7 Key Players Needed to Take Us Over the Circular Economy Finish Line

Circular business models thrive on longevity, reuse and capacity sharing - they disrupt, uncover customer value and drive resource efficiency. Many would agree that society needs to adopt this circular thinking, but how do we really make it happen at large?

The truth is, there are several players required to accelerate the journey to a more circular economy; it can't be achieved by certain echelons of society alone. Instead, it requires a holistic view of the diverse role business, public bodies and investors all have to play to accelerate the uptake of circular principles; a belief reflected in the categories of this year’s Circular Economy Awards, aka The Circulars.

Each of the eight categories for 2016 have been designed to recognise the groups and individuals that we need to push the agenda forward, and reward those already leading by example by giving them global recognition for their work, whilst helping to inspire others. So here are those categories explained (and examples of who was recognized through last year's awards).

Leaders

If we’re going to inspire this generation to adopt circular principles that are more conducive for business and society, yet at the same time daunting, we’ll need influential figures as beacons to light the way. These are public-focused leaders in c-suite, government and in thought. Such examples are Kingfisher’s former group chief executive Sir Ian Cheshire and Former European Commissioner for the Environment Janez Potočnik, who seized the Circulars’ most prestigious honor last year — the Award for Circular Economy Leadership — for their commitment to advancing the adoption of circular principles. Cheshire was at the helm of Net Positive — the home improvement company’s restorative approach to business that securely embeds circular economy and closed-loop principles. Not stopping there, Cheshire has been an advocate for a more circular approach, promoting the value proposition of lucrative opportunities to motivate others to adopt the principles, and challenging policymakers to enable a quicker transition to a more circular economy.

Business — of all sizes

Now, that's a bold statement!

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Entrepreneurial organizations are excellent at reinventing the business model. These folks are creating a circular reality from the ground up, often disrupting the market that they are entering. San Francisco’s Method is a great example — innovating away millions of tons of waste and countless toxic chemicals from the home, and cutting its carbon footprint by a third, over three-quarters of Method’s products are ‘Cradle-to-Cradle’ certified at the Gold level. Thanks to its efforts, it won last year’s Award for Circular Economy Entrepreneur. Activity is buzzing at this early stage, with many other entrepreneurial entities eager to share Method’s success; no doubt the bar will be set even higher this year. This isn’t just about ideas; particularly at this level — the Circular judges are seeking a proven track record of growth with their circular models.

On the other end of the spectrum, multinational corporations provide the reach and influence necessary to catalyze change on a large scale. Take Dell — an early pioneer in supply chain efficiency, minimizing its impact on the environment and innovating packaging through recycling and reuse. It’s the firm behind the first computer made using closed-loop recycled plastics, and it uses its international position to influence standards, infrastructure and policies toward a circular economy, while helping consumers extend the life of their technology. This innovation within an existing business bagged Dell the Award for Circular Economy Multinational.

But there is another group to play its part — Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs). These firms bridge the gap between the wholehearted and the wide-spread adoption of circular principles, facilitating reach and nimbleness — and The Circulars 2016 offers the Award for Circular Economy Enterprise category, recognizing those making contributions to the circular economy in this group.

Public sector

Accelerating the circular economy is not limited to the private sector - whether government, policy-makers, cities or charities, the public sphere is essential to making the circular economy happen. The scope is tremendous here — from policy changes, public/private collaborations to waste management and refurbishment projects, variety is the spice in this domain. The Danish Business Authority in Denmark won the Award for Circular Economy Government, Cities & Regions last year for its progress amongst ambitious targets — a Denmark without Waste, and Copenhagen becoming the first carbon-neutral capital by 2025, to name just a couple. To illustrate the diversity required in contributing to the circular mission, among finalists were the UK’s Sunderland City Council for its online reuse platform, Warp-It; and the City of Tokyo, Japan for cutting 95 percent in waste volumes and sharing its waste management skills with neighbouring countries.

Investors

Although fairly new, impact investment is a growing focus area — and one that’s essential for smaller organizations to accelerate their circular thinking. The circular economy provides significant investment opportunities, and first movers in this space are positioning themselves as a supporter for a growing concept and enabling circular investment to become mainstream. The Award for Circular Economy Investor is open to venture capital and private equity firms, sovereign wealth funds, pension plans and investment banks investing over $15m into circular businesses or firms that are propelling the circular economy.

Digital disruptors

Whether in the private or public sphere, at a multinational or entrepreneurial level, technology is changing the economic landscape and enabling the transition to a more circular economy at a much faster pace. Digital platforms and the sharing economy are allowing companies to decouple resource use from value. Just take a look at Airbnb, boasting millions of room nights per year, without owning the buildings associated (by comparison, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) has around 700,000 rooms in its portfolio). The capability of digital is amazing — as Tradeshift demonstrates with its cloud-based technology that helps companies run more efficiently and transform their supply chains.

Your peers

In order to accelerate this adoption of circular principles, we need to share our stories. Support and recognition from peers (and the public at large) is a key function in making this transition. For The Circulars 2016, there is a People’s Choice Award (entries close on September 1st, 2015), allowing visitors to the website to vote for their favourite entry. The winner will be honoured alongside the others at the most prestigious awards ceremony, taking place at the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

There are many players in the move to a circular economy, each one as vital as the next. Could you be one of those recognized by the world’s premier circular award program, at a swanky ceremony at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2016? Big or small, public or private, all circular-minded organizations are encouraged to apply. Be quick, the deadline is September 30th, or September 1st if you’d like to be considered for the People’s Choice Award.

Learn more and apply now at the Circulars.org.

This post first appeared on the 2degrees blog on August 7, 2015.

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