How Does the Circular Economy Drive a Revolution in Sustainable Manufacturing?
- Sep 18, 2023 5:10 pm GMT
Energy professionals must convey the importance of transitioning to a circular economy in the manufacturing sector by committing to action. The average consumer is becoming more aware of Scope 3 emissions, holding supply chains and production lines to higher standards.
Leaders only realize they created sustainable manufacturing once processes become circular. How does this look for small and megacorporations that rely on clean energy and eco-conscious professionals to guide them?
The Circular Economy and Scope 3 Emissions
More than 70% of a product’s carbon footprint rests within the Scope 3 indirect emissions category that a circular economy could eliminate. According to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the Scope 3 qualifier encompasses upstream activities referencing production and everything required to manufacture the product. It may include material acquisition and waste generated from operations.
Downstream is another consideration describing post-consumer habits, usage, distribution and disposal. Circular practices promote waste as materials for repurposing.
Numerous categories of Scope 3 emissions come from manufacturing, procurement and logistics activities. The sector has one of the most potent opportunities to decrease the carbon footprint of industries worldwide using circular economic business models. They mitigate most greenhouse gases by incorporating renewable resources and energy, implementing closed-loop techniques and collaborating with ethical third parties.
A survey calculated by the Danish Business Authority in collaboration with the United Nations Compact Network determined several critical points about their participants’ commitment to circular economic practices and Scope 3 emissions reduction:
- 73% stated that obtaining data was a challenge in calculating Scope 3 emissions.
- The most applied circular practices in manufacturing are substitution for lower-emissions materials, reducing hazardous waste and phasing out single-use materials.
- Only 24% of manufacturers plan to reduce emissions with science-based targets.
- The least-focused circular practices for manufacturing were designing products to be shared by multiple users and selling them as a service, such as rentals.
- The largest emissions categories were procurement, transport, production, products and waste generation.
The insights are invaluable for motivating energy and sustainability experts who inform manufacturers how they should implement their circular economic strategies.
How Manufacturers Become Circular
Many large businesses neglect to adopt sustainable structures for two main reasons. The first is because they are afraid it will harm bottom lines. It is an assumption that sustainable methods and technologies are more costly than environmentally destructive alternatives. Smart budgeting and taking advantage of government incentives and grants make it more affordable than most perceive.
The second motivation for ignoring embracing the circular economy is that it is not mandatory. Policies and environmental regulatory adjustments drive most systemic change in all business activities, including cleaning, investing and building. Some environmental regulation exists, but it does not mention the circular economy specifically.
Resource decoupling is one of the most influential ways to transform a business plan. It requires enterprises to dissociate profit and corporate growth from resource utilization. Decoupling makes companies see more value in their products, including the environmental impact, more than the profit margins.
Companies must also implement solutions, such as the strategies from the study. For example, incorporating infrastructure that allows customers to return glass cosmetics bottles for refilling is an example of circular methodology.
The Manufacturers Leading the Charge
Several key players have realized more than recycling programs are needed to make a manufacturer sustainable for the long term. They prioritized sustainable and resilient infrastructure, longevity and upcycling materials, even if the maker does not use the product’s materials in the same form. The goal is to reduce carbon emissions throughout the entire manufacturing process.
Several companies even embrace a waste-to-materials framework, using everything they can to upcycle new products, use them as compost or employ them as a fuel for electricity. These real-life circular manufacturers hope to inspire others.
Patagonia is one of the forerunners in every sustainable company conversation. It embraces the circular economy with its Worn Wear program, connecting with customers to recycle and repair textiles. People see the fruits of labor with their clothing line made of recycled materials and supplemented with organic cotton.
DyeCoo also works in textiles but on the dye side. Creating safe, environmentally friendly ways to apply dyes is essential in nations where fast fashion workers use toxic dyes in unsafe conditions, like Bangladesh and Thailand. It found a way to minimize carbon-emitting materials by leveraging carbon dioxide. High pressurizing enables using dyes with no additives. Carbon dioxide evaporates and is ready for reuse.
Manufacturers can be circular outside of the fashion industry, too. HYLA Mobile mainly collaborates with other manufacturers and tech makers to repurpose its waste. It minimizes the e-waste epidemic by providing a constant, reliable growth stream.
The Impact of Circular Economies on Manufacturing
The planet’s health is enough of a benefit, but it manifests in numerous forms. Circular economies marry multiple related industries and corporate goals, such as waste management, raw material extraction, ethical labor and rewriting a product’s end-of-life cycle. These focus areas are generally disparate, but focusing on building a circular economy requires manufacturers and energy experts to weigh them equally.
Repurposing as many materials and products as possible prevents waste from going to landfills and overextraction. This has significant boons for the planet, including:
Eliminating resource scarcity
Saving biodiversity by maintaining natural resources and habitats
Focusing on cleaner, renewable materials
Restructuring consumerist mindsets
Reducing impacts of environmental racism and poverty
Circular marketing also encourages digital transformation. Adapting to these practices usually requires new infrastructure and software. Many manufacturers are already behind in adopting AI or the Internet of Things. There is no better time than now, especially for analyzing data critical for determining circular economic plans.
The Circular Economy in Practice
Professional energy industry workers and environmental experts must work with manufacturers to instill a circular economy. It is time to reimagine operations and restructure them to take back what a company puts into the world. They should empower consumers to work with them to responsibly give products a new life at the end so it is fully cradle-to-cradle. Companies can use the resources to make new products, power electrical systems and renourish the planet
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