Circularity hidden in plain sight

13 November 2020
By Emma Burlow, Head of Circular Economy

The most common thing I’m asked for when presenting is examples of successful circular economy models to help prove the business case. This request suggests people remain to be convinced. Similarly, its regularly suggested that circularity in business is a ‘leap of faith’ or ‘high risk’ and that consumer demand is not yet there to make the change.

Back in 2017, I heard a spokesperson for the British Retail Consortium say they ‘didn’t believe circular economy business models would be mainstream on the high street within 10 years’. Even then, I thought a dose of circularity would offer huge opportunities to the average high street. But more than that, I felt the industry was missing a trick. They were failing to see that circularity was already there – hidden in plain sight.

They were ignoring the success of Timpsons and the ubiquitous suit hire shop in every town; the electrical repair shop and the phone trade in scheme. Covid 19 has shone a light on the fragility of linear supply chains and our commercial centres. Buzz words of “resilience” and “social gain” are finding their place in this new world; suddenly we value the local shop, the repairer, the food sharing scheme. We are seeing that out of the norm things can become the norm very easily under the right circumstances.

I decided it was time to normalise circular economy business models – to give them the mainstream status they deserved and give everyone examples to share and learn from.  I set about listing all of the businesses that I knew running successful circular business models, old and new.

I had sooo many it was hard to know where to start, so I had to choose a favourite and that was Lego.

As (the 1st) lockdown commenced I turned focus onto companies who were using circularity to address Covid19 related challenges. This was a particularly rewarding time when I uncovered lots of really great examples including Lifesaver.

And David Nieper:

Neither of these companies trade on their circular credentials. They are doing circular things and hugely environmentally and socially value things, all day everyday.

Just as no-one talks about the ‘linear’ economy, there is a part of me that thinks the term ‘circular’ economy is only useful to those of us who need it. Once we stop seeing it as a special, alternative and niche way of doing business, we will reduce some of the uncertainty and stigma. I’m confident that coming out of this pandemic, businesses are realising that there is a time and place for more sustainable products and services and that time and place is not in 10 years time, it is now.

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Emma’s full CE top 100. Keep watching for updates!

#1 of my #CE100 is @LEGO_Group. Top marks for being: highly durable; reusable; great secondary mkt value; modular; accessible; plus bonus for being 100% renewable powered and plans to make #fossilfree. My kids play with 40yr old Lego! A #CE design classic. https://t.co/ty2OlslusJ

#2 of my #CE100 series. Circularity in #fashion is notoriously hard. These guys were way ahead of the game with #incentivisedreturn in the UK. Top marks for #leadership #closedloop #recycling #ethical & #renewable production. Its @Rapanuiclothing and their platform @Teemillstore https://t.co/b81LQUlz3n

What makes a product or business #circular? Key words: #durable #reuse #repair #rental #recycle #sharing #renewable #lifecycle #upcycle but also #leadership #collaboration #enabler. The more the merrier but do any and you are on the right track. #circular #mainstream https://t.co/AACh1HLI2y

#3 of #CE100. I volunteer at my local Library. Its a reminder that #sharing is part of human life. Active since 1850 in the UK, these valuable community spaces have suffered from funding cuts and competition from online book sales. #3 of my #CE100 is your local library https://t.co/S3Pc6nDKSn

#4 of my #CE100. Top marks for game changers @ToastAle. A company thats gone from strength to strength using waste bread to make great beer with #mainstream appeal. They’ve done their homework and shared their learning. #leadership #collaboration #refill #upcycling #raiseatoast https://t.co/8sFjLknW0n

#5 of #CE100 are guardians of #community #repair @RestartProject. Since 2013 they’ve supported a network of events, cafes & parties, logging the 10,000th repair in 2019. Crucially, they #share data globally through @RepairData. #righttorepair #leadership https://t.co/X58jBbQpmM

#6 of my #CE100. Rental is not new, its all around us. Available from 3,300 outlets in UK & Ireland @RugDoctor was invented in 1978 and still going strong. A great example of kit we need occasionally, but don’t need to own. Fits on a cargo-bike! #refurbished #rental #durability https://t.co/VxwBSoatMu

#7 of #CE100 is @rubiesinrubble who’ve been turning valuable food waste into a premium product since 2011. Their award winning, growing range, is available online, in restaurants and through #mainstream retailers. They even have #refillable bottles! #leadership #food #upcycling https://t.co/awHPP90SmO

#8 of my #CE100 is @Apple. A ubiquitous brand with a solid #remanufacturing model. My 6yr old #refurbished Mac its still going strong. Identical to new, it’s #durable, #repairable (by Apple) but was 15% cheaper. Currently worth £146 #tradein #tempted #circular https://t.co/BUkdbpTsF6

#9 of my #CE100 is @upcirclebeauty Founded in 2015, they elevate leftover natural ingredients such as coffee grounds and chai tea spices and #repurpose them into fabulous scrubs, soaps and serums. I’m a convert. Top marks for #upcycling #packaging #organic #beauty https://t.co/88cKZeTRVz

‘Necessity is the mother of invention’. My next 10 #CE100 posts will be #circular products or services that are actively supporting us now in this unprecedented time of restriction and need. #coronavirusuk #reuse #repair #redistribute. Suggestions welcome! https://t.co/IIBS2f4dxk

We’ve reached #10 of #CE100! Its #circular #pioneer @Ecover They’ve worked tirelessly for 40 yrs to innovate & bring us #refill; 100% #pcr bottles; #clean ingredients; product from brewing waste; eco #manufacturing; #aheadoftheirtime #leadership #BCorp #circulardesign https://t.co/jMK222GI7M

