Let’s set the scene. We currently live in a world where nearly 1/3rd of all food produced is wasted (that’s 1.3 billion tonnes according to the FAO) and 6 billion tonnes of plastic has been created since the 1950s (with around 79% ending up in landfill or elsewhere in the environment – compared to just 9% that’s recycled). It’s safe to say we live in a Waste Economy; Make, Use, Dispose.

The Plastic Whale by Greenpeace Philippines

With an increasingly growing population worldwide, the pressures on our natural resources are already unprecedented and show no signs of waning. Global businesses are beginning to take note and putting practises in place that make their businesses more environmentally sustainable and, as a direct consequence, hopefully more financially sustainable in the long term. They are investing in the Circular Economy, in their future and our own.

From big brands like Unilever, IKEA and Dell to smaller startups like BioBean, Upcycling the Oceans and more, the Circular Economy looks like it is here to stay and we’ve pulled some of our favourite, most inspiring and innovative, examples together to give you a little hope.

Founded in 2013, bio-bean® claims to be “the first company in the world to industrialise the process of recycling waste coffee grounds into advanced biofuels and biochemicals.” No mean feat.

Based in the UK they firmly believe “there is no such thing as waste, just resources in the wrong place.” With 500,000 tonnes of waste coffee grounds produced in the UK every year, most of which goes to landfill, bio-bean® helps reduces this by turning this waste into the core product of clean fuels, like their Coffee Logs.

And it’s not just fuel logs. Their coffee grounds are going to be powering the iconic London Buses very soon…

Photo: Dell

Dell’s approach to the circular economy has proven successful. Not only have they partnered with Goodwill Industries to create recycling points to collect and resell refurbished machines, but their UL Environment-certified closed-loop plastics process uses plastics sourced from their technology recycling efforts to create new plastic product parts from old computers. It was the first technology project to follow the UL standard. Studies showed the net benefit of the process 44%, or $1.3 million per year in natural capital.

They’ve also embarked upon using gold recycled from e-waste to produce products such as jewellery made from gold reclaimed from circuit boards. The gold is melted into bars and sent to a jewelry manufacturer. The process causes 99% less in environmental damage than the virgin gold mining process.

In conjunction with global NGOs, DuPont spearheaded the Virtuous Circle initiative, a closed-loop process that turns virgin resin produced by DuPont into multilayer film made into food pouches to feed South African schoolchildren. The multilayer film waste is then turned back into a resin used to make school desks of South African schoolchildren. The three-pillared goal is to feed South African schoolchildren, recycle the waste into school desk and other materials, and educate the children and their communities on the importance of recycling and sustainability. The program won Packaging Europe’s 2017 Sustainability Award for Circular Economy.

Supported by three pillars of feeding, recycling and education, this project demonstrates the circular economy in action and makes concrete recommendations for future action by policymakers and other stakeholders.” – Krysta Harden, Vice President of Public Policy and Chief Sustainability Officer, DuPont

Interface’s Mission Zero program, highlighted in the Conference Board’s 2017 report on the Circular Economy, seeks to source all raw materials for their modular carpets from renewable materials or recycled waste by 2020. They are 60% of the way there, achieving 94% waste reduction, 83% water intake reduction, and 71% emissions reduction. One of the most recent Mission Zero initiatives is Net-Works, which pays fishermen in the Philippines and Camaroon to collect damaged nylon fishing nets, which are turned into carpets. They have collected 142 metric tons of nets and financially assisted 1,500 families.


This tech company is empowering the likes of Google, Ikea and a swathe of restaurants to better plan their menus and reduce food waster. LeanPlan “helps organizations understand exactly how and why food is being wasted, then take decisive action to achieve real, measurable results.”

Fast Company leave us with some food for thought. As we design for a sustainable future…

  • How can we design our products with asset recovery in mind?
  • How can we develop product lines to meet demand without wasting assets?
  • How can we source material in regenerative loops rather than linear flows?
  • How can we develop a revenue model that protects value up and down the chain?
  • How can we get our customers to cooperate with us?

If you’d like to chat to a consultant about how you can ensure your business model is not only sustainable but relevant for your future, ever demanding consumer, get in touch here.


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