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The Circular Economy & Cradle to Cradle

csr economy purpos Jun 12, 2024
hand holding globe

 For the past few decades, we have experienced a very linear model of consumption and consumerism. Namely, it’s a “take-make-throw away” economy that focuses on the idea of disposal. Personally, I hate the term disposable and I think it’s incredibly misleading. There is no “away” and trash is simply placed somewhere where it can’t be seen. It’s still there, leaching toxic chemicals, destroying habitats, and waiting to prey on future generations who will seek a real solution.

Doing Business Differently

There is an alternative that is growing in strength. Moving away from a linear disposable method, it focuses on reuse. Called the Circular Economy, its premise is that products should not only be recycled but they should be designed and manufactured in the first place to be disassembled for reuse, and that companies who produce products should be active in reclaiming the products to disassemble and repurpose the ingredients. This removes more trash from the cycle and instead perceives an ingredient as a long-term resource.

According to the European Parliament, the Circular Economy is “a model of production and consumption which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible. In this way, the life cycle of products is extended. In practice, it implies reducing waste to a minimum.”

Business As A Force For Good

This is a great start. It doesn’t address the wasteful crap that is manufactured everyday as chochkies and souvenirs, trinkets and plastic waste that never needed to be made in the first place. But it is a start—and it’s a good foundation for new companies who wish to produce a new product because it gives them a benchmark for design and manufacture. Prepare for the end right at the beginning, this method tells them. Integrate the death of your product into its creation and be prepared as a company to take it back and put it to new use.

In other words, we don’t want any more landfills, and the Circular Economy is one strategy available to companies to help them achieve this goal.

Cradle to Cradle Approach

Similarly, we’ve all grown up with the Cradle to Grave approach, which means something is born (either a person or a product) and it lives, and then it dies. It’s a one-way street, a linear process. In the commercial landscape, this is increasingly seen to be wasteful and a foolish use of limited resources. Instead, the term Cradle to Cradle can signify a more nature-aligned method that recycles materials through industry the way nature recycles from life to death.

Originally coined by Swiss architect Walter Stahel in the 1970s as cradle-to-cradle, the phrase was copyrighted by McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) consultants and later became a propriety asset of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. Essentially the term helps industries determine the impact of a product idea, conceptualize the most environmentally friendly way to craft the product so that it will be reclaimable, and develop systems and processes to reclaim spent products to be reused in a loop.

What did Stahel see that no other corporate leader was willing to? I believe he was willing to tell corporations that they must take responsibility for their products, pushing aside the notion of disposable, and viewing Mother Nature as the ultimate instructor for whom there is no waste.

These principles can be beacons for manufacturers in all markets—even those currently using toxic chemical ingredients. Because companies can make decisions to change – they can decide that toxic chemicals have no place in a healthy economic ecosystem, and they can review their vendors, change vendors, and even (as Richard Branson has proven) develop their needed components in-house to better oversee the production process and maintain values and ethics.

Consulting for Team Development

As a natural and organic business consultant, I specialize in leading in-person retreats, workshops and trainings where executives and/or team members come together to identify and expand core values and purpose. Creating a mission statement is not enough. To keep teams healthy and engaged, your company must invest in the ongoing process of exploring and identifying core values. And to propel your company forward with both employee retention and customer love, you should consider implementing a meaningful purpose throughout. What does this look like? I can help with assessments, trainings, curricula, HR resources, and implementation that strengthen team unity. Contact me at [email protected].

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