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In the Loop

3 circularity roles every business needs

Bringing a circular transformation to life across the company requires these essential players, from the C-suite down to the supply chain trenches.

Companies should draw out high-level roadmaps with "specific, time-bound steps".

Companies should draw out high-level roadmaps with "specific, time-bound steps". Credit: Pexels/michaela-st

More than half of large businesses have circularity commitments. However, global circularity, measured by the consumption rate of non-virgin materials, continues to fall. To fulfill their commitments, companies need a specific set of fundamental roles and responsibilities.

Engaging the following two critical functions will ensure that the transition to circularity is an organization-wide priority, backed by adequate staff and resources.

1. The visionary leader

At the heart of any organization's journey towards circularity lies the need for visionary leadership, commitment and collaboration across functions. 

Traditionally, a chief sustainability officer develops and implements strategies to ensure environmentally sustainable and socially responsible operations, while aligning with business objectives. A CSO or other executive-level position dedicated to circularity bears added responsibilities. 

Microsoft’s Circularity Lead Alessandra Pistoia shared her take.

"To drive meaningful circular economy progress, the central corporate team should focus on defining the organization's circularity vision and strategy, leading external partnerships to unblock big challenges, and collaborate with accountable business units across the company to ensure meaningful progress and accurate reporting," she said.

Companies can’t simply change single product lines, nor merely add on circular services to existing business models. Instead, this leader must articulate the long-term changes to ensure profitability and high-quality products and services, all while eliminating waste, pollution and externalities. 

It helps to create shared, high-level roadmaps so that the overall strategy and pace of goal progress is understood across teams.

Eva Karlsson, CEO of outdoor apparel brand Houdini, stands out as an executive with this clear corporate vision: "100 percent circular with nature as the blueprint for our circular principles."

Perhaps more important, under her leadership, Houdini has outlined an ambitious roadmap requiring specific, time-bound steps.

"Because of the complexity inherent in circularity work, it helps to create shared, high-level roadmaps so that the overall strategy and pace of goal progress is understood across teams," said Alice Hartley, director of circularity at Under Armour. "This also helps create continuity as new people join or roles change over time."

Chris Grantham, co-founder of consultancy Regenovate, helps companies to reframe business value around regenerative activities.

"A key challenge to leadership and a key challenge of leadership is reframing the culture and mindset around value," he said.

2. The engine of change 

Embedding circularity within the fabric of the business also requires a dedicated circular economy manager to drive change. This leader, with their team, embeds circular principles into every aspect of the business, from procurement and production to distribution and end-of-life management. 

In the tech world, such as at Microsoft and Google, this person may be called the circular economy lead. Across other industries, such a role takes on a number of titles: VP, circular economy (L'Oréal); senior director, global head of circular models (The Lego Group); or director, circular economy (common across consultancies).

This manager’s specialized unit assumes multifaceted responsibilities. They may identify circular opportunities, spearhead innovation initiatives, conduct lifecycle assessments, foster collaboration, advocate with stakeholders, monitor progress and continuously adapt strategies to market dynamics and sustainability imperatives.

Circularity goals, like general sustainability goals, are often shared across departments.

Circularity goals, like general sustainability goals, are often shared across departments, according to Hartley. 

"Therefore it’s important to set up good cross-functional governance, both to set solid goals in the first place and also to ensure accountability over time," she said. Hartley recommends that teams co-own circularity goals, such as between sourcing and product design.

3. The supply chain specialist

A third, critical category of circular economy work includes supply chain sustainability experts. They redesign supply chain processes by adopting circular procurement practices and material circularity assessments, and by promoting circular design principles. 

For example, three open job postings underscore the growing demand for this specific expertise: director, supply chain circularity at KPMG and program manager III, circular economy, supply chain sustainability at Google.

Ultimately, the supply chain team operationalizes resource efficiency, minimizes waste and cultivates strong, long-term relationships with suppliers dedicated to sustainability and continuous improvement. This role helps drive systemic change across the company’s activities, mitigating environmental impacts while unlocking long-term value for the organization.

Completing the circle

The visionary executives, circularity managers and supply chain experts described above bear direct responsibility for aligning business practices with the principles of resource efficiency, waste reduction and innovation.

However, this list is far from complete. Supply chain experts, for instance, receive signals about what to source from product development experts, who in turn, require direction from designers.

And as supply chain specialists and circular economy teams advocate for circular business models, the finance team substantiates the business case, securing buy-in across the company.

Ultimately, to transition away from linear economic systems, circularity must become part of every employee’s vocabulary and responsibility.

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