What carpet companies can teach us about a circular economy

It's always interesting to see what comes out of the annual Davos gathering. It was another year to talk about current and emerging challenges and the idea of the circular economy came to the forefront. Although the concept of keeping materials in cycles has been around for a while, the arrival of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to the conversation has given it new life.

The World Economic Forum recently released the report "Towards the Circular Economy: Accelerating the scale-up across global supply chains," prepared in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey & Co. Looking from across the world, it seems as though the foundation, with the backing of the WEF, really could make a difference in tackling the issue of limited natural resources and creating systems to retrieve these resources. There's no doubt that with the right players, these systems can be created.

When considering a circular economy, we should take a closer look at carpet companies, such as Shaw and Desso. Desso CEO Alexander Collot d'Escury attended Davos to support the concept. He appropriately noted that his own company has created systems to take back its carpet and reuse, sell or recycle its yarns. Other carpet companies have done the same, including Georgia-based Shaw Industries. Both companies have recognized they could save money, reduce carbon emissions and bring added value to their customers by getting back used carpet. So when the foundation and the team at Davos discuss creating a circular economy, they need look no further than these big carpet companies that already have figured it out.

These executives and their companies clearly understand the barriers that must be successfully overcome for a circular economy to become commonplace. They know that the biggest hurdle is to provide the infrastructure to get back materials and keep them in complete cycles. Is there a chance that national or state regulators would take on that task?

Forty years ago, the state of California made a huge investment in collecting and recycling beverage containers. As the former director of the California Department of Conservation, I oversaw the implementation of a consumer incentive (CVR Program): a 5 cent refund on each container. This incentive, along with investments by cities to create curbside recycling and the continued involvement of state agencies, recycled 82 percent of containers in 2010 and nearly 18 billion bottles and cans per year.

Whether it's a can or an old carpet, the story is the same. The system has to be created. Some company or nation has to have a leader who steps up and makes the commitment. Investments have to be made, but the key is always leadership.

I'm hoping many leaders will come to the table to implement Project Mainstream as outlined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the WEC.

It is another step in the movement in which so many of us live day in and day out. Be it waste management, designing for a healthier tomorrow in the built environment or consumer products, or everything in between, we are on a journey to make the world a more peaceful and prosperous place for the 7 billion here, and for future generations to come.

Carpet image by udra11 via Shutterstock.