2017 was a big year for the circular economy, with innovative new products, initiatives and tech tools popping up almost daily, and making it easier than every for corporates and consumers alike to engage in circularity.
An initiative of the World Economic Forum and the Forum of Young Global Leaders, The Circulars are awarded to individuals, companies (from startups to multinationals) and public and social organizations in recognition for their contributions to the circular economy. This year, 43 innovators have been nominated for pushing the circular agenda forward and paving the way for others in their field.
The 2018 Circulars cover seven distinct categories: Leadership, Tech Disrupter, Multinational, Public Sector, People’s Choice, SME and Investor. Below, we explore each category and the nominees being recognized for their work to drive forward the circular economy.
Circular Economy Leadership
The economic, social and environmental benefits of the circular economy are undeniable, but sustainable progress cannot truly be made without strong leaders encouraging and inspiring more companies, government and individuals to embrace the concept of circularity.
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This year saw the advancement of solutions targeting the critical ocean plastics problem, so it should come as no surprise that two of the finalists in the leadership category played a prominent role in revolutionizing plastic packaging.
Lisa Jennings, Global VP of Head & Shoulders and Sustainability Leader for P&G’s Hair Care Portfolio, which includes Pantene, Herbal Essences and Aussie, declared recycled packaging as a core portfolio strategy and mobilized her organization to innovate and create solutions that are both commercially viable and sustainable. This led to a collaboration with TerraCycle and SUEZ to launch the world’s first recyclable shampoo bottle made with recycled beach plastic, followed by the transformation of the entire portfolio of brands to adopt post-consumer recycled plastic in their bottles, impacting more than half a million bottles per year in Europe.
Former climate scientist and founder of Method Products and Ripple Foods — both circular economy businesses — Adam Lowry also made the cut. Lowry designs businesses with circularity at their core so that their growth produces positive social and environmental impacts from day one. To-date, his businesses have eliminated more than 100 kilotons of CO2, saved more than 100 billion liters of water, created hundreds of green manufacturing jobs across four continents and generated nearly a billion dollars in shareholder value. Lowry’s businesses have also contributed a number of innovations to the sustainability space, including the first 100 percent post-consumer recycled and recyclable PET packaging; the first packaging made from ocean plastic and several new green chemistries.
Vincent Biruta, Rwanda’s Minister of Environment, is also up for a 2018 Circular Award for his efforts to use circular principles as a tool to drive positive environmental and social change in his country. Under Biruta’s guidance, the country has created an environment conducive to circular economy investment. A decade ago, Rwanda was one of the first in the world to ban plastic bags, and more recently it established Africa’s second state-of-the-art e-waste recycling facility, which is on track to create 1,000 jobs and has already mitigated 279 tons of CO2e emissions. Rwanda is also a founding member of the African Circular Economy Alliance, of which Biruta is Co-Chair, and will use this new platform to share its experience and learn from others on the continent.
Circular Economy Tech Disruptor
This ones-to-watch category covers organizations using technology to enable the circular economy.
The brainchild of Stacy Flynn and Christopher Stanev — both textile and apparel industry veterans — Evrnu is a revolutionary chemical regeneration technology that is changing the way textile waste is leveraged. Evrnu has developed a process that transforms post-consumer cotton textile waste into high-quality cellulosic fiber. The implementation of the technology will help to future-proof the textile supply chain by reducing water usage and selectively diverting textile waste from landfills. The process uses 98 percent less water than virgin cotton and generates 80 percent less greenhouse gas emissions at factory gate than polyester. Last year, the Seattle, WA-based startup partnered with Levi Strauss & Co. to create the world’s first pair of jeans made from regenerated post-consumer cotton waste.
On the food waste front, Winnow is helping businesses achieve greater visibility in their kitchens and make better decisions to drive down food wastes and costs. The Winnow system provides real-time data and regular reporting on transparent and measurable data, making it easy for kitchens to identify areas for reducing food waste. To date, the technology has helped hundreds of kitchens around the world cut their food waste in half, and delivered £7.5 million in savings — this equates to seven million meals saved per annum, or a meal every five seconds.
Circular Economy Multinational
Multinational companies have a critical role to play in bringing about change on a large scale. Their influence can help drive the adoption of circular practices across industries and their reach can have far-reaching impacts.
Steelcase is a prime example. The office furniture manufacturer has begun shifting its focus beyond its own operational optimization activities to the millions of square feet it furnishes every year. The company has begun working on product and material innovation, materials chemistry, life cycle thinking and assessments and end-of-use strategies. Its work has been recognized by Cradle to Cradle, Blauer Engel and NF Environment, and in 2016, Steelcase executed over 1,400 decommissioning projects — helping organizations save $4.4 million through asset reuse — recycled over 26,000 tons of materials and used panel fabric waste to create new textiles.
