Why the circular economy offers hope against climate change

At Shop Zero, we’re always thinking about the circular economy. Indeed, it’s at the core of our business model, representing one of the best solutions to fight climate change and protect future generations.

What is the circular economy?

Over the past 50 years or so, we humans have been conditioned to think that everything in life should follow a linear, preferably upward, trajectory – including our economy.

To accomplish this, we take resources from the Earth, use them (often for a very short time) and then return them to the planet as waste in landfills.

Photo by vianet ramos on Unsplash

To keep growing the GDP (Gross Domestic Product, i.e., the size and health of a country’s economy over a given period of time), we are currently using the Earth’s finite resources at a rate that is unsustainable (Deloitte says it equates to 1.6 Earths per year!).

To put this intensive use of resources in very real terms, the planet experienced a 68% biodiversity loss between 1970 and 2016. Some tropical sub-regions of the Americas have experienced a 94% loss of biodiversity.

That’s in less than 50 years!

While stripping the Earth of renewable materials, we’ve collectively forgotten that life tends to be cyclical in nature. Seasons come and go, as do generations within every species – at least, they do when nature is allowed to take its course.

In nature, nothing is wasted. Even the leaves that fall from the trees rot to nourish the soil.

The Circular Economy looks to nature for its model. It’s about shifting away from that linear “take-use-waste” approach into a system where we keep the Earth’s resources in circulation for as long as possible while replenishing or, ideally, adding to those left behind.

In order to achieve this, the circular economy is based on three core principles, driven by design:

  1. Eliminate waste and pollution
  2. Circulate products and materials (at their highest value)
  3. Regenerate nature

The Butterfly Diagram

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the world’s largest circular economy network, says that the best way to explain how the circular economy works is perhaps with the butterfly diagram below rather than with a circle!

As we can see from this diagram, different approaches are necessary depending on whether we’re dealing with renewable resources or finite materials.

In the case of finite materials, the first priority is to find ways to prolong the life of a product at its highest value (e.g., the lifespan of a car). This can be done through maintenance, sharing, and repair.

If we’re not able to use a product as it is, the next step is to find ways to reuse or redistribute the item, either as a whole or by breaking it down into parts that can be refurbished or remanufactured into new products.

Recycling is a last resort in the circular economy.

Renewable resources, on the other hand, pass through a series of “cascades” within the circular economy – these are loops that put materials and resources into different uses at each stage in their life cycle. For example, cotton jeans could be turned into furniture stuffing, which is then turned into wall insulation before, finally, being anaerobically digested (broken down by microorganisms) to be returned to the soil as nutrients.

The nourished soil can then be used to grow new resources.

And so, the cycle continues.

The local circular economy

At Shop Zero, we aim to actively contribute to the circular economy. We do this in a number of ways, including stocking products made from sustainable materials and working with suppliers with closed-loop supply chains.

We also endeavour to be part of the local circular economy and what’s known as the “local multiplier effect”. Put simply, this is when the more an item of currency (e.g., a pound) is circulated in a local geographic area, the faster it circulates and the more income, wealth and employment it creates.

When you buy from Shop Zero, for example, we use any profit to purchase from local suppliers. Buying locally ensures that fewer resources are used for transportation and that the supplier is able to use their profits to employ local people, and so on.

The environmental benefits increase too. If a product doesn’t have to be transported far, it reduces the amount of fossil fuel needed, as well as cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The evidence shows that money spent in the local circular economy circulates two to four times more than money spent with a non-local company.

The circular economy presents many opportunities

Adopting a circular economy worldwide will take a massive shift in mindset, as well as ensuring that legislation, policies and procedures support this model.

But we must remember that while most modern businesses operate in the linear economy, it really wasn’t that long ago that a cyclical model was common – the milkman delivered drinks in glass bottles, while a seamstress would repair favourite clothes!

Photo by Volha Flaxeco on Unsplash

The blueprint is there, as well as the potential to innovate.

I personally believe that operating in a circular economy offers businesses many exciting opportunities.

If we want customers to get the maximum value from their purchases, for example, we’ll need to create ongoing services and support – and long-term relationships – to help them. What a fantastic way to build community and connection!

A circular approach can bring the costs of materials down and create shorter, more resilient supply chains.

I also believe that the circular economy needs creative, talented people who are willing and able to learn new skill sets – or revive old skillsets such as the ability to repair or repurpose.

Like nature itself, the circular economy offers hope.

Dates for your diary!

Want to know more?

I’m delighted to be a panel member for a discussion about “Growing a Circular Economy” on day one of the Green Hustle Festival in Nottingham on Friday 2nd June (you can reserve your spot at this free event here). In this talk, we’ll explore how businesses can be more resource-oriented, looking at supply chains and how we close the loop.

Monday 5th June 2023 is World Environment Day. Hosted by the United Nations, this year’s theme is #beatplasticpollution and a call to “accelerate this action and transition to a circular economy”. As a zero-waste, plastic-free business, Shop Zero is fully behind this message.

Once again, UK entrepreneur Holly Tucker (founder of Not on the High Street and Holly & Co, and UK Ambassador for Creative Small Businesses) is urging us all to buy local and independent on Saturday 24th June to support #CampaignShopIndependent. Holly says that 105,000 small businesses closed in the first quarter of 2023 and that consumers can help their favourite independent shops to survive by choosing them over big multinationals.

It goes without saying that we’ll be championing the shop local and independent message at Shop Zero!

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