Circular economy – Are you ready?
The term circular economy is closely linked to sustainability but this concept is much bigger than just thinking about recycling products and packaging. The vision of circular economy is a paradigm shift and brings an implicit concept of system and of interrelation within the production chains.
All industries are rethinking their processes and the beauty industry is no different. The circular economy is already a reality. In this concept, the cycles are shorter, as the ideas of reuse and repair are inserted. Water and energy savings are also very important in this circular model.
This circular strategy can be applied in the most diverse sectors and is structured in the constant creation of new resources within the production chain. The key element of this concept is innovation. The circular economy teaches us to own less and share more. Acting today but thinking about tomorrow.
The current world and the pandemic have brought many changes in our values and in the way we see and act in the world. Undoubtedly, despite being negative, it has been the bitter medicine we needed as a society to awaken a better social conscience.
But are we prepared to make these changes in our lives and consequently in companies and in the world? Are we aware that we are an important part of this process? We will understand and try to find a way to act better in the world.
How the concept came about – Circular Economy
he concept emerged in the 60s and 70s and expanded in Europe, with the proposal to review the use and consumption of natural resources. This concept is believed to have emerged from several schools of philosophical thought such as Walter Stahel’s performance economics; the industrial ecology of Reid Lifset and Thomas Graedel; the natural capitalism of Amory and Hunter Lovins and Paul Hawkens among others.
However, British economist Kenneth Boulding is identified by some scholars as the father of the term. When in 1966, he published the article “The economics of coming spaceship earth”, Boulding argued that: “Man needs to find his place in a cyclical ecological system that is able to continuously reproduce the material form, although he cannot avoid energy inputs ”.
The same concept was noticed and disseminated by the world-renowned sailor – Ellen MacArthur. In his experience of sailing long seasons with minimal resources, he noted the importance of saving them to ensure their survival. From this insight, she created a foundation with the purpose of creating and spreading the concept of a circular economy.
What are the principles of Circular Economy?
- Preserving and increasing natural resources – The central idea here is that man is not the only one to produce values.
- Natural resources – non-human “natural capital” is essential and valuable. Respecting and preserving these resources are fundamental for the balance between man and nature.
- Optimize resource production – Here the concept of reducing, recycling and reusing is well defined as well as the maximum preservation of natural resources.
- Close the cycle – the idea of self-sustaining, short cycles is healthy for preserving resources and avoiding waste.
- Enabling the system to be effective – spreading the harm of a non-circular system, such as pollution, loss of natural resources and proposing that they be avoided.
- Create a new social paradigm – The central idea of this principle is that any necessary change will undergo an exchange of people’s mentality and behavior
From Linear to Circular economy
We have lived in the culture of linear economics for many years. This concept explores resources without considering the impacts of their waste and the environmental consequences. This model is considered economically unfeasible because it acts in the present with little responsibility and disregards the future. It is centered on the idea of “Extract, Produce and Discard”.
The main disadvantages of this type of economy are the great negative environmental impact, the probable scarcity of many resources in the future, the dependence on natural resources as the only source besides the reduced useful life of the products.
The Circular Economy
The circular concept provides that all resources come from nature and must return to nature at the end of the cycle. This return can happen in the form of waste that coexists in balance with nature or in order to generate the least possible impact. It is a sustainable economic model, which uses resources now and plans a better world for the future.
The main benefits of this economy are to improve negative environmental impacts, reduce the production of new waste, in addition to reducing current waste and combating the causes of climate change. It is also capable of reducing carbon emissions, reducing dependence on fossil resources and promoting better preservation of natural resources.
Today most of the world already operates in this circular model and Europe has led this movement with great success. The European Union produces approximately 2.5 million tonnes of waste annually. In 2015, the Circular Economy Action Plan was adopted which aimed at sustainable growth in the European Union and proposed the transition from Europe to a circular economy.
In March of this year, the European Commission adopted a new Action Plan for the Circular Economy – one of the main foundations of the European Ecological Pact, Europe’s new roadmap for sustainable growth. Based on work carried out since 2015, the new plan focuses on the design and production phases of a circular economy, in order to ensure that the resources used are kept in the EU economy for as long as possible.
