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Strategies for a Circular Economy

The Tomorrow Today “Breakfast with the Researchers” held on September 27 at the International Institute for Industrial and Environmental Economics focused on the topics of sustainability, circular economy, and exciting new business models. Featuring an array of experienced guest speakers, this event and future breakfast events are free to attend and are a great opportunity for business representatives to learn more about sustainability-related topics.

The main goal of these events is to link researchers and academia with business or industry, in order to spread the knowledge of new sustainability concepts and help reach new goals such as the ninth Sustainable Development goal for industry, innovation, and infrastructure.
Photo: Louise Larsson

Guests of this seminar included Tomorrow Today founder and head consultant Anna Bruun Månsson, iiiee researcher and professor Carl Dalhammer, iiiee PhD candidate Julia Nußholz, and Morton Hemkhaus who recently completed his Master’s thesis on circular economy concepts applied to the textile and clothing industry. Following Anna’s introduction to Tomorrow Today and the “Breakfast with the Researchers” events,

Mistra REES - a four year research programme

Carl introduced main concepts and explained that circular economy is a term for the fields of bio-economy, industrial ecology, manufacturing, remanufacturing, markets and their associated new business models. Carl then highlighted Mistra REES, which is the “Resource-Efficient and Effective Solutions 4-year program based on circular economy thinking run by a consortium of leading Swedish universities, large and small companies and societal actors. The program’s vision is to advance the transition of the Swedish manufacturing industry towards a circular and sustainable economy.” The programme has goals of creating contextual knowledge, developing principles, methods, guidelines for products and services, and linking policy and government support. Carl is leading one of seven programme projects, focused on policy, as he has experience working with new eco-design directives and the European Commission research on durability, waste, and other regulations.

Sustainable Development Goals

Circular economy business models

Noting the “gap” in the market currently associated with planned obsolescence, rapidly changing technology, and increasing standards of living, iiiee PhD candidate Julia introduced new business models and strategies for a circular economy. First, three important strategies include: narrowing supply chain loops, extending life span of products, and closing material loops (i.e. reusing and recycling). Since end-of-life products often have immense material value, it is key to recover the materials within them, as well as design them to last longer. Notable business models include:

  1. Classic Long Life Model — higher prices, higher grade products

  2. Hybrid Model — extra replacement parts or services create additional revenue

  3. Access Model — renting or paying per use (service-based)

  4. Performance Model — paying for function (paying per weight, volume, size, or capacity)

  5. Gap Exploiter Model — finding valuable products and/or components with high embedded energy; commonly third party companies such as Godsinlösen or Furnishare

Clothing the Loop: Exploring Design Features of Circular Performance Indicators and their Application among Textile Retailers

The event’s final presenter, recent iiiee graduate Morton Hemkhaus, added further valuable recommendations for driving the uptake of circular practices. Supported by his thesis work on the clothing industry, Morton explained that industrial processes must become focused on doing more good, rather than simply doing less bad. Avoiding waste and pollution can be achieved, but new-founded collaboration between companies and industries need to develop instead of competition. In his work alongside Swedish clothing company MQ, he also confirmed that there is a lack of information from upstream and downstream phases of most full product life-cycles. More exploration of circular business models and promotion of sustainability campaigns by companies could also help, especially since these could be new sources of income. Within the fashion industry, rental or prescription models hold high potential as well as improved monitoring of consumer demands (as Spanish retailer Zara has begun to use).

Conclusions

Life cycle assessment is a valuable tool that companies can use to find resource intensive “hot-spots” as well as sources of waste and pollution in the use and disposal phases of products. Less planned obsolescence is necessary, while increased collection and re-use of used products and their valuable components is also key. Consumer attitudes, trends, and preferences must be further studied and become more integrated into new business models.

See an illustration of a Circular Economy System from the website of Ellen MacArthur Foundation

The article is written by Sustainability Forum journalist Jack Fraser, also a master student at iiiee, The Environmental Institute at Lund University.

 

 

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