The traditional “take-make-dispose” economic models are increasingly unviable. But wait: There’s potentially good news for bold businesses — and for society — in the long term.
It’s fashionable for too many CSR/sustainable development commentaries these days to be defensive. So an “opportunity” analysis/projection in that space is refreshing. That’s what Peter Lacy, managing director of Accenture’s Asia Pacific Strategy and Sustainability Services, presents in his commentary, “The circular economy’s trillion-dollar opportunity” just published by Eco-Business Asia Pacific.
The circular economy business model has been getting traction around the world. The Scandinavian think tank Sustainia recently called it the topmost trend driving sustainability innovation worldwide. The World Economic Forum has estimated that under current “take-make-waste” economic models some 80% of the U.S. $3.2 trillion of the value of global consumer goods sector is lost irretrievably each year. And the UN Global Compact has presented case histories of companies already benefiting from this model.
Mr. Lacy explains that the circular economy model “refers to initiatives to restructure manufacturing and product design in a way that the materials used are returned to value chains, product lifespans are extended through repair and refurbishment, and consumption is reframed in terms of temporary services rather than permanent ownership.’
While he cites good business advantages such as cost savings, minimizing risk and addressing needs of consumers, he is a realist on the prospects for such a major business-in-society revolution: “Rather than relying on the mythical beast of behavioural change, we are far better off creating the right policy structures, and incentivising businesses to innovate products and services that take away the additional labour of behavioural change.”
And: “We should not overstate the case of the circular economy. It is by no means a panacea, but a powerful component, and one that we will see a lot more in the future.”