The Product Cycle concept
In practice, the circular economy, especially in the cosmetic industry, is based on the concept of product life cycle and the understanding that there is a system in which companies are inserted and each part has its role. In this concept, everything is interconnected from suppliers to consumers.
So it is necessary to understand that a brand or product is part of a connected value chain in which every movement has a relevant impact on the system. Therefore, managing this chain in a creative and innovative way is essential to differentiate brands.
The idea of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle is very present in the concept of circular economy. The order of these R’s is also important; always following the premise of trying to reduce, if you cannot try to reuse and if you have no other alternative recycle.
We consider the 6 stages of the product life cycle, the key point is to try to understand if your company has acted in the causes or is only concerned with the effects of sustainable choices.
Product design – This step allows you to plan product development in a broad way. It already includes thinking about solutions such as formulation, reducing packaging in weights and sizes, as well as ecological alternatives for packaging.
Raw materials and inputs – sustainability involves everything from the choice of natural ingredients, to assessing the distance between suppliers and inputs. In addition, it is necessary to think about the impacts for resource extraction and production.
Energy production and expenditure – The industrialization stage can be very important in achieving green credentials. The control and reduction of water use and the use of energy from renewable sources, such as solar or wind energy, can already greatly reduce the carbon footprint of the brands.
Transport and distribution – Optimizing the supply chain and structuring strategic distribution points are important. Considering alternatives for moving goods to final points of sale can help improve the brand’s sustainable performance. It is important to consider each aspect and how relevant it is to your business.
Product use – This has not been a stage that brands have been so concerned with when thinking about creating more sustainable solutions. A study by Cosmetics Europe identified that in the product Shampoo, only 5 to 20% of the impact on the life cycle of this product is attributed to raw materials, manufacturing, distribution and packaging. In other words, most of the carbon footprint of this product is in rinsing and washing during the use of the product. More concentrated formulations and 2in1 products can be a good alternative for the industry to deal with this impact.
Post use of the product – Several alternatives have been proposed for the post use of the product. The thought here is to turn waste into value whenever possible. And when you are unable to reuse, make your impacts smaller. Compostable, biodegradable packaging, green plastic, recycled plastic, bioplastics, glass, and many others. But regardless of which solution is defined as the best, it is important to consider that it will be necessary for the consumer to understand well what should be done with the packaging. Otherwise, all efforts may not work if this waste does not have a correct destination.
Different paths to sustainability
Many marketing strategies have been implemented to help brands educate their consumers. Discounts on the delivery of used packaging, recharge alternatives and benefit programs are some examples.
In the current market, many companies are specialized in waste management, offering solutions and alternatives for industries. TerraCycle is one of them and is a leader in the development of environmental solutions for products and packaging that are difficult to recycle. Present in many countries worldwide, it offers alternatives for the collection and recycling of packaging.
Sustainability is directly related to the maintenance of ecological balance. In order to keep the land habitable for all living beings, humans, flora and fauna, it is important to cultivate the idea that we should not receive more than we give.
It is important to be on a journey towards sustainability. Understand the variables that involve the entire process and make choices that make sense to the business values, to consumers and that have synergy with the available resources.
In addition, it is necessary to keep the product competitive, have transparency and establish long-term goals and objectives, to ensure that the evolution and / or adjustments of processes maintain quality.
Finally, it is essential to understand the role of the consumer and how important it is to maintain an approximation with him during the construction of this sustainable journey.
The industry develops products but it is consumers who handle and dispose of them. So clarifying and educating consumers is a strategic part of the sustainability plan. Good solutions only work if they become effective.
And then you are prepared or not to deal with this paradigm shift. Whether as a consumer or as a brand manager it is important to understand that the change is already effective.The pandemic has greatly accelerated the urgency for a circular economy. However, there are still many gaps in the market to be filled by brands. Companies that understand and manage these demands well will come out ahead!
So how have you been dealing with it? As a consumer, did you notice a change in your consumption behavior? And has your company innovated to deal with the circular economy?