Circular Economy Could Save Great Lakes Region Up to $5 Billion

January 28, 2020

Region can cut carbon emissions by 120 million tons, according to new report from U.S. Chamber Foundation

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation today released a new report on “Creating a Circular Economy in the Great Lakes Region” in partnership with Navigant - a Guidehouse Company. The research reveals significant economic and environmental benefits for embracing a circular economy in the Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Region (GLR).* It also highlights key strategies and recommendations for businesses to accelerate the circular economy transition. 

Representing a significant shift from the current “take-make-dispose” model, a circular economy reuses and recycles materials, water, and energy involved in the production process with the goal to find other uses for waste and byproducts. The report focuses on three heavily utilized materials – steel, plastics, and pulp and paper – to assess the opportunities in the GLR.

Among the three materials studied, the economic advantages of adopting a circular business approach extend from $4.4 billion to $5 billion USD. The environmental benefits are equally significant, with reductions in greenhouse gas emissions ranging from 35 million to 120 million tons of carbon dioxide (tCO2). Such a reduction is equivalent to taking 7.5 million to 25.5 million passenger cars off the road for one year.

“Adopting the circular economy can unlock tremendous benefits for a community—and businesses can play a critical role in driving circularity forward,” said Marc DeCourcey, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “This is particularly true for the Great Lakes region due to its tremendous natural resources that supply more than 20% of the world’s fresh water, as well as the number of states and provinces directly impacted by each other’s waste streams in a linear economy.”

The report also identifies five actions for scaling the circular economy in the GLR:

  • Embrace the broader aspects of circularity: In addition to the environmental and economic benefits, the circular economy brings positive impacts through job creation, GDP growth, and alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Companies can support these broader societal outcomes through actions such as providing job trainings that prepare the workforce for new circular business models, and improving a number of environmental metrics, including cleaner air, water, and soil.
  • Encourage partnerships and collaboration: Corporate support for models that foster circularity and collaboration can lead to the increased adoption of circular practices across all sectors. U.S. businesses can also join local partnerships to grow the circular economy ecosystem through their local chambers, economic development offices, or regional sustainable business forums.
  • Align the circular economy with mainstream practices: Rather than starting from scratch, stakeholders can apply circular perspectives to their existing practices or find alignment with broader programs and activities across their community or region that are working toward the same circularity goal. 
  • Develop traceable actions and targets: Setting clear goals and measuring progress are essential to the advancement of the circular economy. For example, in 2017, Clearwater Paper set a target to increase the post-consumer recycled fiber (PCF) in its cups. In 2019, the company launched a new brand of cup, NuVo®, with 32% more PCF content. The increase in PCF made it possible to not only improve recyclability, but also reduce ink usage by 50%, and increase cup per minute manufacturing speed by 27%.
  • Develop incentive mechanisms: States and localities can offer companies incentives that improve their recycling processes, technologies, and yields (e.g. reducing loss of steel scrap or increasing chemical recycling of plastic) to help green their value chain. 

“Adopting a circular economy mindset is an inspirational and practical way to better understand how to make changes in everyday life,” said Theresa Millard, Kohler WasteLAB. “Behind the scenes are in-depth and technical tools that help us understand the facts of how to make decisions. But more importantly, we need to be inspired that a new kind of future is possible, and somehow the concepts of a circular economy do just that – they make us believe that we can make a difference.”

The report also features case studies demonstrating best practices from organizations including Kohler, Steelcase, Whirlpool Corporation, Clearwater Paper, Procter & Gamble, Sappi North America, WestRock, Schnitzer Steel, and Dow.

The full report, made possible with funding from American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA), Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers, Kohler, Steelcase, and Whirlpool, can be found here

The U.S. Chamber Foundation will host a webinar at 11:00 a.m. EST on January 30, featuring contributors to the report from AF&PA, Kohler and Navigant, to discuss key findings and how companies can benefit from circular economy engagement in the Great Lakes and beyond. Learn more and register here.

*The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Region comprises the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in the U.S., and Quebec and Ontario in Canada.

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About the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation 
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation is dedicated to strengthening America’s long-term competitiveness. We educate the public on the conditions necessary for business and communities to thrive, how business positively impacts communities, and emerging issues and creative solutions that will shape the future.

About Navigant - A Guidehouse Company
Guidehouse is a leading global provider of consulting services with broad capabilities in management, technology, and risk consulting. We help clients address their toughest challenges with a focus on markets and clients facing transformational changes, technology-driven innovation and significant regulatory pressure. With over 750 consultants, Guidehouse’s global Energy, Sustainability & Infrastructure practice is the largest energy and sustainability consulting team in the industry.