More and more, circular economic business models are proving ways to cut costs and increase efficiency. A new report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Center (CCC) reinforces that turning waste into resources presents economic opportunities for American businesses.
Trash to Treasure: Changing Waste Streams to Profit Streams includes data and analysis on the amounts, types, and flows of the waste produced by companies as provided by Trucost, an organization that specializes in environmental data and natural capital valuation. Among the findings, they determined that on average, companies generate 7.81 metric tons of waste for every million dollars in revenue, and if the 5,589 companies in the study reduced paper waste by 1 percent, it would save them nearly $1 billion.
Trash to Treasure argues that businesses that understand, measure, and manage their waste and take action to eliminate, reduce, or reuse that waste can open up new revenue streams, optimize, and unleash innovation. Part of the rationale is that wasting is becoming more expensive: The researchers found that over the past 15 years, food costs have increased 66 percent, paper 16 percent, and metals and minerals 90 percent.
Insights and broader strategies about how to capture the value from waste streams were provided in the form of case study examples from companies including Walmart, DSM, IBM, General Motors, Bridgestone, Dow, Veolia, Caterpillar, and Republic Services, as well as through input from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF). In fact, Trash to Treasure directly quotes the EMF’s recommendations from Towards the Circular Economy: Economic and Business Rationales for an Accelerated Transition.
The continued evolution of circularity
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Meanwhile, the Scottish government announced a new fund to accelerate its manufacturing sector’s transition to a circular economy. The £70 million (roughly US$100.45 million) Circular Economy Investment Fund is intended to stimulate innovation and improve productivity, to enhance the Scottish manufacturing sector’s global competitiveness.
Manufacturing is likely the focus sector for the fund given its significance for the country’s economy: It represents more than half of Scotland’s international exports and investment into research and development, and employs nearly 190,000 people.
“While manufacturing has undergone a significant transformation in recent decades, with increased globalisation and greater use of digital technology, it remains a high-skills and high-wage sector, with earnings that are above the Scottish average,” First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.
Manufacturers will be able to apply for a portion of the fund towards the development of new technologies, business models and infrastructure for both the concept and implementation stages, while existing products and services will be able to apply for redesign. Scottish government Enterprise Agencies and Zero Waste Scotland will assist in overseeing the fund.
“This new funding and support package will push boundaries in business innovation to develop circular models that will keep products in use for longer and ultimately save precious raw materials and resources,” said Iain Gulland, the chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland. “This makes great economic as well as environmental sense. By investing now, the Scottish Government is putting down foundations to build an ever more sustainable future – one that is resource efficient and most definitely circular.”
Sturgeon also announced a new research centre, saying: “Amongst the key actions in the strategy will be the establishment of a Centre of Excellence for Manufacturing which will act as a hub for continuous innovation to ensure Scotland remains a sustainable and competitive place to do business.”
The country has previously invested in a similar hub, the Scottish Institute of Remanufacture, which aims to realise the value of materials like gold and electrical components harvested from recycled televisions, mobile phones and computers.
On a broader level, a recent report demonstrated that remanufacturing in the European Union (EU) could grow to employ up to 600,000 people and yield an annual turnover of €90 billion. What’s more, in December, the European Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) announced €24 billion in funding for businesses looking to transition to a circular economy model.