The way we view climate change, pollution and sustainability has changed. They’re no longer future concepts. It’s gotten real, and sustainability is affecting how people and businesses behave now. This cultural shift is creating a change in the way consumers, investors and job seekers operate. They are increasingly taking into account a business’s track record for sustainability. According to Nielsen, 73 percent of millennials, the largest age cohort in the United States, are willing to spend more for sustainable products.

We are seeing companies and people trying to give back to society and the environment more than they take out by creating “net positive” strategies. It is no longer enough for organizations to acknowledge environmental concerns; they must prove their commitment through action. The design consultancy Fjord notes, “Organizations will need to redesign their systems and business models to fit the ‘circular economy, where users are active participants, and sustainability is built into their products and services.”

What Is the Circular Economy?

Traditionally businesses have been operating in the linear economy of take, make, waste and are recognizing that this trajectory is no longer sustainable for the planet. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the circular model aims to design out waste and keep products and materials in use longer. The transition to the circular economy requires businesses to rethink the way we make and design to create a system that can meet people’s needs within planetary boundaries and operates closer to how nature works.

Popular brands like PepsiCo, Unilever, and Ikea are pledging to champion the net positive movement by teaming up with governments and increasing recycling. Unilever has reported that its sustainable brands have experienced a 30 percent faster growth than the non-sustainable, and sustainable brands now account for 70 percent of the company’s growth.

How Should Your Brand Embrace the Circular Economy?

To get onboard with the circular economy, brands should:

1. Be transparent and tell your story

Show your environmental commitments. Your customers, employees, and shareholders (if you are public) will appreciate it, and other businesses will be inspired. Be transparent about the sourcing of your materials, industrial practices, and the impact this will build customer trust and elevate their devotion to your brand. Take Justin’s nut butters for example: the great taste alone should justify the $13 jar of almond butter, but the high quality locally sourced ingredients, simplified supply chain, and giving back to community all displayed as part of the Justin’s packaging builds a deeper appreciation for the product and have helped Justin’s become the leading brand in the growing nut butter market.

2. Redesign your products and services around sustainability

Rethink your current services and products from the lens of sustainability; the customer wants to make a difference and thus should be an active participant in the circular journey rather than merely the “end product” recipient. Focus on reverse logistics, repair, disassembly, and end of life; the experience of returning or disposing can be just as lovable as the experience of using or buying. Arc’teryx, the Vancouver-based high-performance outerwear and equipment company has gained popularity after launching its own recommerce program by the name of Rock Solid Used Gear. The program pumps more life into used gear by simplifying the submission process through retail locations and online channels and by providing high quality service to instill confidence in their customers.

According to Arc’teryx President Jon Hoerauf, “We are framing sustainability as a design problem. Strictly focusing on building leading gear is no longer an option for us — we must apply the same design ethos to solving problems of broader social and environmental relevance. Great gear should be able to last through multiple users, and Rock Solid Used Gear is our solution.”

3. Think beyond your organization and create an ecosystem 

Design for ecosystems by collaborating with other organizations to join forces in the circular economy. As we’ve blogged, the circular economy affects entire supply chains and beyond, thus being sustainable means locking arms with your entire ecosystem. Recently, Carbios, a green chemistry company has formed a consortium with L’Oréal, Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Suntory Beverage & Food to support the circular plastics economy by using the unique technology developed by Carbios to increase the recycling abilities for a wider range of plastics polymers. Together, they can improve and scale the plastics recycling process.

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How Can You Get Started Embracing the Circular Economy?

It’s not always easy for businesses to know how to get started riding big, far-reaching waves of change such as the circular economy. The key is to start small by identifying one area your company can change. Then use a test-and-learn approach such as design sprint to discover how to design waste out of your products and services while delivering your customers a lovable and sustainable experience.

With design sprints, teams of designers, engineers, marketers, and strategists rapidly prototype products in four days. Organizations identify a problem they and their customers are trying to solve, come up with a rough solution, test the idea against feedback from real customers, and create a prototype of the minimum lovable product (the initial version of the product that can be created to generate the most customer love using the least amount of time and costing as little as possible).

Contact Moonshot

Design sprints are a powerful way for an organization to test an idea in a way that mitigates cost and risk while keeping the customer at the center of the product design. At Moonshot, we use design sprints as part of a larger process known as FUEL, in which we go beyond concepting and actually help companies launch products. To learn more about how to get started, contact us. Start succeeding with sustainability now.