For decades, architects and designers have generally approached sustainability goals by focusing on operational energy—energy consumed for heating, cooling, and lighting. But while building performance has become more efficient over the years, embodied carbon—the carbon footprint of a material, which considers the greenhouse gases released to produce it—has grown exponentially. “We need to think about designing products with their end in mind,” says Franco Rossi, president of Aquafil USA, which produces completely regenerated nylon carpet yarn from waste, called ECONYL® nylon. “Many times, that end is the landfill. So, what do you do with this information?” According to Rossi, tackling the problem of material waste is a long-term effort, but a necessary one. Each year, four billion pounds of carpet—one of the primary uses for nylon—are discarded in landfills.
Their goal is an ambitious one: make the world more prosperous by transitioning it from a linear economy that only works from inputs to outputs to a circular economy that loops both together. Instead of designing clothing to be cast off and ultimately end up in a landfill, for example, reuse those old garments in the creation of something new. While it’s a noble vision from the nonprofit organization Circle Economy, as Marijana Novak, the organization’s data strategist explained during the Daring Cities conference, “unless we explicitly include employment and wellness into the circular economy metrics, we may not get the just transition that we’re working towards.” This challenge is particularly relevant in the global south, she said, where there are many unemployed youth and large informal economies.
There were more than 12,000 registrants for GreenBiz Group’s Circularity 20 conference. Among those thousands were 12 young professionals, selected to be part of the Emerging Leaders scholarship program. Since February 2017, GreenBiz has been supporting this initiative — bringing together young professionals at each of its in-person events, all-expenses paid. This year is different with the global pandemic pushing events online. But even in the virtual world, the Emerging Leaders program lived on during Circularity 20. This year, chemicals company BASF sponsored the program; it will be providing mentorship to each of the Emerging Leaders.
In order to transform the way fashion companies produce jeans, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation announced last year new circular economy guidelines tackling waste, pollution and the use of harmful practices, setting minimum requirements on garment durability, material health, recyclability and traceability. Joined by the H&M Group and several other major fashion brands, manufacturers and fabric mills around the world, “let’s redesign denim” became the collective vision and immediate challenge at hand.
The circular economy offers OEMs in the enterprise technology market new revenue streams, improved sustainability and enhanced brand protection. By outsourcing downstream processes, including reverse logistics, repair services, de-manufacturing, warehousing and IT asset disposition, manufacturers can maximize product value and free up their resources to focus on new innovations. Today’s technology manufacturing landscape is one of balance between meeting consumer hyper-demands for “the next big thing” and carefully managing finite resources. The circular economy is a global movement that attempts to strike that balance through reverse logistics, repair strategies and sustainable reuse. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) participating in the circular economy are leveraging sustainable practices to extend product lifecycles and capture value long after the initial product sale.