Published 1 month ago.
About a 8 minute read.
Image: Kohler Waste Lab
This week at SB’23 San Diego, two illuminating panels featured experts from a variety of aspects of the emerging circular economy, who shared key insights and lessons learned in the pursuit of circularity.
L-R: Andrew McCue, Darren Beck and Jamie Hall
On Monday afternoon, a rich, two-part workshop delved into the often overlooked
and intricate facets of constructing robust circular models. In the first half,
Darren Beck, Studio Lead for Circular
KC at the Foundation for Regeneration; Jamie
Hall, co-founder and Chief
Brand Officer at Pentatonic; and Andrew
McCue, Commercial and Partnerships
Lead for Agriculture, Land Use and Biodiversity for
Metabolic; explored making an impact at the local,
business and global levels, and explored how brands can nurture it through
platforms and planning.
Moderated by Ty Montague, Chairman,
co-founder and Chief Purpose Officer at brand purpose consultancy
co:collective, the second half of the panel shared
a brand-centric perspective — diving into innovative, real-life solutions to the
complex challenges posed by the circular economy. This discussion featured
Lindsey Hoell, CEO of
Dispatch Goods; Monty
Stauffer, Lead Industrial Designer
Product and Process at Kohler Waste
and Returnity CEO Mike
Circularity processes and connections should be applied at all levels, and
across private and public spheres, to be successful. At a local level in its
home of Kansas City, KS, the Foundation for Regeneration is cultivating a
proactive and forward-thinking approach to sustainability — and regenerative
solutions are paramount. This comprehensive approach encompasses awareness,
collaboration, market analysis, product transformation, local resource capacity,
business support and strategic investment — all of which the Foundation utilizes
to unearth opportunities for enhancement.
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“Mindset is key,” Beck said. “It’s not about managing a problem. It’s about
preparing for an opportunity.”
The opportunity to become circular often requires a review from an economic
perspective. Metabolic, a collective of organizations and consulting teams, is
dedicated to collaborating with governments and NGOs to catalyze a
transformative shift in the global economy. Metabolic's approach entails a
comprehensive material flow analysis, industry-specific material reviews, and
the development of economic plans — ultimately mapping out circular cities
primed for a sustainable and regenerative future. While society often favors
cheaper, linear models that promote overconsumption, long-term strategies that
focus on more than just carbon emissions and recycling can steer us toward a
As McCue noted, “We have to move fast; but we will be more effective if we have
To lower their environmental impact effectively, brands must be very clear on
what they are procuring on a holistic level and understand the legislation that
is coming down the pike. Pentatonic and its platform of digital tools are at the
forefront of democratizing circularity for some of the world's most prominent
brands. As Hall pointed out, these brands — particularly those involved in
consumer packaging — wield considerable influence, as well as contributing to 70
percent of global emissions, most of which is concentrated within the supply
chain. Pentatonic adopts a hybrid model that seamlessly blends consulting
expertise with the critical design phase.
“Design engineering and material sourcing is an important part of the circular
cycle,” Hall says. “If you are focusing on designing for circularity, you must
Through the lens of design, it is important for brands to think outside of the
norms while finding materials that are readily available. Pentatonic’s platform
equips clients with the ability to monitor every facet of a product's lifecycle,
including its ultimate disposal — fostering a holistic approach to circularity
while keeping a pulse on legislation that may be driving change and fines.
“We are seeing brands calculate fines per state,” Hall said. “I encourage brands
to think about what they can do to circumvent them.”
Just as important as taking ownership of supply chains, brands must take
ownership of waste streams through models that motivate consumers to make the
shift. In the case of Kohler, which
specializes in plumbing and home furnishings, the company assessed the materials
waste from its facilities that had been going to landfill and had it analyzed in
a chemistry lab to understand its components. From there, a new line of
was created from the previously landfill-bound waste.
“Businesses have to face reality,” Stauffer said. “If you change your mindset
from ‘waste stream’ to ‘raw
it changes things.”
But brands don’t have to do it alone: Partners such as Dispatch Goods and
Returnity can guide brands through internal logistics coordination and tap into
their network of providers to collect packaging, making it easier both for the
consumer and for the brand.
“There are pushes consumers can do to nudge brands,” Hoell said, “but the model
design has to meet consumer demands.”
The many perspectives shared shed light on vital but frequently underestimated
aspects of constructing effective circular models. The expert insights
emphasized the need for proactive mindsets, local-level impact and
transformative global processes. The path to sustainability and circularity
requires a multidimensional approach; but it also entails a shift in mindset —
emphasizing the importance of design for circularity and the repurposing of
waste materials. As brands, consumers and partners collaborate and adapt, they
have the power to drive meaningful change — fostering a future that benefits
both our world and society as a whole.
Image credit: Subset
Textile waste is a pressing issue that still has very few scalable solutions.
While there are many pieces to this complex puzzle, a promising path to solving
this ever-growing global crisis lies in reverse logistics and textile recycling.
Moderated by Ren DeCherney — Lead
for Built Environment, North America + Australasia at the Cradle to Cradle
Product Innovation Institute — a Tuesday afternoon
panel featured Stuart
Ahlum and Chloe
of apparel recycler SuperCircle; as well as Cayla
co-founder and CEO at recyclable innerwear brand
Reverse logistics — which refers to the process of a consumer returning
back to the seller or the manufacturer — goes hand in hand with textile
recycling; which is why it is critical for companies to partner with companies
such as SuperCircle, which have the network to push collaboration across
industries. Whether it is an underwear company such as Subset or a clothing
company such as
a takeback program’s success depends on
ease of use and the incentive to do better.
“We figured out we had to make it easy for the consumer to participate, see the
monetary upside, feel good, and not deviate away from the behavior they are used
to,” said Ahlum — who, along with Songer, also co-founded upcycled shoe brand
SuperCircle serves as a bridge connecting waste management, supply chain
partners and recycling innovators. By powering clothing brands’ takeback and
recycling programs, it is also able to collect valuable data that allows brands
to future-proof themselves against upcoming extended producer responsibility
and to ensure these clothing items don’t end up in the landfill.
Because the program provides incredibly detailed data from the impact of the
materials to how long consumers typically use the product before disposal,
brands can find opportunities to interact with their customers in real time
throughout wear and as they are considering replacing items.
“Most of a consumer's engagement with a brand is while they are wearing it,”
Songer said. “Why not build circular lifecycle marketing and messaging
throughout the ownership of the product and at the end of life?”
The results are impressive — not only from an environmental point of view but
also in terms of ROI. In the case of Subset’s takeback program — which
incentivizes people with store credit to send back obsolete underwear, bras,
leggings, and socks from any brand — it proved to be an added bonus for them.
“The recycling program became such an acquisition tool for us,” O’Connell Davis
said. “More than 60 percent of our customer base comes to us to recycle first
and then becomes a Subset customer downstream.”
Addressing the growing textile waste challenge requires holistic solutions that
easily connect consumers with means to recycle their clothing responsibly. Doing
so, brands can not only see benefits in their environmental impact, raw
materials and growing consumer base but also equip themselves for pending
Published Oct 18, 2023 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST
Formerly working in the advertising world in Kansas City, Hannah Zimmerman has now married her past experience with her passion for sustainability. When she isn't chasing her four-year-old daughter or helping companies along on their sustainability journey through consulting, reporting, communications and certifications, she is working on her master's in Sustainability through Harvard.