Why marketers in manufacturing must THINK CIRCULAR to Survive

The following article was first published on LinkedIn on 5 Nov 2018. Made in Britain and the UN Global Compact (UK) are organising their first planning event THINKING TOGETHER about Circular Economy Marketing on 22 Nov in Manchester. If you're interested in joining us, click through to the links and get in touch.

John Pearce, CEO Made in Britain with Chris Harrop, Marshalls plc 

WE’RE starting to think that maybe the circular economy penny has finally dropped. Here in Britain and right around the world, throughout 2018, political, environmental and social catastrophes have taken turns at making the headlines. Time and again, when discussing the answers to our problems, the phrase that pops up from the media, our families and friends, scientists and government is ‘circular economy’.

Circular economy is certainly not a new phrase. It’s been around for years, and the concept, then called a ‘loop’, appeared in the 1970s. Defining it is as tricky as tracing its origins, but nobody will argue with us if we say it’s based on the three principles of:

  • Designing out waste and pollution
  • Keeping products and materials in use
  • Regenerating natural systems

The more you find out about the circular economy (let’s just call it CE from here) the more exciting and hopeful it is. Some of its ideals make money seem like a rather tired old value system. And it might just present the first easy-to-read clues as to how we fix this dreadful environmental and social mess we’ve made. As marketers, we are responsible for seeing short-, medium- and long-term trends – the CE is all three.

Sustainability, corporate social responsibility, ‘greenwash’, eco-friendly, renewable energy and many more phrases describe our efforts to achieve a longer lasting, more abundant planet to live on. These have been the ways we have tried to improve the way people, plants and animals live and interact. It’s only in recent years that researchers, businesses, governments and a few maverick system thinkers have started to marry the complex set of challenges to the natural environment with the subtler, and less easy to quantify, social science problems. The metrics of human rights and wellbeing are a lot harder to agree on. Is ‘Are you happy?’ simply a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question? 

What scientists appear to be unanimous about is that we don’t have a lot of time to rewind the people/planet clock. If everything we’ve seen this year warns us of one thing, it must be that we have to get a move on. That means, for those who make and manage plans for a living, to take a fresh look at the measures of success in 2019 and beyond, and ask what is missing from the metrics. If asked by anyone, “What are you doing about climate change?” simply showing them your ISO14001 from 2015 just won’t do. If we care about friends and colleagues and the environment in equal measure, we all need to know how and why we act like we do at home and at work. And we have to know what our personal contribution is to making things better, not just watching and worrying while they get worse.

The idea that one protagonist or a standalone project can undo the damage we’ve done to the earth, air and sea on which we depend, ignores how effectively we worked together to make some of the problems appear in the first place. So great collaboration must be encouraged, if only to remind us how brilliantly we can achieve together when we really need to.

Yes, it’s complex but we’re good at complex, even when the complexity is really mind-blowing, like trying to hold three ideas in your mind at the same time – balancing the needs and wants of first person, me, with second person, you, and third person, them.  

So, how fortunate we are to be here right now, equipped with both the social competences to think together and the scientific understanding to know where we have to act first and in what way. We have to prepare for the peak-people number (probably 11billion), and keep monitoring the social measures of success as we go, to make sure everyone succeeds together. In the CE mind-set, nothing gets wasted, no one gets left behind. Planet and people succeed together. It’s not utopian, it’s just common sense and we all have that.    

CE thinking helps add a new type of value to the business proposition, using only the incredible thinking, planning and creative power of the board, marketing team and other stakeholders across the business. Successful marketers thrive on drafting a good plan and getting everyone else to improve it, then getting the board to agree to it so they can carry it out.

But writing policy and plans in marketing is easy – making a circular version will need more than just a few hours at your desk in front of a laptop. You’ll need to give yourself plenty of time to listen to people who have a story to tell. Talk to (not at) as many people at work as possible, especially those who say they don’t know anything about the CE. Your rulebook on circular thinking probably hasn’t been written yet, so the more people offer feedback into your plan, the better it will be. 

Like fresh air, like a walk in the countryside, like smiling at the sunrise, the CE is good and it will do you good. And the more you talk about it, the more good it will bring to the people you work with and the people you work for. CE is a new language that you already speak, a way to describe how we run our lives so people and planet can prosper in equal measure. And unlike social media trends, pop songs or fashionable fads, bringing CE thinking into your business will keep it relevant and important for hundreds of years to come – long after we’ve all moved on. 

A few minutes of desk research will bring up piles of evidence as to how bad this year has been for people and planet. What’s harder to find is where some of the solutions may be and where we start with the process of cleaning up and learning how to tread much more carefully on our planet home.

As no one has all the answers yet, we’ve put together a list of 17 reasons why making circular economy plans and policies is good for you, your businesses, the people you work with and planet Earth all at the same time. We hope you find them helpful in getting started with your plans for next year and beyond.

Seventeen reasons to think CE 

1. The Circular Economy is a very big opportunity. Many organisations think the global financial opportunity is £1trillion – so it can’t be ignored, even if money has started to seem like a tired old value system. 

2. It’s a short-, medium- and long-term trend and many manufacturers are already making great progress. 

3. The UN Global Goals (also in a handy set of 17) are sustainability targets agreed by 200 countries to be achieved by 2030, so everyone knows what you’re talking about if you reference them. They are a fusion of social and environmental challenges. Number one is to end hunger.

4. Circular is a new way of thinking about the human and planetary resources that everyone cares about, but without the armies of expensive businesses consultants. The best marketing ideas and plans will come from you and the people you work with.

5. People made the environmental mess, people have to fix it – and we all need to help out. 

6. The CE has the potential to make your employees AND your employer happier – we all have to manage upwards, downwards and sideways. Success at circular thinking is a win for everyone. 

7. It will help you link to like-minded people and businesses. 

8. You’ll be learning how to present on new measurements that mean more than just money. 

9. CE thinking helps to quantify work/life balance measures 

10. You can tell your grandchildren you helped out.

11. You can sweat the asset of your expertise. By operating on simple principles and common sense you already have the qualifications to make this work.

12. CE behaviours help you win loyalty from clients. 

13. With so much at stake and talented people spreading the word, CE should never be a tired message.

14. CE thinking helps you teach internal stakeholders about corporate social responsibility.

15. It’s not greenwash. It’s smart and it’s meaningful. It works.

16. Thinking and acting in support of a CE will make you measurably happier. 

17. YOU CAN'T PROFIT FROM A DEAD PLANET and that’s what we’ll have if we don’t do this stuff now.

So let's get started today!


By Made in Britain 3 years ago | Member events

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