Rampant growth has never felt more imbalanced. Long gone are the days where a company’s financial achievements are the sole measure of success. More and more, consumers are asking corporations: yes, but what are you doing about your environmental impact? Traditionally, companies have sought to offset their environmental footprint by doing “good things” for the Earth, and then promoting the net result. For example, Amazon has pledged net zero carbon emissions by 2030. However, the environmentally conscious community rarely scrutinizes the accounting method. Doing damage and then pleading forgiveness with good deeds is not going to be sustainable forever, and the world is waking up to this.
The Economy Is A Subset Of The Environment
Enter the circular economy. As companies strive to reduce their environmental footprint to help address climate and environmental degradation, there is an increasing need to identify effective mitigation efforts. Developing solutions to reuse technology and manage e-waste has become an important topic in recent years. In the United States alone, over 100,000 laptops are disposed of daily, and less than 20% of electronics are properly recycled – much less refurbished and reused. By reusing just one laptop, consumers avoid the equivalent emissions produced by driving one passenger car for 10 days. E-waste, which represents only 2% of U.S. waste, is responsible for 70% of hazardous materials in landfills. A circular economy is the ambition to transform our waste systems by either eliminating throwaway materials or reusing them. By circulating resources, nature can regenerate and we can effectively tackle the growing climate concerns. Implementing strategies that promote a circular economy would mean moving from a linear perspective of success — one that damages the balance of natural resources, to one that regenerates natural resources and feeds the economy at the same time.
At current rates, e-waste production could hit 120 million metric tons per year by 2050. The main obstacle to changing our corporate ways is implementation. We need to move towards a dual goal mission. This means redefining growth and success from straight profit to profit + environmental impact (and yes – it may affect profit in the short term). However, wrapped in this challenge are a number of business opportunities. As demand for an ecologically sustainable economy grows, so do customer preferences. We will see changes in usage — from owning then discarding, to leasing, renting, refurbishing and reusing. The payoff comes in reputation and customer retention. New skills and jobs will be required in the collection services, refurbishment, reverse logistics. Innovation could move to subscription services as opposed to downright ownership, allowing a business to pivot itself as an enhanced service provider rather than a seller, and potentially reducing costs for the end-user. Repurposing technology also presents cost savings opportunities on top of the environmental benefits. Given resource scarcity, supply chain risk, and price fluctuations, the case for repurposing waste materials makes financial sense.
The future is guaranteed to be circular, it’s just a matter of when. Organizations with intentions of going circular could start by looking at their own approach to asset lifecycle management. Getting started is an inward process. The global transition to a circular economy can unlock new and sustainable economic opportunities, but will require businesses to take a new approach. Using technology until it no longer works may not be the best way forward for business. Taking responsibility is the first step.