Circular Economy Survey

How circular is the business world today? - Results of the global survey

Jun. 8 2020

At the beginning of 2020, the world was on track to reach record levels of greenhouse gas emissions and produce record-breaking rates of waste generation. Instead, carbon levels showed the largest drop ever due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, as countries look for ways to reopen their economies while preparing for an uncertain future, some see this as an opportunity to replace old models with more sustainable approaches.

In late 2019 and early 2020, we set out to take a snapshot of the state of the circular economy: how it was being adopted, what barriers and challenges companies were facing in adopting it. The circular economy, which is based on the principle that waste should be transformed into raw material for future production, offers a clear alternative to the old “take, make, waste” approach. It is steadily gaining in recognition and acceptance, with around a third of companies surveyed declaring that they have adopted or are planning to adopt it and a further third considering it.

Circularity: an embedded value, a conscious choice or both

In some cases, circularity and sustainability are integral parts of companies’ missions. “Sustainability has been embedded in our business since its inception,” explains a sustainability manager at a real estate management company. “Other companies may be saying they can do this going forward, but we’ve actually done it.”

For others, it has been a matter of adapting to new ways of doing business as mentalities have evolved. A majority of organizations, 63%, reported feeling pressure from stakeholders to improve their sustainability, a trend that is only likely to increase. Almost a quarter of organizations reported feeling pressure from consumers. “The push for change is coming—and will continue to come—from consumers,” notes Ellen Campbell, CEO of NECi, a chemicals company.

Barriers to circularity

Organizations worldwide are still facing hurdles to adopting a circular model. Many companies report a lack of knowledge, time and budget internally, which results in a lack of buy-in. External barriers include a lack of maturity in their industry to bureaucratic red tape to a lack of visibility of their products’ lifecycles. “Information is still key. How are our products being used? How are they being disposed of? How can we better design them with the end in mind if we don’t have that information? Data on sourcing, reusability, recyclability, and actual recycling rates are crucial pieces of the puzzle,” says Roy Vissers, Global Circular Economy Lead at DSM.

Embedding circularity in a company’s culture

For almost 30% of companies, the decision to adopt a circular economy model is made as part of a conscious strategy to improve their sustainability credentials, while 20% do so in response to the risk of scarcity of natural resources.

Whatever the reason behind the decision, embedding circularity in a company’s culture requires time and effort. “Internally, we are still working on embedding circularity in our culture,” says Martin Fryer, Sustainability Manager at Mercury Power. “For example, we are moving to an all-electric fleet, which has led to concern about waste from lithium-ion batteries. That kind of thinking is restricting how we adopt circularity. The question should be, ‘how many lifetimes can we get out of each battery before it becomes raw materials again?’ These are the conversations that lead to cultural changes.”

As companies seek new ways of working to address threats of resource scarcity, to adapt to changing regulations and to demonstrate their desire to become more sustainable, the momentum for adopting a circular economy continues to grow. To learn more about how and why businesses are implementing a circular approach, read the Global Survey Report here.

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