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Your SME circular economy toolkit

In society’s current linear economy of natural resources, production, consumption and then waste, there is a belief that our resources are infinite and there is no need to protect them. But recent research claims that in the next 30 or so years many of our resources will be depleted and this could have a major impact on our lives. So what can we do? Consider creating a circular economy.

What is a circular economy?

According to Forbes, a circular economy is a global shift in every aspect of our lives to eliminate waste and extend the life of resources used.

But why should businesses be concerned?

The first reason is that if the non-renewable resource is depleted then any part of your business that relies on the resource will collapse. A further reason is that buyers are becoming more concerned with sustainability and social responsibility, and how your business participates in giving our planet a brighter future.

There are three key principles in a circular economy. They are:

1. Eliminate waste and pollution:

Make sure that the waste produced in the production of the product is limited.

2. Circulate products and materials:

After the initial use of the product, rather than throwing it away, can the product be broken-down to core materials? And can these core materials be used again to make other products?

3. Regenerate nature:

Give nature time to regenerate the resources we use after we have extracted them from the Earth.

So, how do you go about creating a circular economy in your industry:

Start with the design

Many decisions made during the design stage of a product can lead to whether the product is part of a linear or circular economy. If we want our product to be part of a circular economy; we need to carefully consider what resources we use and how those resources can be remanufactured, or recycled. This requires innovative thinking from product designers.

Learn to collaborate for the greater good

By collaborating with other companies, you could find avenues for waste materials in your products to continue to be part of a circular economy. Other businesses can also use the processed product at its end of life to produce another product. This can lead to a win-win situation for businesses and the environment.

Treat waste as a design flaw

Many times the waste and pollution produced is considered a by-product of the process, but it is time to reconsider this creation of trash as a design flaw and where we can; reduce it as much as possible.

Consider renting products rather than owning them

In this model, products are rented for the time the customer needs them for and when they are done it is returned to the company. Then it can be rented out to another customer or it can be dismantled and recycled or re-manufactured by the company that owns the product. Small businesses that use the same machinery can create an alliance to share the expense of the machinery they need to produce the goods they sell.

This brief overview of a circular economy enlightens us on how we can start to rethink our business and bring about change to ensure the health and wealth of future generations. You can learn more about the circular economy from the Ellen Macarthur Foundation.

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