Interview: How to implement the circular economy into your business

2018 / 10 / 2 | Author: enw_editor

“I would urge Japanese companies to take advantage of CE training as a management tool. By training their top managers in these key concepts, they can learn how CE methods can help them create new ranges of products and services, and even reduce costs.”

Interviewee: Elana Harrison, Researcher / Consultant of Circular Economy
Interviewer: Rie Sawara-Cermann


Circular economy is able to promote business transformation and development while pursuing sustainability throughout the product/service life cycle management. It is expected that more companies will incorporate the circular economy into their business in the future. What will be a necessary skill to management team when the company wants to incorporate the concept of circular economy in their business? We asked Elana Harrison, a Circular Economy Researcher / Consultant, who runs the circular economy workshop and has also assisted the development of online tools for business leaders implemented by Ellen MacArthur Foundation CE100 program.


Q1. What’s your focus of the research in circular economy?

My research interests within circular economy have mainly centered on business modelling, labor and innovation within startups.
I spent the last year interviewing and developing case studies on companies in Munich and Berlin. These companies have ranged from a company developing a more modular and repairable cellphone for the European market to a company aiming to eliminate paper in German cafés by using a cup return system. I also assisted in the development of an online training course for business executives from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s CE100 group, which includes members such as Apple, Microsoft, and IKEA.

Q2. Can you please tell us, how participants can learn in your workshop to re-design the product circular? And what is interesting outcomes at workshops?

I think for many people, sustainability can seem to be too great of a challenge to tackle – either as a consumer or a producer. How can we redesign common items to eliminate waste and pollution, keep materials in use longer, and regenerate our natural systems? What I aim to do within my workshops is to simplify the abstract problem by getting participants to focus on something concrete – an object in their normal lives. For example it might be a toaster, a toothbrush, or a shoe. Then I have them consider what the product is made of, how it is made, and who is using it. I find many participants are not used to thinking about these daily objects so closely. I find when they do, they think creatively about how items can be remade, or used for different purposes than the producer intended. This is valuable information, and a small step towards changing market values.

Q3. To re-design the product and business model, participants is instructed to make stakeholder mapping at your workshop. Why is the stakeholder mapping so important to re-think the products into circular economy products / business models?

When we consider who the stakeholders are, we can rethink how we target our sustainability strategies. For example, in the case of the production of a toothbrush, we would consider the company, the retailer, and the user all as stakeholders. They all have different wants and needs that must be taken into consideration when you plan to implement any changes in the design, cost, material usage, or quantity of the product produced. One company, The Humble Company, decided to eliminate plastics in its product, replacing them with bamboo and nylon, more sustainable materials. Retailers such as DM in Germany carry this brush in most drug stores next to the other plastic brushes, and consumers are becoming increasingly aware that there are other alternatives to more traditional products. Through mapping your stakeholders, you can better ensure the success of your sustainability strategies.

Q4. What are benefits for companies to participate the circular economy workshop? Please also give us your message to Japanese companies.

The world is rapidly changing, through the development of new technologies, changing consumer preferences, and constraints on natural resources through population growth and a changing climate. In order to succeed, businesses must take sustainability, and especially the concepts of circular economy, into consideration when developing their business strategies. Consumers are increasingly judging companies by environmental and social standards. I would urge Japanese companies to take advantage of CE training as a management tool. By training their top managers in these key concepts, they can learn how CE methods can help them create new ranges of products and services, and even reduce costs. Finally, I would say I firmly believe doing good can also be good for business – we simply need to have strong leadership willing to enact change.

Thank you for your insightful opinion!