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How To Drive The Circular Economy Model As A Consumer

In April, with air and car travel brought to a standstill because of the virus, the earth took a moment to breathe. The sky was a vivid blue, uninterrupted by the usual steady stream of planes. No vapor trails or noises and the smell of the flowers coming into bloom.

But National Geographic warns of a more polluted future brewing while the globe is getting back to work.

According to their article ‘Why COVID-19 Will End Up Harming The Environment’ where April recorded a 17% drop in air population, a measurement in June saw that gap widen to 5%.

Before I check the latest on air pollution and experience a corresponding drop in my own hope, I want to talk about the circular economy and the inspiring story of Coreo’s The Circular Economy Experiment.

“A circular economy is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.”

This is the definition from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which has been operating since 2010 to ideate solutions to the impasse between sustainable development and economic growth.

Their website, like many other agents in the circular economy movement, focuses on driving the transition from the business and design side of the supply chain. It’s understandable. We see how much the economy is factoring in right now as countries grapple with the business versus safety dilemma.

But there’s also a massive role for consumers to become agents in the transition and achieve economies of scale by operating collectively.

Firstly, let’s take a look at the Coreo case study, the Circular Economy Experiment that I discovered on the Getting In The Loop Podcast with Katherine Whalen.

I’m a newbie to the podcast, but they’ve just celebrated their 50th milestone so do subscribe.

Sisters Ashleigh and Janie Morris, both with backgrounds in different supply chain industries started the experiment without funding and without any blueprint of how they could create a circular supply chain within a co-location business group.

It was a project born of instinct and confidence that there were tangible gains to be made by applying the no waste principles of the circular economy.

There was no data to use, and they deployed a street-level operation of knocking on doors and engaging with the community.

This blog is not a review of the podcast; it’s an attempt to highlight and transfer some of the methods and results that Coreo drove to have the same impact at a consumer level.

Here goes.

Over six months, Coreo united 56 SMEs from one location, a street on the Sunshine Coast to join the experiment. The businesses were from hospitality retail and services.

They worked with the SMEs to understand the challenges that they were undertaking and put in place a series of measures to apply the circular economy model to drive growth and tangible outcomes.

“You can’t do it all, and you can’t do it alone”

is a Coreo philosophy that Ashleigh brings up more than once throughout the podcast.

A Smart Cities case study run by the Australian Department of Trade and Industry lists more details of the Ocean Street Experiment including six circular economy principles that were explored:

  1. resource efficiency for waste, electricity and water
  2. reverse logistics
  3. incentivised return — placemaking and gamification to encourage repeat business and good behaviour
  4. asset sharing, leasing and management — B2B asset sharing platform to swap, sell or lease space and assets
  5. servitisation — subscription models for services without asset overheads
  6. innovative technology solutions — IoT for waste, water, and energy management.

I’m particularly interested in one of the initiatives that Ashleigh discussed, the sharing of deliveries.

Resource Sharing Example — Delivery Trucks

The experiment location was a small, commercial, one-way street, and it was soon obvious that shared gains could be made in the utilization of deliveries.

Around fifty trucks were coming down the little street every single day to deliver to small businesses at different times.

The customer experience was suffering because of congestion, the owners were all paying for individual slots, the air quality and environment was suffering and it was causing frustration for all.

They worked together to create a program where they shared delivery slots.

“Compete where you need to compete. Compete on your salad and steak. Don’t compete on your napkins and delivery trucks.”

The super-simple action of sharing the delivery resource meant,

  • cutting costs
  • improving the customer experience to the street,
  • improving the feel and cleanliness of the area.
  • building social capital as the businesses came together.

This was just one example. They also shared waste resources, as the café’s provided with used coffee granules to one business to use in her garden.

At the end of the six months, the project carried on, and the businesses formed an independent trade association to continue their collaboration.

By every single measure, this experiment has proved a success.

Coreo now has clients in the resources and healthcare industries, perhaps the most difficult sectors to balance a circular economy mindset with?

But Ashleigh does say that from every vantage point the circular business model provides more value than linear solutions.

Photo by Josh Sorenson on Unsplash

Consumer Pathways To A Circular Economy

So how do we do this as consumers? Are we powerless to the opening of a new coal station in China or big oil company drilling?

I don’t think so.

Ashleigh believes that the circular economy can create value across any aspect of a supply chain, and we, consumers, are part of that chain.

As Coreo worked to transform an ‘I’ conversation within one business to a ‘we’ discussion within a community, WE can do it too.

Individual action may feel and ultimately be futile, but gathering in consumer groups to adopt a new mindset and then sharing blueprints to work alongside other agents could drive more widespread change.

Together consumers can drive change in the industry. Look what happened to Blockbuster when they stopped thinking of their customer base.

The Delivery Truck Example

Imagine taking the delivery truck example and applying it to a residential street.

I live on a busy road with approximately 50 other houses. During peak hour the road can be frozen in standstill traffic. There are often lights or works going on at either end of the road, which makes things worse.

Talk to any resident on this road, and they will cite traffic as a concern: the noise, the pollution, the inability to pull out of their garage etc.

What if we applied the same principle of sharing delivery resources? We could see the following benefits:

  • Less traffic on the road
  • Fewer emissions into the air
  • Shared delivery costs amongst the residents
  • Increased social capital as neighbors communicates and meet each other.
  • Increased buying power and lower goods cost through bulk ordering

That’s just one initiative that could be easily rolled out, but there are other significant gains when we move to a circular economy model.

What about:

  • Shared waste from those without compost to those with
  • Shared information about positive, sustainable initiatives
  • Reducing loneliness through increasing interaction
  • Shared journeys — car share/bike swap
  • Skill swap — who on the road has a 3D printer? Who can fix a bicycle
  • Timeswap — who is popping to the refill center? Who has a spare plastic oil container?
  • Electronic and hardware goods — a Next Door but a lively forum to ensure no waste.

The circular economy approach is a win-win situation for individuals, businesses, and the earth. What are we all waiting for?

My own ideas for joining this movement:

  • Write to my local MP (done)
  • Talk to neighbors (about to do)
  • Seek out people who are interested in a new model
  • Start counting delivery trucks on my road
  • Speak to local businesses who would be interested in joining forces
  • Speak to large supermarkets to see what infrastructure they could offer to support the idea of shared deliveries.

Ashleigh’s advice to those wanting to take a step towards a circular economy model applies as much to individuals as it does to businesses.

“Be brave and put one step in front of the other.”

Thanks for reading. I’m an entry-level achiever but a seasoned dreamer. If you’re already running a project like this or have ideas or suggestions to share my email address is [email protected].

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