Bringing Clarity to “Circular Economy”

by Mar 21, 2019

Shelton Stat

52% of Americans are not at all familiar with the term ‘Circular Economy’ (Eco Pulse 2018). 

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Sustainability Win of the Week

In our Eco Pulse™ 2018 survey, we polled consumers on a range of sustainability and environmental terms to gauge their level of awareness. Some of the highest ranked terms were “recyclable,” “human rights,” “organic” and “all-natural” – which was no surprise. On the lowest end, however, was “circular economy” and “cradle-to-cradle,” which should serve as a wonderful reminder to all of us in the sustainability arena that the way we talk is not normal.

Circularity is a hot topic nowadays – and it’s impossible to avoid. Just look at all the Loop articles/ads you’ve seen in the past month on circularity of consumer goods – it practically flooded the newsfeeds on sustainability for a few weeks whether you liked it or not … But what does it mean for consumers NOT to have the slightest idea what circularity means?

One of the key points I preach all the time is that having an environmental or social mission isn’t enough. You have to be able to effectively communicate it to consumers – and that doesn’t always come easy.

There are two solutions to this communications roadblock: teach consumers so they understand – or reframe your mission in words and ways they do understand. Perhaps this sounds obvious, but the truth is, being steeped in sustainability 24/7 makes it easy for businesses to lose sight of the terms consumers know and the messages they support … which is why we frequently poll consumers and average Americans: to keep a Pulse on what’s hot for them versus what’s hot for us.

As Circle Economy – a Netherlands-based circular economy think tank – states, “many mention the term ‘circular economy’ or ‘circular principles’ without really explaining what they mean.”

And “on the other hand, if the term is defined, the definition widely varies depending on the problems being addressed, the audience, or the lens through which the author views the world.” So, Circle Economy breaks it down into seven main categories based on “the various terms and definitions used by over 20 organizations – NGOs, government agencies, academia, consultancies, etc.” – which is great for businesses but still too complex for consumers.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has taken a different approach – one that’s much more consumer-facing: informing consumers on the basics of circularity through cartoon illustrations, as demonstrated in this YouTube video. This approach makes circular economy more bite-sized, but it assumes consumers know the term and readily search for it as a keyword.

So, is there a middle ground? How can companies propose or shout out all their circular accomplishments and get people to listen? The short answer is: stay tuned. We’re in the field right now with some research that will help us answer these questions – and help companies like yours effectively communicate.

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News of the Week

Coca-Cola continues voluntary producer responsibility approach with $5.4M in new recycling grants – Waste Dive

The Coca-Cola Foundation has pledged $5.4 million in grants toward repairs to recycling infrastructure in the United States. Three-quarters of the funding will go toward a curbside education program in Atlanta to reduce recycling contamination rates and increase recycling capture rates. The remainder will go toward a number of park and city beautification programs across the country. In doing so, Coca-Cola joins a rising number of companies looking to tackle the problem of plastic waste.

What do investors want to know about your sustainability strategy? Now companies have a guide – Forbes

“Investment that takes into account environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues now represents one in every four dollars invested in the U.S. and has risen to nearly $23 trillion globally.” When it comes to investor relations, however, many companies still miss the mark. The article covers sustainable investment group Ceres’ best practices for marketing ESG and sustainability accomplishments to investors. Bottom line: make sustainability central to decision-making – and implement the right metrics and engagement strategies to appeal to investors.

HP commits to 100% circular, carbon-neutral, forest-positive printing – Sustainable Brands

Speaking of circularity, this past Tuesday HP announced “a bold vision for print sustainability, pledging that every page printed with HP will support a forest-positive future, carbon neutrality and materials designed to reduce impacts on the planet.” HP’s plan to scale up its commitment to sustainability ensues from previous strong commitments, such as the achievement of “100 percent zero deforestation associated with HP-branded paper” in 2016. With respect to circularity, the company will expand its closed-loop system for recycled plastics in printer cartridges.

A Period of Change

Once upon a time, feminine hygiene was a topic simply not mentioned in polite society – and options were limited to an aisle of single-use products. Now, times are changing, and the options have grown. What once seemed like a segment of the consumer packaged goods industry impervious to change is now undergoing profound transformation. New, reusable choices are flooding the market – choices that are better for the environment and, in most cases, work better too. Fifty-nine percent of women have used or considered using them – what will that do to your business?

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Mark Smith

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