Externalities are outpacing profits.”
That’s the new reality, according to Martin Stuchtey, who spent the better part of two decades advising companies on sustainability, as the former director of the McKinsey Center for Business & Environment. For years, sustainability pundits like Stuchtey, along with trailblazers like Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins, have been beating the drum about how companies should more closely consider their effect on the environment and the environment’s effect on their bottom line, with the novel idea that this consideration could unlock opportunity.
This new thinking has many going in circles—and mostly, that’s a good thing. Today, companies of all sizes and industries are not only motivated by potential opportunity, but driven by necessity, to reimagine ways to radically re-invent their value chains.
Linear ‘take-make-waste’ industrial processes and the lifestyles that feed on them deplete finite reserves to create products that end up in landfills or in incinerators. The circular economy describes an industrial economy that produces no waste or pollution, in which material flows are of two types: i) biological nutrients, designed to reenter the biosphere safely; and ii) technical nutrients, which are designed to circulate at high quality in the production system without entering the biosphere.
Restorative and regenerative by design, the circular economy represents one of the most significant sea changes in the global economy in history. New research by Accenture and Deloitte points to the many business opportunities these new approaches can unlock.
For the second year running, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has advanced this new discourse, taking the topic as the theme of its annual sustainability forum, Better Business, Better World: Mainstreaming the Circular Economy
. Bringing together corporate executives and thought leaders, this year’s event sought to help companies more effectively operationalize their commitments to shift from linear to more circular business models.
Over the course of two days, leaders in the circular economy shared their best practices and approaches to help others join the movement. The two-day event yielded five critical lessons
in how innovative approaches, from cradle to cradle design to water, recycling, and landfill management are delivering returns for companies that embrace circular economics.