The Circle of Life for a Green Business
By Flávio Whately Menandro
January 26, 2022
When we think about going green, there are some key points that most of us think about right away: recycling, reusing, reducing, organic and biodegradable products, clean energy, and even renewable fuel. Well, all of these are part of the process, and we can all make a difference in any of these areas. But how does that work for a business?
The first thing to consider for a business going green is its “Circle of life” or “Circular Economy”, as it is also referred to. This is the term used to describe the ideal model in which a business, whether it is in manufacturing, retail, or something in between, rethinks each part of the production, transportation and selling processes to reduce its negative footprint.
Diving a little deeper in each of these steps, let’s use as an example a fictitious company that manufactures shoes in its factory in a small town in a rural area, and sells them to different retailers throughout the country. First, there are the raw materials, which in a circular economy would originate from renewable or recyclable sources. Essentially, anything that can be reused once the original product is no longer functional.
The next step is the production process, which involves personnel, energy, and facility’s research or production waste. Hiring employees from the local community would decrease the amount of air pollution if they do not need to drive long distance to the factory. For those who do not live nearby, a company transportation that uses biofuel or electric energy could be available.
When it comes to the factory itself a “green building” is always a good idea. Green buildings incorporate technology such as solar panels to provide clean energy, and water collection systems that can accumulate rainwater to be stored and used, avoiding water waste. As for the production waste, a handcrafting project for interested locals could take non-organic waste and turn it into decorative objects. Meanwhile, the organic waste could be turned into soil supplement to be used in gardens and crops. As a result, the factory will have produced its shoes with a considerably lower negative footprint, and now it is ready to sell.
The product’s transportation to retail is a very important part in a sustainable supply chain. The first thing is to consider if there is a local or nearby market that the shoes can be sold, which would decrease the cost of the transportation and the final cost of the shoe itself, not to mention it would save a great deal of fuel (renewable or not). In case there is a need to long distance travels, the use of biofuel or electric vehicles assures a low environmental impact during transportation.
The retail store, or whichever place the shoes will be sold in, can follow the same principles of green buildings as the factory, with the proper adjustments. Moreover, the staff should be knowledgeable about the sustainability aspects of the products they are selling, so they can also show their customers how engaged they are, enhancing the brand awareness.
The last thing to consider is the product’s end of life. This is a rather tricky part, which usually the company does not have control over. For that reason, certain measures can be taken in order to increase the likelihood of the shoes not ending up in the trash and possibly polluting the environment. One measure could be to establish a campaign to reward customers willing to return old shoes to the manufacturer, who would reuse them to make new products (shoes or laces). A second solution could be using new technologies to make biodegradable materials. This way even if the shoes are thrown away, they will not cause a negative impact on the environment.
As we can see, with a circular economy there is a sustainable, and more ecologically and socially responsible way to do business! We just have to be aware of it and be willing to make a change.