How the circular economy can help your company retain its competitive edge

How the circular economy can help your company retain its competitive edge

This article is sponsored by the US Chamber Foundation

Ever sifted through a landfill? It’s not for the faint of heart. But if you do, you’d find yourself amid tons of discarded yet valuable materials of all types, from electronics to food to textiles.

Consider: Four billion pounds of carpet are sent to landfills every year, according to Hugh Welsh, President for DSM North America. The company, born as a mining giant (the initials originally stood for Dutch State Mines) and now a science-based solutions company, has a Dutch appreciation for adventure. And taking on big ideas.

Circular economy models and principles have played a critical role in shaping DSM’s direction, thinking and revenue projections as it navigated the shift from a traditional mining company to one focused on life and material sciences.

For example, carpets: After realizing how much waste the carpet industry was producing because of the non-recyclability of its products, DSM decided to tackle the issue head-on by developing a carpet that would be fully recyclable without compromising quality, price, or durability.

The result: DSM Niaga, a 100 percent recyclable carpet developed and manufactured in partnership with Niaga, a startup design firm.

DSM Niaga ran its first production line in March and the carpet will be sold by Mohawk later this year. Customers will be paid to return the carpet after use to a recycling facility or to Mohawk directly so that it can be used as feedstock for the next line of carpet. Win. Win. Win.

This is the kind of example that makes me proud to work with partners like DSM North America to grow the circular economy here in the United States. As a leading resource and voice for companies committed to contributing business solutions to global challenges, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Citizenship Center has been helping companies make the world a better place for a long time.

The circular economy in the United States is quickly gaining momentum as a viable and profitable alternative to the linear take-make-dispose economy. This is bolstered by the 2015 Accenture study that estimated that the circular economy could generate $4.5 trillion of additional economic output by 2030. We work with more than 150 companies to help them learn, share, network and collaborate to help accelerate the circular economy transition in the United States and globally, such as through case study reports, research, events and pilot projects and programs.

Companies of all sizes are on this journey. UPS, one of the world’s largest shipping companies, is incorporating reverse logistics and 3D printing into its growth strategy as it continues to explore how to best tackle the issue of waste, packaging and returns. Handling returns should be easy and frictionless for its end consumers as well as corporate customers. But neither should the process lead to endless streams of packaging and waste. For UPS, circular economy principles are helping it decode this conundrum while staying competitive and sustainable.

Although DSM and UPS showcase practical approaches to how companies are leveraging these opportunities for growth, performance and competitiveness, it remains equally critical to continue increasing the understanding of key circular issues. To truly scale the circular economy in the U.S., amplifying and creating forums for continual sharing of ideas such as design, new business models, supply chain innovation and transformative partnerships remains a key component of our work.

For example, our annual Circular Economy and Sustainability Summit serves as a key forum for private- and public-sector leaders to advance the dialogue and collective action around shared circular economy and sustainability priorities. This year’s event will focus on helping participants identify practical actions and solutions they can take to turn circular economy aspiration into profitable action to optimize resources, eradicate waste, accelerate innovation and performance, and contribute to a stronger competitive economy.

For DSM, the event has been an important forum to exchange ideas, propel others to action by example, as well as push forward the thinking and investment in the sector through collaborations.

“We at DSM, as you know, believe in taking a stand on big issues and ideas,” Hugh Welsh told me recently. “Working with your team has been instrumental in our efforts to do that tangibly as we continue to find a way for corporate America to bring it all together to future-proof ourselves against issues such as climate change.”

For DSM, investing in and experimenting with circular models presents a competitive edge as it rethinks its role and progress in a resource-constrained world.

As Welsh puts it, “The linear economy is doomed. The model of take-make-dispose is obsolete. We must figure out how to operate more sustainably, environmentally and profit-wise. Because no company can survive where society falls.”

Why should the 2017 Circular Economy and Sustainability Summit be on your agenda? We will be highlighting new and innovative projects and collaborations, such as:

  • Circular Economy Toolbox: We know we must continue to push forward on practical applications of the circular economy. So, we’ve partnered with The Sustainability Consortium and the Retail Industry Leaders Association to develop a web-based toolbox to help companies integrate circularity into their core principles. Focused on easy application regardless of which stage you might be along the circular economy spectrum, the toolbox is meant to capitalize on the business value of circular models. We’ll highlight this at the summit in one of our deep-dive workshops designed to help attendees learn actionable steps to be more circular.

  • Beyond 34 pilot project: Along with our dedicated efforts to promote more business adoption of circular models, we are critically aware that without sufficient infrastructure, these models will fail. So to facilitate a more scalable and tangible improvement in local recycling and recovery rates in the U.S., we launched our first pilot project, Beyond 34: Recycling and Recovery for a New Economy. Developed in collaboration with Resource Recycling Systems and with initial funding from the Walmart Foundation, Target, Republic Services, Dow Chemical and Walgreens, Beyond 34 provides a platform demonstrating how to optimize recycling and recovery of high-value materials generated from commercial, industrial and residential sources through private-public partnership and adoption of best practices. At the summit, we will provide an update on the project and how other partners can get engaged.

We’ll also be releasing a new set of case studies and best practices to help demonstrate how businesses can leverage circular models to stay competitive and retain their value and relevance.

To learn more, I welcome you to join us at the 2017 Summit. (You can save 25 percent off registration using the code GB25.)