Why the Future of Brands is Circular

Image credit: Will Cornfield - via Unsplash

Image credit: Will Cornfield - via Unsplash

As climate, environmental and societal issues continue to dominate our news feeds, it's easy to feel overwhelmed with how big these problems are, and like there’s nothing we can do to help solve them.

With inaction continuing to be the modus operandi for government and big business, it’s time to take a closer look at what we as individuals and small business owners can do to help solve these problems.

For some time now, brands around the world have been racing to ‘close the loop’ on their end-to-end processes in a bid to be more sustainable, ethical and responsible. In doing so, a new, ‘Circular’ economy has emerged, bringing with it a whole new way of doing business.

To truly understand where the future of brands is heading, it’s important to take a closer look at our current economic model, and how it impacts the way we do business.

Linear vs. circular.

In stark contrast to our current ‘linear’ economy, where products are designed to have a short lifecycle and promote a ‘take, make, waste’ mentality, a ‘circular’ economy is regenerative and restorative by design.

A circular economy is one where waste is minimised and everything is designed to be waste-free and regenerative. When waste is designed out of the product and its lifecycle, we reduce the costs inflicted on our environment and society’s well being. That way, there will continue to be enough resources to go around - now and well into the future.  

Shifting our reliance.

The key to ensuring that there will be enough resources for everyone is shifting our reliance on fossil fuels towards renewable resources. Since the industrial revolution, our world is used to relying on non-renewable resources - resources that are limited in supply and cannot be replaced by natural means - such as oil, natural gas and coal. If we make the switch to renewable resources - such as solar energy, wind energy, and hydropower, we’ll be less reliant on fossil fuels, which have been a leading cause of the climate crisis we’re currently facing. 

Consumers are placing increasing pressure on business owners to become more eco-conscious and socially responsible. In other words, brands need to start taking full responsibility for their output and environmental toll if they want to keep their customers happy. This is already starting to take effect, with brands big and small clambering to close the loop and investing significantly more time, money and energy into making products that are sustainable, ethically made, and eco-friendly.

Brands big and small are taking action.

Adidas is set to make 11 million pairs of shoes from recycled ocean plastic this year, and Zara has just vowed to make its clothing from 100% sustainable fabrics by 2025. And while these are steps in the right direction, it’s important to look at the whole business model and supply chain when shifting to a sustainable model, not just focusing on one aspect to keep consumers happy.

For example, while Zara’s move toward sustainable fabrics is a positive one, their fundamental business model is still built around having 52 seasons a year rather than just 4 - ultimately promoting fast-fashion and contradicting the values of long-term sustainability.

So while it’s great that brands are making strides in the right direction, every area of their business model and supply chain needs to be addressed and adjusted in order to be truly sustainable.

Consumers expect it.

Many customers now expect products to be made with low-impact materials before they consider purchasing them. According to a study held by HP Australia and Planet Ark: “while over 90% of Australian consumers and businesses are concerned about environmental sustainability, only half believe they are doing their fair share to protect the planet.”

As a result of customers becoming more conscious and increasingly demanding products that are both good for them and the planet, there is a huge boom in industries that focus on recycling, upcycling, and thrifting. We’re seeing a ‘green renaissance’ of sorts, where consumers are going back to products that are natural, made to last, hand-made, home-made, and most importantly - contain soul.

Back to natural.

The rise of the circular economy has also meant the rise of regenerative products. Regenerative products are those that are made from renewable and naturally-grown materials. Take The Hemp Temple for instance. In contrast to the increasingly problematic fast-fashion industry, this Aussie brand uses natural hemp fibres to make beautiful clothes that last. Hemp is a fibre that can be grown plentifully without any added chemicals, making it one of the most environmentally-friendly and robust fibres on the planet - even more so than organic cotton.

However, that doesn’t mean that these brands have stopped looking for ways to improve their production cycle. The sustainability conversation needs to be part of an ongoing dialogue. Otherwise, the costs that we as a society have inflicted in the past millennium will catch up with us.

“We’re in a time of revolution and no economy is secure. So what survives this time of change will be the brands who are radically environmentally conscious and who also go the extra mile and reinvest their energy into social issues. Up-cycling, re-invention, clothes swapping, repair services and sustainable materials” says Isabella Gillespie, founder of The Hemp Temple.

Investing in innovative, sustainable technologies and taking full ownership of our business activities on a micro scale is going to be the key to worldwide change.

We would love to learn more about how you are trying to create positive environmental change with your business and community in the comments below.

Written by Jessica Nguyen for Wildbrand.