful linear way of working that has dominated business for so long. Mind you, always take grandiose ‘green’ claims with a pinch of salt, as there may be some sly greenwashing at work – especially with bigger brands (here’s another blog post about that pernicious approach to going green and how to spot it).

Everyday circularity

Buying from brands who are embracing circular business models is not the only way to support circularity. The basic principles of circularity; reduce, reuse and recycle, can be done by anyone.

A good mantra to go by is buy better and buy less. And remember, waste extends beyond material items too. Food waste is another one of the greatest issues we face today and simple actions like composting your food scraps can make a difference. So, give being a bit more circular and less wasteful a try. If more people get going then it’s a good way to turn the micro into the macro and start seeing wider change.

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Michaela Farnham

Scuba diver, explorer, biologist, baker, marketer.

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