With today's linear model of manufacturing and consumption, the production of everyday materials accounts for an astonishing 45% of CO2 emissions. As the world population is growing at an average of 81 million people per year, demand for clothing, housing, electronics, food, energy, fuel and general material is rapidly increasing. So why is it important to change our model of manufacturing?
We're not only depleting a limited supply of resources but also, this intense demand for these natural materials such as cotton and oil puts severe pressure on our already struggling planet.
Cotton is now used to produce 50% of all textiles, and it is the most widespread and profitable non-food crop. While the growing demand for cotton has helped provide an income for 250 million people worldwide and employs almost 7% of all labour in developing countries, current cotton production methods are environmentally unsustainable. The constant need for more cotton is detrimental to the environment because of its high water consumption, pollution and soil degradation. Cotton uses 6% of the world's pesticides and 16% of all insecticides, more than any other crop.
Because of our current linear way of sourcing, manufacturing and discarding products such as cotton-made textiles, our planet is facing a crisis, and something needs to change. And one way we can all make this step forward is to change the way we create, shop and recycle by utilising circular methods of production.
The phrase circular economy is becoming increasingly well-known in manufacturing, especially in fashion. We've broken down what a circular economy really is, how it differs from today's linear economy, and how changing the way we manufacture and produce everyday materials is critical to a more green and sustainable future.
A linear economy follows the 'take, make & dispose' model; we extract natural materials, process them into a product, use the product, and then throw it away when it no longer serves a purpose.
In a linear economy, it is generally the consumer's responsibility to recycle. Unfortunately, this poses a problem as consumer recycling rates are usually meagre. For example, despite being fully recyclable, only 14% of plastic packaging is recycled, 40% ends up in landfills, and the rest becomes plastic pollution.
Pollution and landfill waste is a consequence of a linear economy. This type of inefficient production is dependent on large quantities of cheap and accessible materials and energy. As resources become scarce, this model becomes economically and environmentally unsustainable.
In contrast to a linear system, a circular economy aims to create a 'closed loop' of resource use. This requires much more than simply encouraging consumers to recycle; it requires a complete change in the way businesses extract, build and sell products.
A circular economy approach argues that we should use recycled materials to create new products instead of traditional virgin (brand new)resources. It encourages the switch to clean and renewable energy sources and reusable packaging for delivery during production.
This economy promotes innovative product design and systems that support repairs and long-lasting functionality. It also encourages end-consumer recycling to complete the circle. This system ultimately reduces waste, increases resource efficiency and helps reduce the negative environmental impact of production.
If you create and sell physical products, you want to incorporate ways to circulate your products and materials back up the chain, allowing them to either stay in use, be taken apart and reused, or be easily recycled by the consumer.
Some things to think about include:
Using recycled or upcycled materials in production and remanufacturing them into sellable items will help save resources while reducing waste, and could even save you money.
Reusing previously discarded elements of your production process such as material offcuts, water, and even heat can help to massively reduce the impact of manufacturing.
If you sell technological items, bikes, cars, or furniture, offer your customers a repair or maintenance function to extend their life cycle.
Using recyclable packaging or reducing as much packaging as possible. Some companies prevent waste by gathering previously sold products from customers and reusing them.
You can also extend your product's life cycle through a renting scheme, reducing costs for quality products rather than throwing away cheap ones and repurchasing after.
Many companies are already embracing a circular economy strategy. Yuma Labs produce zero-waste, 3d printed sunglasses following the closed-loop philosophy. Instead of using raw materials, they create sunglasses using plastic from recycled car dashboards and soda bottles. This reduces the environmental impact of raw material extraction and helps combat existing plastic pollution. The brand has also developed incentives for consumers to bring back their old sunglasses to recycle them. This recycling scheme offers discount incentives where the longer you've had your sunglasses, the larger the discount is.
This is only one example of a brand leading the way for more sustainable production. A circular economy helps protect our natural resources, encouraging innovation and design, making this system an environmentally and economically viable option.
The government is also making strides to encourage manufacturers to embrace more circular production methods. The Green Deal and Paris Agreement included the New Circular Economic Action Plan. While the first plan was focused on recycling and reusing, this new action plan is all about preventive measures and targeting the issue from production. The program estimates that using more circular production methods will have significant environmental and social benefits, creating 700,000 jobs within the EU by 2030 and increasing EU GDP growth by 0.5%.
At Greenspark, we are passionate about helping businesses grow their positive impact. Many of the brands in the Greenspark community are using circular methods of production, such as using recycled materials or more sustainably sourced materials such as bamboo. We help them to take their sustainable action on stage further and create tangible environmental impact for their customers and employees.
We've made it as simple for you as possible to add impact to every sale, subscriber or review. You can make a positive impact by planting trees, rescuing plastic from the ocean, or helping communities in Malawi use more energy-efficient cooking stoves.
If you want to learn more about making an environmental impact, you can book a demo of the Greenspark platform here to find out how impact works perfectly alongside circular production methods.