The Circular Economy is Coming Our Way. Here Are Some Things to Think About for Your Product Development and Product Delivery…

February 13, 2020

by Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

During your travels, or even going about your usual business and personal activities, do you recall the days when… 

For example, experienced pilots remember having to use cockpit instruments (going “IFR”) when flying over large cities because the “smog” (usually thick yellow) eliminated visibility below. 

That was caused by belching smokestacks as dirty coal was burned for industrial use or for generating electric power. Con Ed in New York City was a prominent “smokestacker” in those days.

Or, you may have seen deep and wide gouges in our good Earth where giant machine scoopers were pulling a variety of minerals out for manufacturing products.  The American west and south (and north and east!) are filled with these gaping holes. Wonderful vistas?

As a young pilot, up there as the “Eye in the Sky” on weekends as a hobby to build flight hours, flying and broadcasting beach traffic to WGBB and WGSM (radio) below, I often had to fly in and out of the yellow mists IFR. With choking effects as the cockpit air filled.

Or as you traveled past a flowing river you may have seen thick flows of rubber or petroleum-based factory discharges…don’t worry, downstream the ocean will take it away, we were told.

(I remember seeing the US Royal plant outflow into the Connecticut River, with the rocks in the river all rubber-covered! The river flowed south to Long Island Sound and out to the Atlantic Ocean. Where the junk disappeared. Or did it!

In many countries, especially in Europe and North America, the good news is we have been moving far away from those days. In the U.S., the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, RCRA, Superfund/CERCLA, and a host of other environmental regulations helped to make this one of the cleanest (relatively) countries by the end of the 20th Century.

That’s the good news!

And as the linear model of many years in old-line production methods continues to recede in many factories – that is, the traditional  take, make, use, dispose – and that model moves farther into the past (as described by Tom Tapper of “Nice and Serious” writing for Sustainable Brands), the “circular model” has been steadily emerging. The positive effects are being felt all along the value chain.

So what does this mean for branded company leadership?  Whose brand out there in the consumer or B-to-B marketplaces signals “we hold these values dear” or “look to us for sustainability leadership” or “corporate and societal responsibility is at our core”?

Tom Tapper cites examples of products and practices new and old from such firms as Unilever, CIG, Haagen-Dazs, Coca Cola, Stella, and Aesop, with a focus on their distinct product delivery (packaging, bottles, capsules, other means).  

He offers us his perspectives in a sometimes whimsical but always firmly- grounded style on what to expect in the coming years in brand marketing.

In a circular economy, the author sees five trends to watch:

  • We’ll be thinking of Bottles as “objects of desire”.  (Remember the classic, dark brown 1890’s voluptuous-evoking stylized Coca-Cola bottle of yesteryear?  And whatever happened to the little plastic Pez dispensers!) These were ions of yesteryear.
  • Product and Story. Or, as story.  The quality of and qualities of the product will be the main story told by marketers.  (The smart brand marketing leaders have been doing this for years!)  The drive to reduce plastics use, as example, gives smart marketers new ways to talk about product and packaging that has plastic workarounds (in product and packaging). Not that plastic will go away; it will be “different” in many ways.
  • “Hermit Crab Branding”.  If the brand does not have that beautiful bottle or packaging to offer consumers, they can offer stickers in packs to enable consumers to do their own packaging customizing. Or to cover over the branding on a competitor’s bottle. That is thinking like the Hermit Crab, which live in other sea critters’ cast-off shells.
  • The Coming of Dispenser Wars.  Push here for soap – the product dispenser becomes the competitive battleground, thinks author Tom Tapper. Will consumers want “memorable refill experiences”? Will marketers entertain the customer as he/she refills their containers?  (With music, sounds?) Maybe.  Non-branded containers may become the choice of the merchant (more profit!), like store brands are today.
  • Refill Truck Revolution.  Push here for the soap. If individual product packaging and products in bottles as today’s primary delivery modes recede into the past, will a fleet of electric vehicles someday be visiting your neighborhood to bring you “a premium refill experience”?  Filling your vat when you run low?

So the opportunities inherent in the coming of the Circular Economy, Tom Tapper tells us, present challenges for us as well, especially in that we have to discard the old ways and adapt to change, as in the relationship of the brand and product to the buyers. 

Progress is always about adapting to change.  Risk and opportunity. Welcoming and forbidding.

