An arial view of a roundabout known as 'The Circus' in Bath, England. The roundabout is covered in trees and the road around it is lined with buildings. There are cars parked on the road.

How to make your business more ‘circular’

Something is made, it’s used and then disposed of.

Read that again.

Something is made, it’s used and then disposed of.

We go to all the effort of manufacturing objects, only to discard them as rubbish. Worse still, they end up as trash in landfill or incinerated. After some thought and repetition, the entire process sounds absolutely nonsensical, doesn’t it? But that’s what has traditionally happened to the things we buy. They come to the end of their useful life (to us!) and are simply thrown away. However, the good news is that this can and will change – organisations and businesses all over the globe are thinking differently and taking a new approach to their operations as a means to being more ‘circular’; looking at the goods and services they provide and innovating for sustainable success.

But what does this take? And where do we begin? First, you need to sell it! When things are ticking over, introducing the concept of the circular economy to the wider business can be a tough ask, but there are plenty of good reasons for an organisation to invest time and money in the transition to a more ‘circular’ way of operating. There is plenty of evidence to support the benefits such as decreased waste and improved efficiency and the huge brand reputation gains that come from being an openly sustainable business. It can help you to gain new customers and lower costs. All of this is great news.

The changes you need to make may be obvious, such as addressing what happens at the end of your product’s life. But there’s no doubt that plenty of other elements of your production, design or even simply the way your business operates that can be changed or adjusted to meet more sustainable standards. Circle Economy, a not-for-profit organisation that helps businesses, cities and even governments, has set out seven ‘key elements’ of the circular economy. And it’s a great place to start if you’re looking to make a top-down analysis of your organisation for the future.

1) Design for the future 

Make an assessment of the products you make or sell. What materials are used? Are there more sustainable alternatives? How long do these products last and what happens to them when they are no longer of use? Can their life be extended by a clever design adjustment?

2) Incorporate digital technology

How efficient is your business? Do products or services reach your customers in the most time and energy-efficient way? Are you missing any key pieces of data or insights that could change the way in which you achieve sales or reach customers?

3) Preserve and extend what’s already made

Think differently about how products are made and how they can potentially have a ‘second life’. For example, many Canon machines are efficiently refurbished or remanufactured and subsequently find themselves back out in use by happy customers who are looking to meet some of their sustainability aims.

An arial view of the factory floor at Canon Giessen. There are printers, photocopiers and boxes against the green background of the floor. A woman in a red top walks through.
Canon’s dedicated remanufacturing facility in Giessen, Germany, receives machines from across Europe for refurbishment or remanufacture.

4) Prioritise regenerative resources

What do you use? Are your material resources renewable, reusable and non-toxic? How about manufacturing? Are you consuming energy in the most efficient and low-impact way possible? Do you make a regular audit of both?

5) Use waste as a resource

Is it possible to sell or manufacture products that draw upon or use materials that would otherwise be discarded? Are there by-products of your own processes that may be transformed into useful items elsewhere?  

6) Rethink the business model

Why does your business operate in the way it does? We hear about companies that ‘disrupt’ a great deal, but it’s simply an exciting way of saying that they’ve addressed at an existing problem differently. For example, many disrupters are simply converting products to services – allowing many people to share or leasing items and incentivising long-term use.

7) Collaborate to create joint value

Supply chains are critical to a circular way of operating and this means working together to a shared standard which creates value for all. This might be teams coming together in a product development environment or working towards absolute transparency across the supply chain to ensure that every aspect is clear, and information flows smoothly.

Finally, look at the outcomes of your analysis as opportunities – you’re laying out the future of your organisation, yes, but each step towards a more circular way of doing business will positively impact partners, employees and, most importantly, your customers.

Find out more about how Canon supports the circular economy.

Written by Andy Tomkins