How the Circular Economy Can Change the Way You Plan and Strategize!

In this Part II article, several approaches will be given on how businesses and organizations can further engage successfully with the Circular Economy. In the recent Growth Within Report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, it was stated that the greater European Economy could create a net benefit of ~ $2T by 2030 by further embedding the Circular Economy guiding principles. The primary overarching strategy of global innovation and creativity is now taking place among leading large and multi-national corporations, as well as with small to medium size enterprises (SMEs) within the supply chains of these enterprises.

What then are some of the specific action steps being implemented to create greater Circular Economy impact here in West Michigan?

• Pursuing partnerships for synergistic innovation! In our area, Local First works with companies interested in becoming a B certified organization such as Cascade Engineering, Brewery Vivant, Gazelle Sports, Bazzani and Associates, Catalyst Partners and others. The Business Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) has developed, in conjunction with the NSF, the e3 Furniture Sustainability Standard with its members and many other organizations across the public sector, including NGOs and government agencies. Also, a new 2030 Energy District is being planned for the downtown Grand Rapids area, and is a collaborative community-wide initiative across many sectors with specific energy, water, and climate target goals by 2030.

• Thinking way out of the box! Many companies now realize there are new business opportunities based on the premise of reducing consumption by fixing and repairing broken or discarded products. Comprenew is a local company that repairs and resells discarded electronic products with the help of local high school students. GVSU has also opened up a new Surplus Store for both students and the local community that offers second-hand or used merchandise, such as electronics, furniture, and office equipment.

• Optimizing reverse logistics! All businesses know the importance of freight costs. New business opportunities are being pursued by those companies and others that offer optimized distribution and logistics services for their fleets to fill capacity while passing along freight savings. Agricultural processing is a significant opportunity where a reverse logistics strategy can be employed, such as backhauling organic produce from local farmers in the Upper Peninsula for distribution into West Michigan.

• Thinking about product usage not consumption! Many businesses have now pursued service strategies for their products and not just focusing on new product sales. Car and tire manufacturer service centers are great examples of installation, maintenance, repair and sale of used car and component parts as a service business. My 2002 Toyota Camry is a personal testament. Many times I have asked the Toyota dealer whether it is time to purchase a new car or not. They would remark “not quite yet, you still have some good miles to go ahead of you.”

• Using customers as part of the design process! With the advent of 3D printing technology, companies will be able to offer customized 3D printing design services for many retail products, like shoes and other accessory personal goods. E-Nable is the world’s first company to use 3D printing for the development of a prosthetic superhero Wolverine hand that was on display for the Maker Faire event recently held in Grand Rapids.

• Developing brand recognition! There are many types of recycling businesses, one very important one for our area being plastics. Bata Plastics has a tagline of “recycling for future generations.” The company recycles industrial plastics, pop bottles, milk cartons and many other items. The company then processes and grinds the resin materials for reuse by the automotive and furniture industries. Additional services include dropping trailers for product distribution and plastics recycling as well.

• Providing social impact! The Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries are both great examples of business models that deliver exceptional social impact to the local area. Through donations of both money and physical goods, these enterprises are able to employ local workers and resell personal goods at affordable prices to low income families. In the recent past, Goodwill Industries of West Michigan has trained over 20,000 people, helped over 1,800 people obtain gainful competitive employment, paid nearly 300 individual program paychecks, and helped prepare tax returns that benefited our community with over $1.5MM.
• Sharing business platforms! West Michigan Shared Hospital Laundry is a local business that has built a business model that now serves hospitals, healthcare facilities, healthcare systems and others. Rather than using a typical vendor-supplier relationship, the company has focused on being the most efficient green healthcare laundry supplier in the region. By going “steamless” the company is able to save 40% on energy requirements and water, while also offering lost and found and on-hand inventory items as well.

As can be seen, the Circular Economy is beginning to provide new business models and strategies here in West Michigan across many types of enterprises, organizations, and industries. Which one of these strategies might work best for you?

I wish you the best along your sustainability journey!
Norman Christopher
Director, Office of Sustainability Practices
Grand Valley State University
Author, Sustainability Demystified