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Waste Not
Companies Designing out Waste Will Run Circles Around Those with Linear Business Models

This week at SB’23 San Diego, two illuminating panels featured experts from a variety of aspects of the emerging circular economy, who shared key insights and lessons learned in the pursuit of circularity.

Completing the circle: commonly underestimated elements of building circular models

L-R: Andrew McCue, Darren Beck and Jamie Hall

On Monday afternoon, a rich, two-part workshop delved into the often overlooked and intricate facets of constructing robust circular models. In the first half, Darren Beck, Studio Lead for Circular KC at the Foundation for Regeneration; Jamie Hall, co-founder and Chief Brand Officer at Pentatonic; and Andrew McCue, Commercial and Partnerships Lead for Agriculture, Land Use and Biodiversity for Metabolic; explored making an impact at the local, business and global levels, and explored how brands can nurture it through platforms and planning.

Moderated by Ty Montague, Chairman, co-founder and Chief Purpose Officer at brand purpose consultancy co:collective, the second half of the panel shared a brand-centric perspective — diving into innovative, real-life solutions to the complex challenges posed by the circular economy. This discussion featured Lindsey Hoell, CEO of Dispatch Goods; Monty Stauffer, Lead Industrial Designer Product and Process at Kohler Waste Lab; and Returnity CEO Mike Newman.

Circularity processes and connections should be applied at all levels, and across private and public spheres, to be successful. At a local level in its home of Kansas City, KS, the Foundation for Regeneration is cultivating a proactive and forward-thinking approach to sustainability — and regenerative solutions are paramount. This comprehensive approach encompasses awareness, collaboration, market analysis, product transformation, local resource capacity, business support and strategic investment — all of which the Foundation utilizes to unearth opportunities for enhancement.

“Mindset is key,” Beck said. “It’s not about managing a problem. It’s about preparing for an opportunity.”

The opportunity to become circular often requires a review from an economic perspective. Metabolic, a collective of organizations and consulting teams, is dedicated to collaborating with governments and NGOs to catalyze a transformative shift in the global economy. Metabolic's approach entails a comprehensive material flow analysis, industry-specific material reviews, and the development of economic plans — ultimately mapping out circular cities primed for a sustainable and regenerative future. While society often favors cheaper, linear models that promote overconsumption, long-term strategies that focus on more than just carbon emissions and recycling can steer us toward a circular economy.

As McCue noted, “We have to move fast; but we will be more effective if we have patience.”

To lower their environmental impact effectively, brands must be very clear on what they are procuring on a holistic level and understand the legislation that is coming down the pike. Pentatonic and its platform of digital tools are at the forefront of democratizing circularity for some of the world's most prominent brands. As Hall pointed out, these brands — particularly those involved in consumer packaging — wield considerable influence, as well as contributing to 70 percent of global emissions, most of which is concentrated within the supply chain. Pentatonic adopts a hybrid model that seamlessly blends consulting expertise with the critical design phase.

“Design engineering and material sourcing is an important part of the circular cycle,” Hall says. “If you are focusing on designing for circularity, you must start there.”

Through the lens of design, it is important for brands to think outside of the norms while finding materials that are readily available. Pentatonic’s platform equips clients with the ability to monitor every facet of a product's lifecycle, including its ultimate disposal — fostering a holistic approach to circularity while keeping a pulse on legislation that may be driving change and fines.

“We are seeing brands calculate fines per state,” Hall said. “I encourage brands to think about what they can do to circumvent them.”

Just as important as taking ownership of supply chains, brands must take ownership of waste streams through models that motivate consumers to make the shift. In the case of Kohler, which specializes in plumbing and home furnishings, the company assessed the materials waste from its facilities that had been going to landfill and had it analyzed in a chemistry lab to understand its components. From there, a new line of tile was created from the previously landfill-bound waste.

“Businesses have to face reality,” Stauffer said. “If you change your mindset from ‘waste stream’ to ‘raw materials,’ it changes things.”

But brands don’t have to do it alone: Partners such as Dispatch Goods and Returnity can guide brands through internal logistics coordination and tap into their network of providers to collect packaging, making it easier both for the consumer and for the brand.

“There are pushes consumers can do to nudge brands,” Hoell said, “but the model design has to meet consumer demands.”

The many perspectives shared shed light on vital but frequently underestimated aspects of constructing effective circular models. The expert insights emphasized the need for proactive mindsets, local-level impact and transformative global processes. The path to sustainability and circularity requires a multidimensional approach; but it also entails a shift in mindset — emphasizing the importance of design for circularity and the repurposing of waste materials. As brands, consumers and partners collaborate and adapt, they have the power to drive meaningful change — fostering a future that benefits both our world and society as a whole.

Closing loops: Reverse logistics powering circularity in textiles-centric business models

Image credit: Subset

Textile waste is a pressing issue that still has very few scalable solutions. While there are many pieces to this complex puzzle, a promising path to solving this ever-growing global crisis lies in reverse logistics and textile recycling.

Moderated by Ren DeCherney — Lead for Built Environment, North America + Australasia at the Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Institute — a Tuesday afternoon panel featured Stuart Ahlum and Chloe Songer, co-founders of apparel recycler SuperCircle; as well as Cayla O’Connell Davis, co-founder and CEO at recyclable innerwear brand Subset (fka Knickey).

Reverse logistics — which refers to the process of a consumer returning items back to the seller or the manufacturer — goes hand in hand with textile recycling; which is why it is critical for companies to partner with companies such as SuperCircle, which have the network to push collaboration across industries. Whether it is an underwear company such as Subset or a clothing company such as Uniqlo, a takeback program’s success depends on ease of use and the incentive to do better.

“We figured out we had to make it easy for the consumer to participate, see the monetary upside, feel good, and not deviate away from the behavior they are used to,” said Ahlum — who, along with Songer, also co-founded upcycled shoe brand Thousand Fell.

SuperCircle serves as a bridge connecting waste management, supply chain partners and recycling innovators. By powering clothing brands’ takeback and recycling programs, it is also able to collect valuable data that allows brands to future-proof themselves against upcoming extended producer responsibility (EPR) regulations and to ensure these clothing items don’t end up in the landfill.

Because the program provides incredibly detailed data from the impact of the materials to how long consumers typically use the product before disposal, brands can find opportunities to interact with their customers in real time throughout wear and as they are considering replacing items.

“Most of a consumer's engagement with a brand is while they are wearing it,” Songer said. “Why not build circular lifecycle marketing and messaging throughout the ownership of the product and at the end of life?”

The results are impressive — not only from an environmental point of view but also in terms of ROI. In the case of Subset’s takeback program — which incentivizes people with store credit to send back obsolete underwear, bras, leggings, and socks from any brand — it proved to be an added bonus for them.

“The recycling program became such an acquisition tool for us,” O’Connell Davis said. “More than 60 percent of our customer base comes to us to recycle first and then becomes a Subset customer downstream.”

Addressing the growing textile waste challenge requires holistic solutions that easily connect consumers with means to recycle their clothing responsibly. Doing so, brands can not only see benefits in their environmental impact, raw materials and growing consumer base but also equip themselves for pending regulations.