Highlights of 2020 deliver necessity for Circular Economies

Katja Forbes

  • Managing director of Designit, Australia and New Zealand
Katja is an Australian pioneer in the field of experience design and all its components.Back in 2014, Katja founded syfte, a specialist business in research and experience design acquired by Wipro in 2018. She was then appointed Australian MD of Designit. Katja was also a co-founding member of the Interaction Design Association Board (IxDA) in Sydney, helping build a community of over 1600 designers. Today, Katja is international director on IxDA’s global board. Katja is a sought-after speaker for organisations including Women In Design, Leaders in Heels, Women In Commerce, Code like a Girl, Telstra and Macquarie Bank. Katja was recognised as a Top 10 Australian Women Entrepreneurs 2018 by My Entrepreneur Magazine and one of the 100 Women of Influence by Westpac and the Australian Financial Review in 2016.

Have you come across one of those little memes doing the rounds that looks like a video titled ‘The Highlights of 2020’ but when you hit the arrow, it’s actually not a video, but a picture? 

I would say the lessons emerging from a year like 2020 are what make the highlights, not necessarily what we gained. One of these is renewed emphasis on sustainability, and by this, I mean complete circular sustainability. 

It is promising to see organisations, both private and government, realise sustainability isn’t just about environmental responsibility; it’s about social responsibility too. You need only look at some of the horrific effects of the Black Lives Matter push and COVID spectacle to determine what happens if businesses ignore both environmental and social responsibility. This year we will see organisations stepping up in a big way.

From the simplest change, such as paper straws over plastic, to the greatest sustainable options in the manufacturing process, consumers are demanding it and voting with their hard-earned dollar. Even though the initial request was made some years ago, organisations were ashamedly found to be acting on the stakeholders’ desires, rather than the consumers. 

A public push for sustainability, together with transparency in the manufacturing and sales process, means we can see a genuine push for sustainability throughout many business plans today. For example, organisations have elected to a circular economy manufacturing process, whereby all by-product material will be used elsewhere.

Ikea is aiming to be an entirely circular business by 2030. IKEA Group chief sustainability officer, Lena Pripp-Kovac, has said: “I think the idea of circular really makes the point of saying that it is already in the design phase, when you start to think that you have to incorporate the whole life-cycle into what you do and how it’s owned and what's going to happen with it.”

In its 2019 business report available online, Ikea aspired to a number of sustainable promises like developing into a circular business, furthering reducing the climate footprint, sourcing its material responsibly and collaborating with social entrepreneurs.

With change comes challenge. Several challenges the organisation identified include the following:

  • Despite the business increasing its product range by a staggering 2000 new products to take its total to 9500 new products, how can the organisation remain affordable? We all have discovered organically produced items are naturally more expensive, but ‘exclusive’ is not where Ikea has placed itself on the marketing food chain. Sustainability measures may change the affordability they offer currently.
  • Sourcing recycled materials. There is a shortage of clean, recycled materials at the moment as other like-minded organisations in the economy slowly jump on-board. But the desire for a circular economy is an important element to Ikea, so this challenge is one that must be overcome.
  • Improving working conditions. It is understood working conditions are an imperial part of doing good business. Ikea customers demand safe, clean and ‘decent’ working conditions no matter where in the world items are produced. Ikea is working hard to continuously ensure good working conditions throughout its supply chains.
  • Include vulnerable groups in society. Ikea has a responsibility to vulnerable groups in society – we all do. As a recognised organisation, Ikea must create better possibilities for inclusion, and one opportunity to do this includes working closely with partner organisations that employ marginalised groups, in areas of the world that need it most.

Ikea actively encourages its customers via social media to challenge themselves every week and do something unique toward sustainability and biodiversity. In doing so, they may also personally discover a new way of living that may become easy.

This project also goes beyond those particularly interested in sustainability. For example, it recognises there may be a need for someone to use that plastic bag right now, but asks: What are you doing with the plastic bag afterwards?

From furniture to fast food

By contrast, there could possibly not be an organisation more commercial in its appearance than McDonalds.  However, with the opening of its 1000th store in Australia, the franchise is road-testing an exciting new sustainable concept that should operate as a precedent for others to follow.

The flagship store is in Melbourne’s Melton South and has been built in a partnership with Schneider Electric, the global leader in energy management and automation. The latter will manage all the restaurant’s energy systems including a microgrid, air-conditioning, refrigeration and lighting.

We can expect to see automated lighting that observes whether it’s a bright day and adjusts lighting, air conditioning and refrigeration accordingly. In addition, the restaurant will be powered by renewable energy, feature Happy Meal toy recycling, embrace carbon neutral McDelivery via Uber Eats and Door Dash, have an Australian-first PlayPlace made with recycled content and offer electrical vehicle charging stations.

These are just a couple of ideas showing how large organisations are taking what is available to them and designing new concepts to provide sustainable solutions that are acceptable to both stakeholders and customers. If such large organisations can get the job done, I would have thought smaller businesses can also deliver circular economies, too.

Read more about the circular economy in our special explainer report here.

Tags: sustainability, design thinking, brand strategy, circular economy

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