This blog was originally published by The Guardian
The linear economy the world has been hooked on since industrialisation began – making, selling and throwing away stuff – has reached a breaking point. It's unsustainable and wrecking our planet.
In branding and design, the linear model has ceased to create value. Now though, we can convene around an economic model – the circular economy – that puts sustainability at the heart of business. It has the potential to revolutionise how we do business and how we consume goods and services. Cisco already has a circular economy team, as does Philips, while Kingfisher has committed to taking 1,000 closed loop innovations to market (pdf) by 2020.
The circular economy moves away from the planet-saving rhetoric that is often a turn off for marketers and many businessmen and women. It states a clear, long-term business-led problem and offers a clear, long-term business-led answer. It turns costly, negative issues like waste, into positive, value-creating resources.
Through Brand Futures and Family of the Future, Dragon Rouge has explored how brands could in the future adopt closed loop, sustainable business models while continuing to present consumers with desirable products and services. The resulting concepts require significant business model change but ultimately provide additional benefits for the consumer and create better value for the brands.
For Argos, for example, we envisaged a circular business model built on the strapline Lease it. Love it. Argos it. In 2030 we see Argos leasing products that have been designed for disassembly, not obsolescence. Its loyalty has increased as people choose to lease a whole package of white goods, consumer electronics and furniture from the company. In turn, Argos provides services for upgrading, repairing and/or replacing broken items and ensures products it leases are performing to the highest standard. Manufacturers are required to design for repair, durability and ultimately disassembly, to facilitate the smooth running of the business model. When a product reaches its end of life, it remains the property of Argos, to ensure its remanufacture, ready to come back into the system.
By 2030, perhaps, Primark would also be operating a fully circular business model, asking consumers to lease and return clothes to the store, boosting the UK economy with a remanufacturing industry in the process. In another proposed vision for the future, Rio Tinto could establish itself as the global leader in sourcing, grading, re-purposing and processing the world's used metals, plastics and minerals – largely through an established business in landfill mining.
With the family of the future we look at how circular business models can meet the needs of the future household unit. In 2030 Gillette could provide modular homes with personal care services and Marks & Spencer offer local communities with a maker-space where people can repair items or create new ones accessing various appliances from sewing machines to 3D printers.
A decent picture of the feasibility of circular business models is starting to emerge from a business, supply chain, policy and design perspective. But in order for these innovative models to take off, we must create accessible, desirable propositions that appeal to consumers. For this to happen, sellers and advertisers must be part of the journey too.
Consumers need to be excited by the outcomes as they start to come to market. Visualising these new business models is an important step in the journey. If we can't help people picture how a circular economy could work day-to-day, and how aspirational and appealing it would be, we will fail to create the momentum needed to make it a reality.