The Mainstreaming of the Circular Economy

The Mainstreaming of the Circular Economy

If you read our insights regularly, this won’t be a news flash:

  • Most of us can recall a time when we’ve considered a company’s environmental record as we’ve made a product purchase.
  • About a third of us have actually chosen or not chosen a product based on a company’s environmental record (and can name the brand).
  • Almost half of us say that buying eco-friendly products is part of our personal image.


So perceptions of a company’s environmental record are intertwined with perceptions of a product and play a role in whether or not many of us buy Brand X or Brand Y. That begs the question: what is it that consumers want to see companies doing that would demonstrate that they’re environmentally friendly good guys? As we parsed the data from our 2016 Eco Pulse study, two answers rose to the top, regardless of sector:

  1. Deal with the waste you create
  2. Use renewable energy

In the sustainability community, we’ve taken to referring to “dealing with waste” as the “circular economy.” (Side note: when communicating with regular people – your end consumer – refer to it as eliminating waste. They’ll understand it better and respond to it more strongly since we all have an ingrained aversion to waste.)

There have been many excellent examples lately of how companies are dealing with waste in the sustainability arena. Here are a few headlines/links to articles:

P&G’s Head & Shoulders Creates World’s First Recyclable Shampoo Bottle Made with Beach Plastic

Coke, Avery Dennison Drive Smartwater Towards Circularity with Recycled PET Waste

Nike and Levi’s Pile on for “Fast Fashion” Culture Reform

Patagonia Just Made Another Major Move to Save the Earth and Your Wallet

Eileen Fisher Has Designs on Keeping Clothing out of Landfills

The example I believe has the greatest possibility for impacting overall brand perception, though, comes from Adidas. They’ve created a shoe – and now a swimwear line – made from ocean plastic via a partnership with Parley for the Oceans. In fact, the early reports I read on this stated that 95% of the shoe’s upper is made from recycled ocean plastics, “dredged up from near the Maldives.” The shoe looks very cool, and Adidas says they’re going to produce a million of them in 2017. I’m hopeful that’s enough scale to make the price point right and create a market signal that “this is how we do it around here.” Very importantly, the swimwear’s design clearly indicates it’s about saving the oceans so, back to the nearly half of us who want to be seen as someone who buys eco-friendly products, it lets us make a statement about who we are simply by putting it on.

For years, when we’ve asked Americans to name a few green companies, we’ve heard Toyota mentioned frequently. When we’ve asked why, the answer has always been, “Because of the Prius.” I think these products may well do the same thing for Adidas. If Adidas spends real marketing dollars on them, and makes them widely available to folks, people will begin to see Adidas as a green company … which will be fantastic for Adidas (and, it should be noted, will also place a responsibility upon Adidas they’ll need to live up to across the board).

Bottom line: this is a win-win-win. Adidas is helping to …

  • Tackle a complicated, devastating problem
  • Address one of two key care-abouts in the market
  • Enroll all of us into being part of the solution via our purchase
  • And they’re building their brand


If they execute well, they will be the circular economy example for everyone to follow.


Suzanne Shelton

About Suzanne Shelton

Suzanne Shelton is President and CEO of Shelton Group, the nation's leading marketing agency focused exclusively on energy and the environment. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of the industry, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights in her writing, research, and client work. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as, and she speaks at over 20 conferences a year, including ACEEE, AESP, Greenbiz Forum, and Sustainable Brands.

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