The Loop

Everyone talks about the circular economy, but only a fraction of companies are actually doing it.

It’s not because the majority is lazy, but it’s a complex topic, hard to understand, and even harder to lift off.

You need everyone on board. You need a buy-in from the top. You need budgets.

And most of the people don’t get beyond these simple but crucial points.

Sustainability managers are swamped with reporting, short on staff, with no budgets. Not to mention an organizational culture, that is not aligned with what needs to happen.

That’s exactly what happened to me when I was asked to lead Prague’s circular economy transition.

How do I do it? Where do I start? What does it even mean for Prague to go circular?

On the first day, I had 0 answers, more grey hair, and one question: “How did I get myself into this mess?”

After 4 years of working with the city of Prague, as well as many other organizations, I feel like I have a story to tell.

Today I want to help you avoid all the mistakes I’ve done and offer a powerful 4 step framework to fuel a circular transition in any organization.

Step 1: Understand where you are

Every circular economist starts with this simple hack: we map out the material flows connected to what we need to fix. This could be a stadium, a house, a whole company or even a city.

What materials are entering your system? What happens with them when they reach their end of life?

It’s really important to set your system boundaries – what are you including in your material flow analysis, what are you leaving out?

The setups are wildly different, but one thing is for sure – you have to stick to the data.

If you can‘t measure how circular you are, you can‘t manage it.

And don’t forget to visualize it.

You can literally draw your material flows on paper. Or come up with something more complex:

In this case, one picture really speaks more than 1000 words.

Thanks to an amazing help from Circle Economy, we learned that Prague’s construction sector creates 3 million tons of waste. What’s worse, most of if got backfilled.

When our urban planners and developers saw this, they immediately started thinking: How can we fix this (while making more cash along the way?)

Once you have the data, you can quickly point out the hotspots:

What is driving our circularity down?
Where are you consuming most resources?
How much waste is created? Where is it going?

Focus on what matters.

In this stage, you’d typically want to create an engaged group of stakeholders that are the problem owners. People who have a stake in this, and who you’ll need in the future to make it all happen.

Make sure to keep them in the loop.

Step 2: Create a vision

It doesn’t need to be complicated.

Ask yourself and your key stakeholders: What does circular economy in our context look like? Where would we like to be in 2050?

In an ideal world, how would our material flows change? What role do we play in our value chain?

This is usually great to do in a workshop format. You can present your material flow analysis, together with some cool examples from around the world to inspire.

Make sure you get everything on paper, let people agree, and move on to the next step, right after this:


Promote your solutions to 1800+ sustainability pros, executives, and circular economists.

To keep this newsletter free, I am offering 2 ad slots to promote your circular solutions in The Loop per week. Next Saturday has only 1 slot left.

So if you are interested in getting your solutions in front of the top sustainability crowd, let me know if you wanna partner up.

This newsletter is only 5 weeks old, but folks from companies like Google, Tesla, Volvo Cars, BMW, Nestlé, Airbus, UN, Deloitte, or RWE are already reading it.

Step 3: Define your actions

Teams and organizations need goals and action plans to get stuff done.

Do some research. Talk to your partners, and other departments, or scan competitors. Identify a long list of concrete opportunities to reach your vision. If you have a business case to back it up, even better.

Then, shortlist the best actions, and turn them into an action plan. If we want to do X, what needs to happen in the next 3 years to succeed? How much is it gonna cost?

What’s the ROI? Who is responsible for this?

Agree that this is what you’ll be focusing on, pin it down, and don’t forget the next step.

Step 4: Get a buy-in from the top

Almost everyone has a boss. If not yourself, then your client probably does.

You need to make sure that all the energy and momentum you’ve created so far lands well with the leadership.

It’s probably not the best idea to just show up when everything is “agreed” and over and put them in front of a done deal.

But you also shouldn’t drag your CEO through 3 different workshops and 4 interviews. You need to strike a balance here, depending on the context.

In either way – show the top leadership:

  • some great pilots aleady happening,
  • what results are generated,
  • and what other amazing pilots you have in the pipeline!

Get a big buy-in. Don’t be afraid to talk to them. They are just people like you and me.

And don’t forget to ask for 2 most important things: budgets and manpower.

Ask for a lot, because you will end up with 25% of what you actually need if you are lucky.

Start Building Today

If you follow these steps, you can create a circular economy strategy and launch first awesome pilots in just a few months.

This is the path I followed with Prague. But I got a looot of help from an impact foundation, called Circle Economy.

When I saw how they single handedly helped my hometown to go from zero to hero, I wanted to whole world to hear about them.

Circle Economy has helped more than 120+ corporates, 50+ cities, and 20+ nations to move beyond recycling and go circular. If it’s worth a chat, just let me know by replying back to this email.

And if you need just an advise but not a whole report, I’ve got you with my 1:1 Power Hour. I’ve spent 10 years advising hundreds of organizations and people from all over the world on the circular economy. You can easily pick my brain on this and more.

TLDR;

1. Understand where you are by mapping your material flows

2. Create your circular economy vision

3. Select top opportuniteis, turn them into an action plan

4. Get a buy-in from the top, ask for budgets and manpower.

Apply these 4 steps to make less trash and more cash.

That’s it for this week, see you next Saturday!

Vojta aka The Circular Economist

06 April 2024

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