Triodos Research winter e-zine

Circular economy frontrunners

Case Study

Circular business models take whole value chains into account, from resources and suppliers, through to production processes, end-products and waste. Some companies are already working hard on their approach and making good progress. Find out who’s doing what.

A circular economy can be a big challenge for companies, especially for those with multiple business lines and products. Currently there is no stock-listed company with a fully circular business model. And yet the transition has already begun with many companies adopting circular elements in their business models  and an increasing number of pilot initiatives. Several companies have specific programmes and tackle the challenges via ambitious targets, eliminating negative impacts, seeking net positive status, and closing the loop at a product’s traditional end of life.

Interface and Mission Zero

Interface, the world's largest designer and maker of carpet tiles, envisions becoming a restorative company, leaving the world a better place than when it began. The company’s Mission Zero , established in 1994, commits to eliminating any negative impact it may have on the environment by 2020. In 2007, Interface became the first carpet manufacturer to implement a process for the clean separation of carpet fibre from the backing, allowing for a maximum amount of post-consumer material to be recycled into new products with minimal contamination. New thinking such as biomimicry has become the guide for running the business and uses nature as a guide – using renewable energy, fitting form to function, recycling everything, and creating no waste. Finding alternatives to virgin petroleum-based raw materials is a key component of the Mission Zero goal, and the company is exploring ways to increase the use of renewable and recycled materials in all components. As of 2016, 58% of the raw materials used to make carpet were either recycled or bio-based.

Owens Corning and a net positive status

Owens Corning develops and produces insulation, roofing, and fibre glass composites. The US-based company is a Founding Member of the Net Positive Project,  a coalition aimed at expanding the number of companies that contribute to society, the environment, and the global economy in a net positive way. The company is already one of the largest users of recycled glass, with its’ fibre glass insulation products containing at least 53% recycled content, in some products up to 73%. The fibre glass itself is used to increase energy efficiency in houses and commercial buildings. Using recycled glass not only decreases community landfill waste, but also lowers the company’s energy use when manufacturing insulation, because starting from raw materials such as sand requires more energy.

Cisco and high recovery rates

Global leader in IT and system networking, Cisco, aims to increase the return of used products for reuse, resale and recycling. The company estimates that 50% of its products can be recycled, while the current recovery rate is 18% - already one of the highest recovery rates reached by circular economy frontrunners. In addition, the company studies leasing and as-a-service models to facilitate product return. The company's Takeback and Recycle Program  includes options for customers and partners that produce or repair Cisco equipment. It also accepts non-Cisco equipment from customers when it has been replaced by new Cisco items.

Philips Lighting and minimising e-waste

E-Waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams. In collaboration with industry partners, Philips Lighting established Collection & Recycling Service Organizations (CRSO) in 22 EU member states. The CRSOs manage the collection of lamps and ensure that 85-90% of a lamp is recycled, thereby closing the materials loop and enabling re-use of valuable resources and materials. The company has also created a rental service whereby lighting fixtures are leased to customers who pay a flat rate for lighting. If the customer exceeds its expected energy usage, it receives a restitution from Philips. This creates a financial incentive for Philips to provide the customer with the most energy-efficient service possible, while the customer has a predictable fixed price for the duration of the contract.

Related articles