Just consider for a moment the work involved in the disappearance of those old belching smokestacks and smog over our heads and junk flowing into rivers from outflow pipes and deep gouges in the Earth.  Pilots don’t need to wear smoke masks anymore as they pass over U.S. cities.

We are certainly more productive as a society today than ever before!  U.S. industry is booming, turning out various goods.

And that presents many challenges as well – which the coming of the Circular Economy could help us deal with.

We’re reminded here of the favorite quote of the late Lee Iacocca (he was a leader of both Chrysler and Ford Motor Company.  Lead, follow or get out the way – good advice today: the Circular Economy is coming our way.

Top Stories for This Week

What Will a Circular Economy Mean for Branding?
Source: Sustainable Brands
While a circular economy will present huge challenges to most brands’ conventional business models, there are huge opportunities for those who embrace and adapt to this change — while those who drag their heels with incremental changes will undoubtedly fall behind.

Recycling – The Circular Economy: Admirable Efforts, With Significant Challenges As The Efforts Expand & Become More Complex for Businesses

by Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

In these closing days of the year 2018, of course, we’ll be seeing shared expert perspectives on the year now ending and a look into the new year, 2019.  Sustainable Brands shared one person’s perspectives on three sustainability trends that are gaining momentum heading into 2019.

The commentary is authored by Renee Yardley, VP-Sales & Marketing of Rolland Inc., a prominent North American commercial & security paper manufacturer established in 1882. The company strives to be an environmental leader in the pulp and paper industry. A wide range of fine paper products is made using renewable energy, recycled fiber, and de-inked without the use of chlorine.  Rolland started making recycled paper in 1989 and adopted biogas as an energy source in 2004. The company is privately-owned and headquartered in Quebec, Canada.

The trends the author explains, do of course, affect users of all types of paper products — but also are useful for businesses in other sectors & industries.  He sees:  (1) a shifting of global recycling mindsets and in the circular economy; (2) more open collaboration and partnerships for impactful change; and (3) the need for more measurement and efforts to quantify impact.

Rolland is a paper supply company and so there is a focus on recycled (post-consumer) paper, fiber, forests, the recycled paper process, moving toward zero waste, municipal recycling in North America, and so on.

On recycling:  we are seeing reports now of problems arising in the waste stream; in the USA, municipalities are calling for a reduction of waste and automating processes (to help reduce costs).  There are new on-line marketplaces as well for buying and selling recovered items.  The “market solution” is a great hope for the future as we continue to use paper products (we are not quite a paperless society, are we?).

Part of the issues recycling advocates are dealing with:  China is restricting the import of recyclable materials (think:  that paper you put at curbside at home of business).  Consumers can be encouraged to reduce consumption but paper is paper and we all use it every day – so new approaches are urgently needed!

That leads to the second trend – developing and leveraging partnership & open collaboration:  Yardley writes that collaboration across the spectrum of an organization’s stakeholders can help to address supply-chain wide sustainability if an organization can “understand the wider system” it is operating in (citing Harvard Business Review).  And, if an organization can learn to work with people you haven’t worked with before.

Rolland, for example, leverages biogas as a main energy source, partnering with a local landfill to recover methane (since 2004).  This trend is on the rise, with the EU biogas plants expanding by 200% (2009-2015).

And then there is Measure and Manage:  Environmental measuring and reporting is an important part of a company’s sustainability journey – at the outset and continuing and at G&A Institute we stress the importance of reporting year-to-year results in a standardized format, such as in a GRI Standards report  — most important, including a GRI Content Index.

At the Sustainable Brands New Metrics conference in 2018, SAP explained that organizations integrating ESG objectives see higher employee retention, and minimizing of risk for investors.

Renee Yardley’s commentary is our Top Story choice for you this week – do read it and you’ll find excellent examples of how companies in various sectors (Ford, Microsoft, Starbucks, Patagonia, Unilever) are dealing with their sustainability commitments in the face of challenges posed.

Click here for more information on Rolland and its environmental / sustainability efforts and products.

 

This Week’s Top Story

Three Sustainability Trends Gaining Momentum for 2019
(Friday, December 14, 2018) Source: Sustainable Brands – In the spirit of looking ahead to 2019, we’ve identified three important societal trends for 2019, relating to sustainability in business…