Circular economy innovation: pioneering sustainable solutions
With the advent of climate change, governments began seeking ways to minimise greenhouse gas emissions and introduce robust measures and policies to support decarbonisation efforts across organisations and aid the development of a global green economy. This culminated in the creation of the term sustainability defined by the United Nations Brundtland Commission (1987) as the act of meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own .
From a corporate standpoint, sustainability was thereafter approached in an interdisciplinary fashion with respect to its three pillars, Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG). To improve their ESG score, organisations of all sizes have started making efforts to incorporate smart circular solutions into their practices, so that their services and products are kept circulating in the market. In this article, we aim to better understand how circularity can effectively be incorporated across sectors to help transform the economy, by addressing key challenges and showcasing how these can be overcome through revisiting Strategic Allies Ltd (SAL)’s past work on delivering circular partnering options.
Nature has an incredible way of using the discards of one, as the resource of another, operating in a circular, no-waste fashion. Most of us, however, continue to linearly use and dispose – one-third of plastic waste is not collected or re-used on a global scale . The alternative to this linear approach is a circular economy (CE), in which the used products would be managed appropriately and re-used, replacing production with sufficiency leading to reducing a country’s total greenhouse gas emissions by up to 70% . Circular economy, although not an entirely new concept, is increasingly gaining attention on the agendas of policymakers as can be seen in the comprehensive European Circular Economy package .
Circularity achieved through SAL’s Growth the Innovation Partnering
SAL has worked with a number of clients wishing to create and utilise circular solutions, from recycling rubber tyres into new raw materials and innovative end products, to ingredient and food manufacturers seeking to derive new ingredients and value from their waste products, all the while reducing demand for traditional and often scarce natural resources. Below are three examples where SAL clients have benefited from searches targeted at circularity-focused solutions and partnerships:
Challenge 1 -Packaging and Plastics
Contaminated consumer waste streams (mixed materials)
An established FMCG company had a small post- consumer waste-stream of 40 tonnes per annum of mixed plastic and metal waste fragments. Whilst they had an existing supply chain to clean / separate / recycle the material, they were keen to reduce the energy and processing required for this activity. They wanted to explore the upcycling of the waste-stream into materials for shop-fittings, displays or containers that could be used, for example in their retail outlets. They also wanted to know if their waste could be used to make end-products that could be used by consumers. The client was seeking locally based companies and organisations, to minimise carbon footprint associated with shipping, that could support their recycling and sustainability goals.
Solution: SAL initiated a partner search to identify organisations already developing products and materials that could incorporate mixed waste streams as part of a circular economy. Those that could only use the plastic components but not the metal, or could only handle small volume waste streams were filtered out. Amongst others, solutions were identified from the building sector, decorative industries and consumer products sector.
Outcome: Over 50 potential organisations were identified by SAL and further filtered to deliver a detailed overview of 16 potential partners 7 were prioritised for immediate contact with 4 more to follow up at a later date by the client Within weeks, the client quickly progressed discussions and proceeded to put agreements in place with 1 of the partners.
Challenge 2 – Built Environment
The world’s largest manufacturer of a particular built environment product was already using a post-industrial waste stream (limestone quarry dust) and incorporating it into its product. Growing social and legislative pressure fuelled a decision to seek an alternative post-consumer waste stream to thereby further enhance its product life cycle credentials.
Solution: over a period of six months SAL initiated a global search for such a post-consumer waste stream and, equally important, the logistics to support it. Initially research was undertaken to identify existing post-consumer waste circularity economies supporting the built environment products around the world. These were investigated to assess their suitability to the clients specific technical and regional requirements. The existing economies identified were also supplemented by new waste streams that had the potential to be harvested economically and deliver to the client.
Outcome: The search identified several potential existing waste streams but the logistics surrounding these we not ideal. Regional twins, (similar systems in regions of interest) were sought and a small number were identified. Ten new waste streams with supporting logistics were identified and following initial discussions, two entered into ongoing development agreements with the client.
Challenge 3 – Chemicals
An established manufacturer was seeking to achieve differentiated growth through partnerships, JVs or acquisitions. One area of interest was bio-sustainable lubricants and particularly if they could be produced using a circularity system. Modern lubricants were originally designed to meet strict performance specifications, but mounting environmental and sustainability concerns increased the significance of non-technical criteria for the evaluation of lubricants
Solution; SAL initiated a landscaping study to evaluate opportunities in the bio-sustainable lubricants space. The research highlighted several potential opportunity spaces, including circularity system production, so the client commissioned a follow-on technology search to identify partners who could support the manufacture of bio-sourced oils and lubricants across the value chain (from the development of novel feedstocks to commercialized end products). Examples of potential partners in industry included those recycling oils to create new raw materials or base oils and using waste streams from other industries (e.g. paper pulping and CO2) to form completely new raw materials.
Outcome; 28 companies and /or experts were progressed for detailed review by the client. The client took up direct contact with 4 of the 28 opportunities presented by SAL – three technology owners and one subject matter expert. Following this, samples were further evaluated for technical feasibility.
To achieve future sustainability the preservation of the world’s resources by means of circular solutions as described above is critical. Achieving closed loops requests advanced technologies and techniques to help an array of industries make circular practices more central to their operations.
At SAL we work closely with companies on challenges within the context of a sustainable, circular economy and strive to provide circular options for organizations to achieve their energy transition targets. Several more case studies can be seen here. Please contact email@example.com for an initial discussion to explore your challenges.
- Academic Impact, United Nations Sustainability report,https://www.un.org/en/academic-impact/sustainability
- The new plastics economy, Ellen MacArthour Foundation, https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/the-new-plastics-economy-rethinking-the-future-of-plastics
- Stahel, W. The circular economy. Nature531, 435–438 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/531435a
- The EU in 2015, General Report, https://op.europa.eu/en/web/general-report