Alan's Corner: Coming full circle
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Alan’s Corner: Coming full circle

Alan’s Corner: Coming full circle

Why the circular economy is good for the environment, and your business


Climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying, and some trends are now irreversible, at least during the present time frame, according to the latest much-anticipated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres said ‘The Working Group’s report was nothing less than a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable’.

When you couple that with the escalation in the past year of positive noise for the “green agenda”, this is indeed a sobering message. What was at one time seen to be the domain of ‘new-agers’, ‘tree-huggers’ and the likes, many of us have become much more sensitive to this topic lately. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown got us all thinking differently about our health and wellness, and the environment.

Striking a balance
I am particularly impressed with the many organisations that have struck a balance between doing great things for the environment and making money from the circular economy. And no, I don’t believe there is a contradiction, as they co-exist very comfortably.

I remember having a British client in 1991 that manufactured chopping boards. Its USP was that the beech wood used in the boards came from managed forests. The boards were more expensive than others on the market at that time and therefore sales were challenging. The USP wasn’t topical enough so in some ways, this company was ahead of its time. Now, the company’s boards are in great demand. For all like-minded companies, their time is now.

Another such company is VivaGreen, an Irish manufacturer that launched the Tru Eco range in 2020. Driven by the founders, Russell and Garrett Walsh have produced innovative products made from sustainable resources. VivaGreen ensures its products are made from plant-based and biodegradable ingredients and it works hard to develop products that meet consumers’ needs, while also trying to protect the environment.

Tru Eco for example, is a range of Irish-made refillable, eco-friendly laundry and household cleaning products. The range is made up of an all-purpose cleaner, washing-up liquid, non-bio laundry detergent and fabric softener. Each bottle is made from 100 per cent recycled plastic, creating a circular economy product that is reusable, recyclable, and refillable. The products are guaranteed Irish, vegan-friendly, cruelty-free, and septic tank safe.

The brand also offers a refill solution, which closes the loop on plastic waste. By refilling, consumers can reduce their environmental footprint, minimise plastic waste as well as lowering carbon emissions.

Here’s how you can look at Adopting sustainability in your company:
Check your culture. In the same way that software powers the hardware in your electronic devices, your culture drives your thinking around sustainability and innovation. If sustainability is not on your radar, you may find yourself missing a trick. This is a really big topic and your customers may soon start challenging you for evidence of your commitment to it. Consider writing a policy document to show your seriousness to your organisation and other stakeholders.

Include sustainability in your strategy. When it comes to developing your plans for key areas like product sourcing, supply chain and your own operations, conduct an audit of your current practices. Perhaps you might appoint an internal champion to be your internal watch-dog.

Ask probing questions to challenge your status quo. Within your current product portfolio and supply-chain, ask yourself how you can build in sustainability. Are your raw materials and product components respecting the environment? Can you shorten your supply chain? Can you make appropriate changes to your own operations to reduce your carbon foot-print? Can you gain competitive advantage with products that appeal to a more select and discerning consumer?

The last word
In the last six months, I have facilitated several strategy sessions with clients from around the world. In every single one, I encouraged the teams to consider sustainability in their thinking. Being sustainable no longer has to be an extra cost. I believe that this is no longer a ‘nice to do’, it’s a business imperative. I’m happy to say that actions were agreed without resistance or cynicism in every case.

By the way, most of these strategy sessions were done online from my desk, without having to clock up airmiles. I’m not at all saying that it is a permanent solution as online is just not the same dynamic as a real physical meeting. Nevertheless, the future demands a hybrid solution, further supporting the green agenda.

Alan O’Neill is the author, keynote speaker and owner of Kara, specialists in culture and strategy

Read: Alan’s Corner: Sales tips to drive your hospitality business

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