A Circular Economy by Any Other Name

October 31, 2018
Sophia Huda Antenna
Senior Account Executive, Antenna Group

Abroad, “circular economy” is a well-known term—the European Union recently adopted a set of laws called the Circular Economy Package—but it is less widely used in North America. That’s not to say that the circular economy does not exist here—many North American companies are embracing circular economy practices and principles. The challenge is trying to communicate these efforts to an audience that is less familiar with the circular economy and its growing importance.

The circular economy is about matching inputs and outputs across sectors of the economy to conserve energy, materials, and other resources. Most often, this involves connecting waste flows with processes and applications that can put that waste to new uses, helping to reduce both waste sent to landfills and the consumption of finite natural resources. Any communications and public relations strategy regarding circular economy messages needs to begin by emphasizing the importance of these two benefits. For example, Vancouver-based MGX Minerals, a client of Antenna’s, extracts lithium and other valuable minerals from oilfield wastewater. To highlight how MGX is a part of the circular economy, all messaging focused first on the extent of the problem that the company is tackling. The oil industry produces more than 800 billion gallons of wastewater annually, and the majority of that is brine, which is difficult and environmentally damaging to dispose of. MGX is able to address these waste flows while simultaneously addressing the growing demand for lithium by offering a more environmentally sustainable option for extraction. MGX shows how companies are turning waste products into assets and why that is important in reducing costs and the consumption of natural resources. MGX’s expansion into the circular economy was highlighted in an article authored by MGX’s CEO, Jared Lazerson, published in Water Online, a trade magazine for the water industry with over 150,000 subscribers.

Lehigh Technologies is another one of Antenna’s clients in the circular economy space. Lehigh transforms waste tires into a highly engineered and versatile raw material called micronized rubber powder (MRP). MRP can substitute for other oil- and rubber-based materials used in manufacturing tires, plastics, asphalt, and construction materials. In developing communications for Lehigh, we once again focused on the magnitude of tire waste—more than 1 billion tires are discarded worldwide every year—and how Lehigh not only was helping to address the waste problem but was also reducing CO2 emissions and improving tire performance with its innovative technology. This messaging effectively demonstrated Lehigh’s circular value proposition and was integral in helping Lehigh win the 2015 Bloomberg New Energy Pioneers awards.

In 2017 Lehigh was acquired by the tire manufacturing giant Michelin thanks in part to Antenna’s public relationssupport. This acquisition was leveraged to explore another aspect of the circular economy: how vertical integration of the supply chain can help companies like Michelin build their own circular supply chains. Antenna placed a contributed article, “To Go Circular, First Go Vertical,” authored by Lehigh’s CEO, Alan Barton, on Triple Pundit, a daily online business publication with over 400,000 unique views per month. Using this angle, Antenna also secured a speaking position for Barton at the 2018 U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Sustainability and Circular Economy Summit.

For the businesses that are helping to build a circular economy, a strategic communications and public relations strategy is essential to differentiating their business model for consumers, policymakers, and their downstream and upstream customers. Developing messaging for companies operating in the circular economy should always emphasize how their business model is reducing waste and the consumption of finite natural resources. While for some audiences the term circular economy will resonate immediately, for an audience that is less familiar with the concept, context is especially important and outlining the severity of our global waste problem will do a lot for delivering a powerful message. In order to build a more sustainable global economic system through a circular economy we need everyone on board, and effectively communicating the circular economy to all audiences is the first important step on the path forward.