Blog: August 2019

How Small Businesses Are Pioneering A Circular Economy
Why is a circular economy important to today’s shoppers?
A circular economy is one that doesn't produce waste. What that means is when a product reaches the end of its life, its component parts can be separated and re-used; or at the simpler end of the spectrum, when someone wants to replace something, they take it to a charity shop or recycling centre instead of putting it in the bin so it can be taken to a landfill site. A circular economy is sustainable and it abhors the notion of built-in obsolescence. And sustainability has, at last, become a mainstream concern. Global warming, climate change, Greta Thunberg, David and campaigners are driving home the message that we have urgently to reduce CO2 emissions if we're to live comfortably on this planet. As shoppers, more of us want to see words such as recyclable, ethical, eco friendly, biodegradable on packaging and we do read the labels in a effort not be conned by corporate greenwashing. 
What role do small businesses play in pioneering a circular economy?
Small businesses are uniquely placed to surge forward with circular economy models because their size means they're more agile and able to adapt to changes in consumer demand. And new companies are very aware of the need to have sustainability at the core of their business model for many reasons: it can be cheaper in the long run, it makes it easier to meet regulations and they will appeal more to customers. Shoppers are increasingly choosing sustainability over price.
How do small businesses incorporate a circular economy into their business models?
One company incorporating a circular economy model in an interesting way is Baroc Jewellery and Homeware. Founder James Rees, says they work with designers who make bespoke jewellery from recycled material such as tin. 'In this sense we incorporate a circular economy model through our collaboration with designers.' And he points out that jewellers have, of course, been pretty green in their working methods for millennia, as they've always re-used gold and silver - two precious metals that never have and never will be sent to landfill. 
Envirobuild is another company with a circular economy model at its heart. As a producer of high-end home and garden products such as decking, fencing and garden furniture, an eco-friendly approach to their products was always a priority for co-founder Aidan Bell: 'Our aim is to make products that not only create value from recycled materials but can also be recycled at the end of their life. We also use FSC-certified packaging and paper for our brochures, and re-use second-hand office furniture. We give it new life and save it from landfill.'
Jonathan Wilkins, director of industrial automation parts supplier EU Automation, advocates a system of reuse, remake, recover as an alternative to the traditional linear model of make, use, dispose. 'We live in a throwaway society and this isn’t just the case with consumer goods, it also applies to industrial parts, especially  parts prone to quick obsolescence such as electronics.' By upgrading and repairing parts rather than purchasing an entirely new system, companies significantly reduce their waste and keep costs low.
Toby Heelis, CEO of Eventopedia, offers another take. He believes when it comes to sustainability, people often get caught up in the production side of things. 'But if we look at the fact that one of the most polluting industries in the UK is transport, it’s important not to forget the environmental impact of other huge lifestyle industries related to these, such as travel and events. To create an economy that's fully circular and sustainable, it’s not just about tackling tangible waste materials.'
How does following a circular economy model benefit small businesses?
Catherine Weetman, of Rethink Global and author of A Circular Economy Handbook For Business And Supply Chains, is an expert on the circular economy and knows just how beneficial using a CE model can be for small businesses. 'Shoppers are looking for more sustainable options, so providing high-quality products and services that last longer and perform well helps create stronger, deeper customer relationships.' She also points out that people who love a brand will help to spread the word about it, providing a completely free form of marketing!
But a CE conomy model isn’t just an advantage from a customer perspective. Karen Bird at sustainable catering company Catering 24, says their environmental focus is a great draw for recruitment. 'Putting green issues at the heart of what we do is one of the things that really attracts young people to want to work for us. We can attract and employ a team of passionate, enthusiastic people who care about environmental issues, and they help us to develop our sustainability offer as the company continues to grow.'
How can consumers find ethical brands using a circular economy?
Word of mouth has traditionally been the best way to find businesses and brands that align with our own moral compasses. But more recently marketing strategies have started to focusing on environmentalism and sustainability. It can be as simple as performing a quick online search to find an ethical version of what we want to buy. But when in doubt remember some golden eco rules: shop locally, prioritise ethics over convenience and support small businesses that demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. 
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