#11 of my #CE100 is @OLIO_ex. A platform helping neighbours and businesses #share surplus food. >3m portions to date! Recently helped #redistribute food from businesses that had to close at short notice. Great FAQ page with authority and Covid-19 guidance for users. #food #share https://t.co/uc3kRzIRSL

#12 of #CE100 celebrates the 1000’s of people who are #reusing duvets / sheets etc to make uniform and wash bags for the #NHS. Examples include ‘For the Love of Scrubs‘ and ‘Shetland Scrubs‘ (Facebook). https://t.co/V1JSDYGSh4 hosts links to > 70 groups doing the same! #corona https://t.co/Qpjge9XQBD

#13 of #CE100 is Reusable (Real) Nappies championed by schemes across the UK like https://t.co/JvoEh1dLzg. Interest has spiked during #CV19 and lockdown is the ideal time to adjust to #reusable nappies, save £££ and avoid shopping stress! UK list of schemes @NappyAlliance https://t.co/iABSZhRdfY

#14 of #CE100 is #NHSHomes, a #voluntary initiative launched by @UnderDoormat. This innovative project #enables property owners to offer their empty houses or flats to be #utilised by NHS staff and frontline health workers that need them. A great example of #sharing #resources. https://t.co/22rBYmFD2a

#15 of #CE100 are @iFixit the global advocates for #righttorepair. Currently #crowdsourcing a global database of service manuals & support for #maintenance and #repair of hospital equipment incl. ventilators whilst pressing manufacturers to release vital info. #lifesaving #CV19 https://t.co/M7S6kFvl07

#16 of #CE100 is @PALLITE who have launched a creative and #recyclable pop-up desk range for families working and schooling from home. Lightweight, affordable, easy to assemble, dissemble and #recycle. Social distancing aids for the workplace also available. #circular #CV-19

#17 of my #CE100 is @BCorpUK startup @Lifesaver, their #lifelinetothefrontline initiative is providing phone battery banks to the NHS and GPs. Packs are filled with #renewable energy and #upcycled at their end of life. In #partnership with @octopus_energy. #CV19

#18 of #CE100 is the #Bookstop! http://ow.ly/hGFt50zOK5x My library’s creative way of continuing to #share books magazines, jigsaws & DVDs during #lockdown from our disused bus stop. Quarantine and distancing measures are in place & feedback has been great. #community #CV19

#19 of #CE100 is @Recono_me, a #BCorp who have partnered with @hubbubUK & @O2 to launch #CommunityCalling, a project to collect, cleanse, sterilise & redistribute used smart phones to socially isolated people during #CV19. Click http://ow.ly/lOyK50zX48g to donate a phone. #WEEE

#20 of #CE100 is @davidnieper who has switched production and brought staff out of furlough to make #reusable PPE scrubs and gowns for the NHS. The gowns can be reused 100 times and avoid the cost and waste of millions of disposable gowns. http://ow.ly/IEhB50A5p4H. #QueensAward

The next batch of my #CE100 series will be focussed on fashion and textiles. Rising up the agenda and even described as ‘the new plastic’. The series is all about sharing solutions. Contributions welcome! #fashion #textiles #circular #reuse #repair #durability Jun 27

#21 of #CE100 is @hiutdenim. They offer #freerepairsforlife, focus on #durability and host the #nowashclub. Recently launched #biodegradable, #plasticfree stretch jeans. An iconic brand based on strong #values. On my bday list. #repair#madeinwales#creativity#leadership

#22 of #CE100 is @Alpkit. Since 2017 the Continuum project has given retired outdoor gear a second life by #upcycling it; donating it for #reuse or #recycling it. Donating is easy by post or instore. Last year they rehomed 1.5 tonnes of kit! http://ow.ly/XjLu50ABZZH

#23 of #CE100 is @ZipYardUK with > 50 stores across UK & Ireland, they #repair, alter and #restyle 1000’s of clothing items every year. I their mission to make #repair & #reuse a first, not last, option. 1st clothing alterations co. to sign up to WRAP’s #SCAP2020. #fashion

#24 of #CE100 is @VIVOBAREFOOT who have launched the world’s 1st footwear #recommerce site http://revivo.com. They recondition worn or returned shoes to keep them IN circulation & OUT of landfill. Just one of many #circular initiatives they are leading on. #reuse#repair

#25 of my #CE100 is @elvisandkresse a @BCorpUK who have been producing #circular high end products from landfill destined materials since 2005. Top marks for #leadership#upcycling#durability#fashion#leather See more at http://elvisandkresse.com

#26 of #CE100 is @FinisterreUK a #BCorp who have built #circularity into their business from fabric to packaging since 2003. Check out their #LivedandLoved#repair service. Watch this space for their #Re-loved platform and the world’s first #recyclable wetsuit! #pioneer#fashion

#27 of #CE100 is House of Bilimoria @HOBilimoria founded in 2008, with an ethos of ethics & sustainability. The team create high quality #fashion & accessories using #secondhand & end of line textiles incl. vintage sarees, curtains, linen & production offcuts. #reuse#luxcycle

#28 of #CE100 is @LoveTurtleDoves who repurpose #postconsumer cashmere into gloves, hats, scarves and more. They source fabric from charity shops and merchants, offer a #recyclemyjumper scheme and #takeback all products. Impressive #ethics and great #UK#closedloop#design

For more updates you can follow Emma on Twitter

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