The advantages of a circular economy
Businesses are leading a transformation towards a system that moves away from the current ‘take-make-waste’ method to one where materials are reused instead.
This approach, known as the circular economy encourages companies to think about how goods can be designed, produced and marketed with reuse in mind.
The University of Exeter’s Business School has teamed up with the Centre for Alternative Materials and Remanufacturing Technologies (CALMARE) and QSA Partners to set up the Circular Economy Business Forum (CEBF), a partnership which supports circular business developments in the South West.
The CEBF will be launching a series of events and workshops called Circular Business Advantage on 17 February at blur Group headquarters on Exeter Science Park. The workshops, which are free to attend, will help companies develop Circular Economy opportunities which:
- Get closer to and generate more income from customers.
- Create new marketplaces and services.
- Increase asset usage, reduce supply costs and improve resilience to changing markets.
Julie Whittaker, Senior Lecturer in the Organisation of Markets at the University of Exeter Business School, became interested in the circular economy after recognising that it provided a way to not only address our resource and waste problems, but also to create new business and employment opportunities in the South West.
She said: “Now is the right time to think about the advantages of circular business models. Consumer mindsets are changing, the digital landscape is facilitating new ordering and tracking opportunities, and there is access to a lot of expertise to develop new approaches.
“We are delighted to announce the launch of the Circular Business Advantage and to have secured such a high profile venue on the cusp of Exeter Science Park becoming a business hub. Exeter is the perfect place to launch such an initiative, as a growing commercial centre, with a mix of big names and smaller, independent businesses. It is hoped the event will attract businesses from a range of sectors, from manufacture to retail.”
She added: “I am also very pleased to team up QSA Partners and to take advantage of their expertise as circular economy business consultants, and CALMARE, which adds the technical expertise required for research, carries out the development work required and advises on the technical aspects of some of the solutions.”
Developing a circular approach can help to reduce our energy demand which is really essential for keeping within our carbon budget.
Julie Whittaker, Senior Lecturer in the Organisation of Markets
Many businesses are already developing their circular business strategies:
The CEBF have helped Ivybridge based tyre manufacturer Bandvulc group consider how they gain value from the used tyres.
By reviewing their supply chain the group found it could buy back the used tyres refurbish them and sell them on, without compromising on safety or quality.
This circular approach to their business has meant that Bandvulc have developed a more profitable product ; by reducing the cost of raw materials, the company has reduced its cost of sales, operational costs and capital tied up in stock.
Local business Naturalmat, based in Topsham, is the leading UK manufacturer of 100 per cent organic, natural fibre mattresses. The SME has shown its circular economy credentials by bucking the conventional wisdom which says that, at a time of economic hardship, SMEs should cut costs by sourcing materials as cheaply as possible and disposing of them after their useful life has expired.
By using materials which are 100 per cent biodegradable, such as lamb’s wool, organic coir and natural latex, the mattress’s products can be safely disposed of and returned to nature.
In addition to their biodegradability, Naturalmat’s products: use local and sustainable products; they and can be tailored to appeal to different market sectors.
Innovative UK scaffolding manufacturer F-board has created a circular economy system which has resulted in them producing recycled scaffolding boards that reduce waste and improve health and safety.
F-board lease out 100 per cent recycled plastic scaffolding boards, made in the UK, and then buy them back from the customer at the end of their useful life; the company can then convert them back into boards, for further leasing or sale.
This production system contributes to the reduction of pressure on the natural environment; because the products are made from used products, no virgin timber is required and there are no carbon emissions derived from trans-continental shipping journeys.
Making things go round
Ms Whittaker, writing on the Climate and Us website, said that companies are motivated to do things differently because they recognise that the current linear system is expensive and risky.
She added: “The linear system is very energy-hungry, so developing a circular approach can help to reduce our energy demand which is really essential for keeping within our carbon budget.
“By mimicking the cyclical processes of nature, we can develop a better economy, but we need to think differently and do things differently to gain the full benefits.”
However the circular economy is not just about businesses doing things differently. Consumers can play their part too. For example, rather than buying a new pair of jeans, why not rent them instead? Dutch company Mud Jeans enable consumers to rent jeans for a year and after that keep them, change them or send them back. And if you do choose to wear them until they are threadbare, you are encouraged to return them at the end of their usable life so they can be shredded and blended with new cotton to create usable material.
The Circular Business Advantage launch is supported by blur group; it marks the start of a series of workshops; the workshops are part funded through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Centre for Alternative Materials and Remanufacturing Technologies (CALMARE).
More details about the upcoming workshops can be found on the CBEF website.
You can follow the Circular Economy Business Forum on Twitter at @CircularSW.