C&A is another category standout and is being recognized for its work on the first Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Gold garment in the fashion industry. The t-shirts created by the brand are made with organic, non-toxic materials, 100 percent renewable energy, 100 percent recycled water and are 100 percent compostable.
Other companies up for nomination are IKEA, H&M Foundation, Google, Enel and GEM Co., LTD.
Circular Economy Public Sector
Private companies aren’t the only ones pushing the needle forward on the circular economy — governments, policymakers, cities and organizations are leading the transition with action plans, recovery projects, funding and infrastructure improvements.
Nominees include the City of Phoenix, which plans to diver 40 percent of waste from landfill by 2020 and become zero waste by 2050; the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB) for its work to help London achieve zero waste by 2026 and zero carbon by 2050; and Western Cape Industrial Symbiosis Program (WISP), a free service that redistributes underutilized or discarded resources within its extensive network of manufacturing companies.
Circular Economy People**’s Choice**
The People’s Choice Award targets early-stage organizations with $1 – 10 million in booked revenue, which are at the forefront of the circular economy, demonstrating innovation and market disruption.
With its sights set on reducing food waste, Dutch restaurant chain Instock gives new value to surplus food by using it to create delicious meals and products such as beer and granola. To-date, Instock has rescued 300,000 kilos of food since 2015. The company also organizes presentations, masterclasses and educational projects to educate the public about food waste. Toast Ale Ltd. is also working in the food waste space, transforming surplus bread into craft beer. For every half ton of bread brewed, .25kg CO2e are avoided. By 2020, Toast aims to have used over 100 tons of bread. One hundred percent of the company’s profits are donated to charity, and Toast expects to donate £3.6 million to charities tackling food waste over the next three years.
The Circulars 2018 are also recognizing the work of Indian startup Banyan Nation, which is working to formalize a largely informal value chain for plastics recycling in India through its signature IoT-based Smart Waste management platform, thereby preventing the leakage of plastics into the environment and helping reputed brands include recycled plastics into their products and packaging. Banyan has recycled over seven million pounds of plastic and integrated over 2,000 informal sector waste workers in its value chain.
Other People’s Choice nominees are VIGGA, a circular subscription platform for maternity and kid’s wear; Bureo, a company making skateboards from recycled fishing nets; and Yerdle Recommerce, which is providing brands with the technology and logistics to develop white-label resale channels.
Circular Economy Investor
Investors are increasingly putting their support behind companies and brands that are getting serious about climate risk and sustainability. Circular initiatives, in particular, are drawing interest, demonstrating a company’s long-term viability and ability to compete in the future. The award for Circular Economy Investor is aimed at venture capital and private equity firms, sovereign wealth funds, pension plans and investment banks investing over $1m into circular businesses or firms to boost the circular economy.
This year’s nominees are Rabobank, PGGM, ABN AMRO Bank NV, Taaleri, H&M Foundation and Closed Loop Partners (CLP). Since 2014, CLP has deployed around $35 million across 28 investments leveraging $90 million+ in co-investment. Its investments have impacted over 1.5 million households, diverted 250,000 tons of waste from landfill, reduced 600,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions and created $4.3 million in direct economic benefit to municipalities.
Circular Economy SME
Much like multinationals, small-medium enterprises have an important role to play. The absence of complex corporate structures and supply chains means they are able to quickly and efficiently fill critical gaps.
For the second year in a row, Dutch social enterprise Fairphone has been nominated in the SME category for its commitment to bring circularity to the mobile phone industry. Their focus on the circular economy is brought to life through the design of a modular phone, which allows users to customize, upgrade and repair the phone more easily, with the company goal to slow down obsolescence.
perPETual is also being recognized for its solution to reverse engineer waste PET bottles into high-quality sustainable polyester, which can replace its convention petroleum-based counterpart. perPETual currently has over 20 patents and recycles approximately two million plastic bottles a day, using 75 percent less energy and 86 percent less water than conventional PET plants. Their next plant is will process over 10 million bottles a day.
The remaining nominees for the SME category include Ricoh Asia Pacific Pte Ltd, Battery Solutions, Vaude and Apto Solutions. In addition to promoting recycling activities by offering machine, toner bottle and cartridge take-back programs to its customers, Ricoh has developed biomass technology to replace virgin plastics in its multifunction copiers and production printers. Battery Solutions offers services spanning the collection, sorting, processing and logistics battery recycling management of batteries to make circularity more accessible for its customers. Vaude, a manufacturer of outdoor gear, is being recognized for its Green Shape product development approach, which consider the entire product life cycle; while Apto Solutions has been nominated for its extensive service offerings, such as life cycle assessment and technology decommissioning, that help companies close the loop.