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How does a business move towards the circular economy?

Many organisations are starting to revolutionise their business and beginning to ask tough questions like:

  • How will we exist in another 50 years?

  • If we do exist, what do we want to be doing?

  • What do we want to be contributing?

Re-thinking core purpose with the future and next generation in mind takes courage, and no-how of the circular economy can work for us. This article will look at what the circular economy means and unpack an approach to strategy and working with all people to achieve change. It takes guts but must eventualise so that we can provide and protect for our next generation.

Imagine an exceptional, sustainable world where our economy is in harmony with all living beings. It is worth the fight.

Table of contents:

  1. Understand What is the circular economy?

    1. Three principles of the circular economy.

  2. Start with your strategy - form your new baseline.

    1. It sits at the heart.

    2. Start with data.

    3. What value does my product create for a customer?

    4. The monetary system - move away from extraction and towards production.

  3. Move forward with people.

    1. Identity shift- I mine coal to I create energy

    2. Empathy, diversity and inclusivity from the front-line

  4. Power of the individual.

    1. Start small and ask questions

What is the circular economy?

At its heart, the circular economy is an economic performance-based model that has been designed to be restorative and regenerative.

It has three fundamental principles, which are easy to understand and logical.

  1. Design out waste and pollution. We're not dealing with waste at the end of pipe here; we're designing it out through better processes.

  2. Keep products and materials at their highest value for as long as possible. We no longer want to make things that break. We want to build items that will last and have a new commercial strategy to support that.

  3. Regenerate natural systems. We've gone so far beyond an approach to do less bad, and we must actively do more good. Our linear economies extract more than they ever give back to our natural environment. We have to shift our mindset to being restorative and regenerative.


Start with Strategy: Form your new baseline.

It sits at the heart.

A move to the circular economy must sit at the heart of a business, not on the periphery of a business. Bring the discussion into strategic parts of the company and operations. Form a diverse team to facilitate change and form your baseline or starting point for change.

Start with data.

Base the change upon data from your existing operations. Do you know your key metrics? Do you know how your supply chain works from beginning to end? Maybe your supply chain has become too long and complex and will require a new way to think about it.

What value does my product create for a customer?

A new baseline should consider what value you want to provide and work from this understanding. You will inadvertently design out waste and ensure that your products last longer. You will develop more significant customer and market relationships. Throughout the process, you will naturally think about how to regenerate the natural system. Whether that starts to be you're getting renewable energy into your operations or whether you're redirecting some of your materials to go where they need to go when they do reach the end of first use. It's fundamentally a different way to think about our business.

The monetary system - move away from extraction and towards production.

Move your financial and investment systems away from extraction. Currently, our economic systems are linear extractive economies. What does this mean? It means that currently, we make money (billions and billions) from materials and materials management or managing stocks and flows. An extractive economy drives investments into fixed assets, extensive scaled developments and rent. On a personal note, do you know what your personal super and banks are investing in?

Moving away from extractive investment means driving investments into the productive economy where people are working and creating things. The productive systems support new businesses, new manufacturers and technologies coming into the market. Investing in productive industries will help us to create a better future.

Local manufacturers worldwide can compete in their local markets and be competitive. You will need enterprise excellence and a slick approach, be strategically aligned, and have a brilliant team, but it can be done, and our economies should support this.


Move forward with people.

A move to the circular economy needs to move forward with people.

Once the strategic baseline plan is created, it is time to start thinking about the people at the heart of this change. It will be the people that will make or break any of the transformational developments.

Identity shift- I mine coal to I create energy.

How do your people identify with that new baseline framing? And if they don't, how do you support them to find an identity in his new trajectory?

You could ask questions like the following to facilitate this thinking shift:

  • Does your identity carry you through this narrative?

  • Do you see yourself in it?

  • How will your skills translate?

  • What help will you need?

  • What would help you to feel valued in our new direction?

For example, If you're a coal miner and a leader says, learn how to do hydrogen, how do you feel about that? Can you see your identity as a coal miner being carried through the transformation? Can you see yourself making hydrogen cells? Can you contribute here?

Empathy, diversity and inclusivity from the front-line

Leaders will need to use empathic listening. Leaders will hear their people when they talk to them and respond in line to ensure that the solutions or the narrative are inclusive and representative and respective of adversity.

If you're doing and designing systems based outcomes, you need to speak to all the people representing an operation or a system. Speak to as many as possible within any constraints set by a scope of work or project. Go to the coalface and help with the interviews. Talking to the front-line is how you will show respect and that you value diversity. Build it from the bottom up.

Involving everyone in planning and execution is such a common topic on our Enterprise Excellence podcast.


Power of the individual

Every one of us has a massive power to shift towards a circular economy and get involved. If we all started by doing little things every day, it would cause such a change. We are all a part of the global economy. It is not separate from us. Seek to understand this connection and then look at a new way to start to change and participate. We need a participatory economy. We can all make a difference. It's a great future.

Start small by asking questions about your life.

  • Where is my super being invested?

  • Where could I invest my money?

  • Where can I buy items locally?

  • How can I go plastic-free?

  • What local initiatives can I get involved in?

  • How can I help my community to learn and improve?


To conclude

How do we design out waste and pollution, maintain products at their highest value for as long as possible (which links back to the way we design products in the first place), and help regenerate our natural environment?

Wouldn't it be a wonderful, sustainable world where our economy is designed with these principles in mind?

Start with creating a baseline plan, involve others and gain feedback, and make adjustments. Then help others in your organisation form their aligned plans and approaches to execute them in a way that creates a connected organisational organism. An organisation system that can adjust and adapt as one can create a better future.

What's Next?

Listen to Podcast #49 with Ashleigh Morris

Download a work instruction on strategy and cultural deployment.

Written by Emily Jeavons

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