Circular Economy: Living and Doing Business More Sustainably

Humans are very smart, but they also want convenience. Plastic was born out of this need for convenience, especially the cheap and single-use disposable variety, among other things that are filling up the landfills fast and clogging up the oceans.

Our use of finite resources and the way we source for them, process them and manufacture them are also often damaging to the environment as well.

People have realized that all this is not sustainable and destructive to the environment. Hence, there have been efforts to come up with more sustainable and non-damaging ways to live and do business.

According to Yvon Chouinard, Jib Ellison and Rick Ridgeway in their article on sustainable economy in the Harvard Business Review, the concept of sustainability has evolved through three phases. In the beginning, the efforts were mostly defensive strategies to reduce environmental impacts and cut waste. This later evolved into efforts to innovative and involved whole value chains. Currently, considerations of environmental impact are being discussed at the management or decision-making level of companies. Ideally, the future decision makers should not ask “How can we make a profit?” and “How can we reduce our impact?”, but regard sustainable business as the status quo – how business should be conducted.

Enter the concept of a circular economy. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation defines ‘circular economy’ as a ‘framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design’.

Seeking to progress beyond the current take-make-dispose extractive industrial model, the circular economy concept focuses on separating economic activity from the unsustainable consumption of resources that will one day run out. It also seeks to design waste out of the system entirely, and promote development that incorporates positive benefits for society. There is an emphasis on migrating to the use of renewable energy.

The foundation further explained that the three main principles of circular economy are: (1) to design out waste and pollution, (2) keep products and materials in use, and (3) restore natural systems.

To be realistic, the end result you should aim for is not to completely close the loop. To make the circular economy possible, we have to work towards it by taking one step at a time. It starts with us. Ask yourself, “What can I do to make it happen?”

We cannot sit on the sidelines and expect governments and businesses to change. We have to be the change. Awareness is the key. If there is a growing demand for it, something will come up to cater to the new demand.

“Try to explore within your own role. That’s where the innovation can come in,” said Chin Lijin, who is a consultant at PE Research Sdn. Bhd. She and her colleagues organised a talk and video screening to educate the public about the circular economy, on 19 December 2018 at WORQ, Glo Damansara.

“At the end of a product’s life cycle, it should be upcycled into something else. That is an important part of the circular economy,” Chin added.

To find out more about the circular economy, how you can join the growing movement and do your part, check out the Ellen MacArthur Foundation website (www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org), the Circular Economy Club website (www.circulareconomyclub.com), and the Disruptive Innovation Festival (www.thinkdif.co).

Photo credit: Jeamme Chia and Sara Loh

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