In-depth report investigates how large, global companies view transition to a circular economy and benefit from increased circularity.
As the concept of a 'circular economy' has gone from relative obscurity to the corporate boardroom in recent years, circularity has evolved from more than just an addon concept to a central tenet of corporate social responsibility (CSR) or sustainability strategies.
A new global survey report from Newsweek Vantage, "Going Circular: How Global Business is Embracing the Circular Economy," found that 95 percent of large companies surveyed view the transition to a 'circular' economy as a positive for their organization, with new markets, improved competitiveness, enhanced image and higher revenues cited as the leading perks of embracing circularity.
The survey, carried out by Newsweek Vantage in partnership with global independent safety science company UL, Autodesk, BASF and C&A Foundation, sought input from 317 senior executives at major companies across a range of industries, functions and geographies. Additional insights were garnered from more than 20 in-depth interviews with executives of major companies, circular start-ups and other experts.
Additional findings from the report include:
- Of the 95 percent that viewed circularity as positive, technology company executives were most positive, while North American-based manufacturing companies were more cautious about potential business disruption.
- Despite this growing interest in embracing a circular economy, only nine percent of the global economy is circular today; lack of know-how, technology and available partners were cited by executives as the main challenges of moving toward a circular economy.
- 98 percent of executives surveyed were familiar with the concept of a circular economy.
- 30 percent said their company has a circular strategy (32 percent in North America).
"Companies around the globe now view a circular economy as a vital tool in the fight against environmental crises such as climate change, biodiversity loss, resource scarcity and pollution," said Dr. William (Bill) Hoffman III, senior scientist and corporate fellow, UL's Environment and Sustainability division. "Embracing the notion of a circular economy can also help companies insulate themselves from related risks and unexpected changes in available resources."
While benefits of a circular economy vary by industry and individual company, the overarching advantage cited by practitioners is its potential to transform the concept of sustainability into something implementable, while offering the possibility to create real value. Value outcomes might include extracting efficiencies from lower resource and energy use, creating new revenue streams from production byproducts, improving customer retention and brand profile, or gaining a competitive edge with product or business model innovations.
"The circular economy offers an opportunity to talk about business beyond sustainability," said Catherine Sheehy, head of advisory solutions for UL. "Circularity focuses on things that should resonate clearly with people across functional areas, regardless of their perspective on sustainability. It's very tangible."
In addition to providing a look into how companies view a circular economy, the report also delves into the circular transition, highlighting data and insights about how companies adapt the circular concept into their products, processes and businesses.
The report states that among the 30 percent of companies adopting circular economy practices, larger companies and those that lease or sell products were most likely to have circular goals. Meanwhile, 77 percent of companies said they have or expect to develop circularity targets within the next five years.
The research also indicates companies prioritize the following transitional circular strategies and business models:
> REduce. Using design and manufacturing technology to lower material, energy and waste footprints.
> REuse. Offering subscription, leasing or sharing models, rather than basing business on one-off sales.
> REmake. Designing for easier repair, with take-back and 'remanufacturing' a growing trend.
> REcover. Turning byproducts into new ones or adding recycled content to products and packaging.
> REnew. Substituting renewables for finite materials and focusing more on sustainable sourcing.
"As with many aspects of a circular economy, collaboration across the value chain is key to finding cost-effective solutions," said Hoffman, of UL's Environment and Sustainability division. "Altering the way companies source materials, changing inputs, redesigning products to make them more recoverable, reusable, recyclable – all force functions across the entire enterprise to work together in new ways. This often uncovers some unexpected benefits. What may look like an additional cost to divert complex materials from landfill may become an opportunity to tap a new revenue stream or evolve business models to offer products as services."
The results from the report stemmed from surveying 317 senior executives at major companies across a range of industries, functions and geographies. Additional insights were garnered from more than 20 in-depth interviews from major corporations with circular business models, innovative circular start-ups, circular 'enablers,' or experts and stakeholders across policy and business spheres.
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