How the Circular Economy will change what we buy, how we own and the relationship between manufacturer and client

By | July 18, 2016
The circular economy

The circular economy

At a recent conference I attended, Joe McGee from Jabil – the $18bn manufacturing company, which you will probably never have heard of, said: “If you are not disrupting you will be disrupted”… and so it is, in today’s market place.

The pace of change is rapid and organisations across the globe are grappling with how they continue to sell products and make margins. Governments too are struggling to comprehend how they maintain, grow and prosper with dwindling resources and increasing populations. It is not surprising therefore that the world’s largest companies (such as Jabil) and the world’s most forward-thinking governments (such as Japan) are looking more closely at how the Circular Economy can help them maintain and grow for the sake of their stakeholders – and almost coincidentally, do ‘the right thing’ in terms the preservation of our planet.

The Circular Economy is a regenerative process, which focuses on systems thinking – considering things at scale and taking a holistic view of materials, products and processes. In doing this we can look beyond our current linear processes – the ‘take, make and dispose’ methodology, which currently exists as the dominant model in both business and society and consider how things could be different?

Could we for example, design for:

multiple use?

for disassembly?

for remanufacturing?

Could we make things with less composite materials, which don’t have toxins so they could go back into the materials stream for re-use?

Do we always need to buy things, houses, cars, washing machines, and drills? Do we want the object or is it the utility value we need – and if it is the latter then why do we need to own the item at all?

At another event, I listened to George Ell from Tesla talking about the driverless vehicles of the future – and without the thrill of driving the car – would you be bothered about owning it? What does this mean for the future of the car industry, the taxi industry and Uber? If car manufacturers leased their vehicles they would maintain ownership of the materials (for re-use) and would have a continual dialogue and potential longevity of relationship with their customers.

At yet another conference, Gregory Hodkinson from Arup, reminded the audience that 70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050 – and the global population will then be at 9bn. But our urban fabric changes at only 2.5% p.a. Cities are currently neither resilient nor regenerative and this generation will need to absorb huge infrastructural changes for cities to meet the needs of their inhabitants. Royal BAM, Turn-too, Eco-Res and others are currently looking at how they can design buildings which are dynamic – can be changed and adapted; and for disassembly, with components, which can be re-used and made with materials which are non toxic.

The Circular Economy offers some new perspectives on these issues. The emergence of new innovative models leads to collaborative dynamics across industries and communities, which reveal new sources of value creation and new opportunities.

About Michele Miller

Michele Miller is the Executive Education Manager at the University of Bradford School of Management. Before that she was the Circular Economy Projects Manager at the University.