At the core of the circular economy is the principle that nothing is lost: just like in the natural world, raw materials circulate endlessly in the system. This benefits all: the planet, businesses, and the people. The link between ecological and economic gain is the attraction of the circular economy: sustainability suddenly becomes an opportunity instead of something that just has to be done.
The number of companies that are seeing the advantages of the circular economy is increasing. Large companies are putting feelers out, bankers are studying their role, and start-ups are launching new concepts. The most innovative players fill a niche that is still small but no less important. They subject the circular principles that look so nice on paper to the harsh reality of the market. Does the consumer want to come along? Will we secure the financing? Is what we are doing actually more sustainable?
Below we show how companies can take advantage of the circular economy in the real world. Each time, we give an example of a Belgian frontrunner. An enterprise can generally embark upon five routes towards more circularity:
The figure below, borrowed from Accenture, shows the different business models. The thick ring in the middle represents the chain or life cycle of a product: from raw material to sale, to end of life and return. Different loops or extra circuits can occur along the chain. For example: a product that becomes defective during use/consumption can end up in the same phase of use after repair.
It all starts at the beginning: produce as much as possible using renewable energy and bio-based, biodegradable, or recyclable raw materials. Use less materials, dematerialise, or virtualise. Also buy circular.
Recovery of raw materials and/or energy from discarded products or auxiliary flows (often from a different circuit than one’s own).
Extend the functional life cycle of a product with repair, upgrading, and resale. Already calculate for the second and third life of a product in the design phase: choose a modular design, parts that can be removed, or parts that can be repaired easily.
Enabling more intensive use of products with shared use/access or ownership.
This entails offering access to a product while keeping ownership to enjoy all the benefits of a closed circuit.