Have you heard the word? The new program rapidly gaining ground in the green program world is the “Circular Economy” (CE). Here’s how Wikipedia defines it: “The circular economy is a generic term for an industrial economy that is producing no waste and pollution, by design or intention…” This is in contrast to the ever-present “Linear Economy” that we use today that is based on the “Take, Make, Discard” model. More information on the scope of the circular economy is available here, here and here.

UPS recently released a report on the new model (link opens as a PDF). Here’s how they describe the CE: “In the evolving circular model, we strive to keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them while in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life. To be successful, this model will require a fundamental rethinking of products, materials and systems of commerce.” They also state that 52 percent of executives surveyed used the term “Circular Economy” and could fully explain it.

You might be wondering how all this compares to the life cycle assessment/product category rule (LCA/PCR) program we recently completed for North American windows? This circular model does not conflict with the PCR program, because the PCR is a subset of the larger visionary goals of CE. While our PCR is only a cradle-to-gate version, the goal of the group is to complete the cradle-to-cradle-version, which will then fit into the CE mission. But this program will only measure your impact. The CE tasks you to rethink your products and your business model.

It seems we are constantly learning about new green programs and the new language of sustainability — PCR, LCA, HPD, CSR, EPD, FSC, SFC, and GRI. The list keeps growing, and I’m sure it will be consolidated in the future. In a way, it is the Wild West of sustainability programs right now.

So which ones will survive and which ones should you care about? A good rule is to follow the ones that will help you be a better business. Use the rules of capitalism and steer your company toward not only a more profitable business, but also a more sustainable one. My list of simple suggestions to pursue this thinking would be:

1. Read and study this recent book — The Circular Economy: A Wealth of Flows by Ken Webster, the head of innovation at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a leading think tank on the circular economy;

2. Brainstorm ways to increase the life of your products;

3. Look for designs with replaceable components that make refurbishing easier;

4. Consider take-back programs for your core materials;

5. Work to understand all the waste streams for your facilities;

6. Review your chemicals to consider simpler replacements or ones you can eliminate, and;

7. Get involved with your trade association’s green task groups.

Remember, all these directions and suggestions require someone at your business to jump outside the normal operations and make it happen.

“Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.” — John Ray

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