There is only one planet Earth, and yet, the current data suggests that by 2050 we would need the equivalent of three planets to sustain our current lifestyles. (1)
Luckily, consumer awareness of environmental issues is increasing and their attention is shifting towards sustainability. Subsequently, the pressure put on brands to produce better, greener products and services, is ever-growing.
Sustainability needs to be about systems thinking
It is not an evident task to raise up to those demands while managing expectations and owning up to one’s shortcomings. The name of the game is responsibility. It is not an easy route to navigate, but luckily there are more and more promising examples to lead by.
Many businesses try to answer the sustainability demands of their consumers but do so without tackling the systemic problem of unsustainable business practices. It has become an industry practice to use “goodvertising” campaigns and marketing to attract consumers, without placing an impactful sustainability effort behind it.
Luckily, we see more and more businesses venture into the right direction of a holistic change: by testing, adapting and implementing circular business models into their existing portfolios, companies can actually spark a systemic change.
We’re getting there, slowly
In the past 10 years, we have seen brands and retailers adapt to the changing economy and develop omnichannel activities: digital, retail, wholesale, pop-up stores...And similarly, today, businesses create new models based on recycling, second-hand, rental, responsible and made-to-order production.
It is the natural process of adaptation that needs to take place, in order for companies to become resilient and adopt the two building blocks of the circular economy: design and business models. What this means in practice? Here are some great examples of companies embracing these new opportunities:
Patagonia sets an example, not only by its eco-design but also by launching a second-hand resale platform WornWear - a hub for repairing, sharing and recycling Patagonia gear. In France, we can see the rise of made-to-order brands, such as MaisonCleo, situated in the north of France and run by a mother-daughter duo. The brand takes only 30 orders per week and each garment is made specifically for the customer from deadstock fabrics.
Loop is a way to shop without waste - the startup invites consumers to buy their daily-use products without owning the packaging. You simply pay a 100% refundable deposit to borrow the packaging, and Loop will professionally clean and reuse it once you’re finished.
Some of the most recent rental services popping up in early 2021 owned by the brand's themselves include names like Ralph Lauren - The Lauren Look and Breitling with #BREITLINGSELECT for luxury watches in the US. Another newcomer for the online rental space is a Swedish sporting brand Houdini who actually have offered this service in their stores already since 2021.
The resources to succeed are all around us
Circular economy has become an open-source topic of public debate, especially thanks to the publications and actions of the Ellen McArthur Foundation, the UN focus on the SDGs or ADEME and the ever-growing local initiatives, such as Fashion for Good and Circle Economy in Netherlands or Circul’R in France.
We believe that circular business models should be seen as a building-block process. Companies would benefit from adopting a “systems thinking' - understanding that everything is interrelated and interdependent” - Olivia Sibony CEO of SeedTribe (2)
And that is where the fun part begins. Once we see circular business models as lego blocks, that you can play, experiment, build on each other and learn from your sandpit buddies, we will have truly opened our minds up to a real and positive change. For example, the used-clothing marketplace thredUP and the designer apparel rental service Rent The Runway are joining together to offer their previously rented clothing for sale. (3)
In 2019, Adidas launched the FUTURECRAFT.LOOP, which started with the development of a 100% recyclable performance running shoe and is now transitioning to a second-hand production of the same shoe from the previously recycled product.
From a different sector, we can quote Schneider Electric, who won the Award for the Circular Economy Multinational. The company uses recycled content and recyclable materials in its products and has introduced take-back schemes into its supply chain. Its new circular activities now represent 12% of its revenues. (4)
The final note
The message is simple, fail to grasp the sustainability agenda, and you will be left behind. But accept change and experiment with the green growth that the circular economy has to offer, and you will be part of those pioneers that focus on putting the planet first.
Now, executing this strategy is harder than it seems, which is why external partnerships with an open innovation approach is a great place to start.