The past and the future are actually not so different. Every past event has a cause or causes that, as we look back at them, typically make sense to us from our vantage point in the present. Likewise, each past event has implications and influences the events that follow it. It can be a very linear sequence that, again, make sense to us when we look back at them. The future works in the exact same way. The difference is that we don’t know what will happen in the future. Instead, we have a wide range of possible futures. But, just as with a singular event in the past, the events happening today, will shape the ultimate future.
Since the earliest flickers of the industrial revolution, business has been perfecting the linear economy model. At its extreme, this model is built on the idea there will be an infinite number of customers, wanting to own an infinite number of new, innovative objects — and there will be infinite resources to support this growth. In practice, we know it’s not that simple, nor is it true.
There are strong signals this ‘take, make, dispose and repeat’ model is under quiet attack. Industry growth rates are declining, material supply is constraining and substantial market shifts are taking place. More and more, organizations and consumers are choosing convenience, customization and performance over ownership and disposal.
A growing contingent of entrepreneurial start-ups and established, global companies, alike, are seeking to drive growth and innovate their value propositions through circular economic models.
What if we could deliver both the growth and the social and environmental
good we’ve been seeking?
The Circular Economy is a way to decouple economic growth from resource consumption. Circular Economy business models are most often product-service hybrids where products are designed to optimize service offerings.The role of products in these new business models changes. Instead of products being designed for disassembly to avoid the landfill, for instance, they might be designed for disassembly, reassembly and parts harvesting. Products become the engines of circular models. Their embedded attributes create recurring opportunities to generate value, revenue and good.
The idea of the circular economy only took off in the 1980s, but this doesn't mean that the practices at the core of a circular economy, such as repairing, recycling, refurbishing, or repurposing, are equally novel. All of these strategies have the aim of keeping materials in use – whether as objects or as their raw components – for as long as possible. And all are hardly revolutionary.
The repurposing of objects and materials may be as old as tool use itself. In Palaeolithic times, smaller flint tools were made from old hand-axes. People in the Neolithic period had no problem reusing standing stones to construct their tombs, such as seen in Locmariaquer in France. Even ceramics, made from clay and therefore available in abundance, were frequently recycled. Old pottery was often ground down to powder and used in the clay for new pots. On Minoan Crete, this ceramic powder, known as grog, was also used to manufacture the mudbricks from which houses were built.