Circular economy is the future. Businesses that do not already think in circular economy must change their outlook, or run the risk of slipping behind as the field makes the shift towards more sustainable business strategies. Researchers from AAU and international collaborators in the KATCH-e consortium have developed 10 guidelines that form the basis for business strategies for companies to benefit from the lucrative market that the circular economy will be.
“It is an ambitious interpretation of circular economy, because the guidelines contain all three aspects of sustainability; the environmental, the social and the economic aspects,” explains Kirsten Schmidt, a postdoc at the Department of Planning at AAU CPH.
On 29 January, the researchers from AAU held a workshop on how to work professionally with circular economy, and already a few days after the tickets were released, the event was overbooked, with more interested people on the waiting list.
Change is on the way
But the circular economy is not simply a theory or elusive idea, it provides practical solutions, many of which already exist in small part today.
For example, furniture can be repaired, car-shares are becoming more popular, materials in the construction industry can be recycled, as can machines and consumables, which from the outset are designed to have different applications depending on the age of the product.
“The idea of circular economy is that things take place in closed systems, so that not too much should be thrown out and not too much of Earth's limited resources should be consumed. The shift from the current way of thinking to circular economy is going to open up a lot of opportunities for companies that act first and quickly integrate circular economy into their business strategy. Therefore, we have created these 10 guidelines, which can help companies both get to grips with circular economy and keep their eyes on the ball going forward,” explains Kirsten Schmidt.
Circular economy includes everything
Circular economy is not only concerned with the production of things. It is also about services and recycling.
A service in the circular economy can, for example, be leasing furniture for schools. Instead of schools buying furniture and throwing them out when they are too old, they can lease them over long periods of time with associated services and repair of the furniture if they break.
If the school happens to have a change in learning methods that requires new facilities and furniture, the schools do not need to change all their purchased furniture. The business concept for the Danish company Højer Møbler, which participates in the KATCH_e project, is to sell ‘learning environments’, rather than school furniture. The leased furniture can instead be designed to be upgraded to meet new needs so that the value does not disappear from the furniture. In this way, the circular economy reaches into both design, service and recycling.
Another example, would be to make cots that grow with the children so that they only need one bed throughout their childhood instead of changing every three to five years.
Also a part of the building trade
Similarly, the circular economy can also be included in the building trade. Today, we often tear down houses to use the building materials as simple road filling. This greatly decreases the value of the building materials, whereas in circular economy, the bricks, windows and roof tiles are much more worthwhile in themselves if reused as individual elements.
Designing, recycling and servicing furniture and buildings, among other things, requires a mindset that understands the complexity, but also the possibilities, of circular economy.
“Our 10 guidelines are basic principles of the circular economy, and if you can get them into the backbone of your company, you are well placed to meet the demands of the future,” says Kirsten Schmidt.
The 10 guidelines:
- Think circularly from the beginning; in the design phase of products, services and business models.
- Think of functionality instead of products.
- Analyse where values are created and disappear to understand how they can be maintained.
- Any circular solution must also be sustainable.
- Work from a lifecycle perspective so you do not just move the issues somewhere else or create new issues.
- Involve the stakeholders in the value chain in developing new solutions.
- Go ahead and take responsibility - be a good example for others.
- Understand how your new circular solution changes or requires new practices for the users.
- Make the circular solution attractive to the users and be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
- Weave social aspects into the solution, and see if the solution can create local jobs.
“We have made this ambitious interpretation because we believe that when we educate people in this big and complicated puzzle, it is to transform our society into a more sustainable one, it is not enough just to think in shallow solutions. Instead, you should be able to understand all the elements that go into the circular economy and the opportunities that lie within them” says Kirsten Schmidt.