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). 

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.

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.

It's a Period of Change

“Disposable” and “single-use” are becoming bad words. What customers really want is reusability, which is pulling ahead as the next big market trend. We’ve homed in on one particular industry and product type where we expect the biggest upset: consumer packaged goods and feminine hygiene products. Women are embracing reusable products and it’s shaking up the industry. And chances are, it’ll spread to YOUR industries and products.

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Mark Smith

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Suzanne Shelton

President and CEO

Suzanne is the voice and the vision of Shelton Group. Drawing on her extensive experience in energy and the environment – and 25+ years in the marketing and advertising industry – Suzanne provides high-level strategic insights for our clients and guidance for our research and creative departments. She regularly speaks at conferences around the country, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and the International Builders’ Show, and serves as a guest columnist for publications like Fast Company, Green Builder and

Susannah Enkema

VP Research & Insights

Susannah directs our research team and plays a key role in extracting the nuggets of information that pave the way for recommended marketing strategies and creative approaches. Susannah has nearly two decades of market research and strategy experience, including her role as president of SE Consulting, where she led the services for the likes of DIY Network and the makers of GORE-TEX®.

Matt Brass

VP Creative

Matt steers the creative department in concepting, designing and producing campaigns. He ensures sound strategy and deep insights inform everything his team develops, and works closely with the accounts department to ensure copy and designs will meet our clients’ goals. As a designer and filmmaker himself, he’s also a principal contributor to all of Shelton’s in-house photography and videography work.

Courtnay Hamachek

VP Operations

Courtnay oversees our day-to-day operations to keep us running smoothly and support our growth. She establishes project management systems and processes to help our teams anticipate bottlenecks, prevent process issues, and keep projects on time and on target. Courtnay has built extensive experience over 25 years in all aspects of marketing, from account services and project management to design and production.

Aaron Crecy

Digital Marketing Director

Aaron is responsible for planning, executing and measuring digital marketing strategies for Shelton Group and our clients, with an emphasis on inbound, content, SEO, social media, email and paid initiatives. He constantly researches and explores new tactics and strategies to improve digital campaign performance and results.

Aaron brings to the table more than 20 years of marketing leadership experience with premium consumer-facing brands. He came to Shelton Group by way of Malibu Boats, where, as Director of Global Marketing, he oversaw strategic marketing planning and execution for multiple product lines, with specific emphasis on social media and digital. Prior to that, he served as CMO for a leading daily fantasy sports operator, guiding it from startup to the industry’s third-ranked site.

Scot Case

Senior Consultant

A sustainability strategy consultant since 1993, Scot has served as non-profit leader, as a partner in an environmental marketing firm that he grew and sold, and as an executive in a multi-billion-dollar, international company. He has published dozens of articles and case studies, was co-author of the original “Sins of Greenwashing” study, testified before Congress, and been quoted on NPR, Good Morning America, CNN, The New York Times, Business Week, and the Wall Street Journal. Scot was also highlighted in an Emmy award-winning documentary on sustainable purchasing.

Casey Ward

VP Account Services

Casey manages our relationships, growth and development with a specific group of clients that includes Environmental Defense Fund, Cotton LEADS and CertainTeed Insulation. She provides leadership and support for the account team members who manage the day-to-day processes for these clients. She contributes to strategic direction for each client and guides our creative efforts to ensure everything we do builds toward meeting – or exceeding – the client’s goals. Her ability to simultaneously see the big picture and pay close attention to the details helps her champion her clients’ needs and identify new growth opportunities for them.