Don’t be afraid to get circular when it comes to sustainability and innovation..
Circular economies and circular supply chains simply mean connecting stronger with our supply chain “partners” which includes our customers, in order to connect sustainable and innovative synergies in the supply chain. Companies working in Circular supply chains tend to think of each other and their customers more as “partners” instead of customers-vendors, and they share common goals for one another’s business growth and our planet. Circular supply chains look to reduce cost, increase efficiencies, and add sustainable value up and down the supply chain.
It’s no secret our Earth’s natural resources are diminishing at an alarming rate. We’ve all heard it. According to the Global Footprint Network’s estimate, human demand on our planet’s ecosystems is projected to exceed what nature can regenerate by about 75 % in just the next 3 years. Considering we only have one Earth, we all need to reinvent how we use its resources and use our own resources before it’s too late. Odds are business owner’s care, employees of the business care, and our customers, the “consumer” cares.
An important distinction I’d like to make clear is this. For us business owners, a circular supply chain and circular economy focus as much on economic sustainability as environmental sustainability. We as business owners shouldn’t pay up for sustainability! Instead we should leverage sustainability to reduce cost, gain efficiencies, and connect stronger with our supply chain partners and customers.
For all us that make, use, or serve customers in the plastics industry, we have every incentive to operate as sustainably as possible and showcase our sustainability to everyone that wants to listen! After all … Plastic is the greatest most useful man made raw material made. Yet it’s also a pollutant in many well documented ways. As business owners and operators, it’s imperative we evaluate the effects that our business operations, practices, and products pose on our society. Recognizing where we can reduce our environmental impact is the entry point for us to join a circular economy.
A circular economy or supply chain is about reinventing how we make our products and how they are used, maintained, and ultimately handled at end-of-use.
We must evaluate factors such as product design, raw material selection, manufacturing process, packaging optimization, and the end product’s reusability and recyclability. It’s about reinventing our business standards to be more efficient, using less to achieve more, while making the world and our business better. To get circular we need to get rid of the “take, make, dispose” mindset and adopt “make, use, return” our plastics industries collective mantra. When we embrace that together in each of our supply chains we create our own circular economies.
Here’s 3 area’s we see making significant improvements for clients that are pursuing circular supply chains.
- Look forward and get disruptive.
Forget about the old models we created yesterday and open our eyes to new improved models for tomorrow! Disruptive and innovative business models can be developed across every manufacturing-retail sector and certainly in the plastics manufacturing space. The emergence of today’s sharing economy propagated by tech-savvy, environmentally conscious millennials and members of Generation Z exemplifies the “product as a service” ethos. In this business model, our physical products, services and software join to create an ongoing experience rather than a one-time transaction-purchase.
For example, ride-sharing companies like Lyft & Uber offer their product (rides) as a sustainable service — drivers use their own cars, and riders use their own mobile devices to call for a ride. Furthermore, matching service such as Lyft Line pair passengers headed in the same direction, turning what would be multiple rides into one — meaning less fuel consumption and reduced carbon emissions.
Subscription-based models are another viable entry point into the circular economy. They often result in economic and environmental benefits for both sides, including cost savings for customers and more sustainable outcomes for companies. One example is HP’s Instant Ink program, which uses the Internet to ensure that print customers have ink when they need it and that they can recycle used cartridges more responsibly. Through the program, an internet-connected printer notifies HP when it is running low on ink. The customer is automatically delivered a replacement cartridge and a postage-paid envelope for returning used cartridges. This strategy connects the company & customer in a joint mission, and saves customers time, hassle and money — up to 50 percent on ink — while being gentler on the planet.
3D printing can help reduce the amount of material needed to make a finished part by realizing complex shapes or redesigning complex assemblies into a single part. These same efficiencies are being created for companies molding and manufacturing products, sharing production capacities, sharing logistics and delivery routes, teaming up to reduce cost and waste.
- Leverage Digitized Supply Chains to make plastic products quicker and more efficient.
In addition to disrupting business models, you can dive into the circular economy by digitizing the way your products are designed, manufactured and distributed. Digitizing supply chains and production helps turn your ideas into finished products in a more efficient, economical and environmentally conscious way, preserving our planet for generations to come. As example in our plastics industry, additive manufacturing is being enhanced by 3D printing. From initial design to supply chain, logistics and distribution, 3D printing technology is transforming our manufacturing industry. 3D Printing also reduces the amount of raw material needed to make a finished part by realizing complex shapes or redesigning complex assemblies into a single part, and because it requires the transmission of digital files instead of the shipping of tangible goods, 3D printing enables manufacturing on demand. This localizes supply chains, reducing the need to transport physical goods on trucks, cutting time and emissions, and allows for short-run production and greater product customization, opening up new ways for a company to connect with individual customers.
Early adopters are already turning these possibilities into reality. Automotive company BMW is using 3D printing to make lighter tools for its assembly line. Nike uses additive manufacturing to make shoe models, reducing waste by 80 percent, and Siemens has employed 3D printing to create industrial gas turbines, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and lessening resources used throughout the production process.
- Separate business growth from business consumption.
It doesn’t always take huge technological innovation to make big impacts. You can start getting circular simply by encouraging consumers to reuse or recycle your goods and by integrating recycling in your own manufacturing and distribution channels. Doing this separates the concept of business growth from consumption — a huge departure from the way many companies operate. As example, outdoor clothing company Patagonia is a pioneer in the sustainability world, from making fleece jackets out of plastic bottles to tracking the paper the used to print catalogs, environmental concern is engrained into everything Patagonia does. The company even launched a program called Worn Wear, which not only encourages customers to repair and reuse their Patagonia garments — it provides them with the tools to do it themselves. Urging customers to repair instead of replace clothing is radical in a world infatuated with fast fashion — and this is an important step in the right direction. Guess what??? Patagonia’s customers know they care and the bond between manufacturer and consumer is incredibly strong and loyal as a result. Another example is The North Face’s “Clothes the Loop” program that allows consumers to drop off worn clothes from any brand at collection bins at The North Face stores. After being sent to recycling centers, the used clothes are then repurposed for reuse to extend their life or recycled into raw materials for use in products such as insulation, carpet padding, stuffing for toys and fibers for new clothing.
These innovative examples of circular economies and supply chains are regenerative by intention, recovering, recycling, reusing materials. It decouples growth from a reliance on increasingly scarce raw materials, benefiting the company, the consumer, and our environment.
When it comes to sustainability and recycling, we urge companies to engage in circular economies and supply chains! There’s never be a perfect time to integrate your company into the circular economy and supply chain — but the right time doesn’t require the perfect time.
It’s now. We all live on Planet A — and until Elon Musk or some other genius gets us on Mars, there is no Planet B. If you feel overwhelmed with the task at hand, remember what’s most important is to take ONE STEP at a time, and develop a commitment to head towards your own circular supply chain. No single company can solve the world’s gargantuan problems alone. The move toward a more circular economy and supply chain is a collective effort and requires intention and collaboration both internally within our organizations and externally with our supply chain and customers.
So how do you get started?
As an individual consumer, be mindful of the companies you purchase from and educated on ways to reuse and recycle are crucial first steps to joining the circular economy.
As a company, ask yourself how you can improve the customer and supply chain partner experience while making everyone part of the change — and how this change will benefit all of you in both the short and long term.