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  • Writer's pictureJuli Lassow

The Circular Economy Project Management Office

Blue telescope overlooks water ocean with rock islands

When we last talked, we were considering the daunting work of launching a circular framework in your business. Sure, the will might be there, but how do you get yourself out of the starting blocks?

I’ve got some ideas.

At one point in my career, I was charged with giving both strategic and project management support to our Responsible Sourcing team. In the past, this team had been tasked with a great deal of doing and tracking, but it had received little support for more significant initiatives. Naturally, we were excited to launch this work—and the Responsible Sourcing team was eager to get going on their long wish list.

As I dug into my new responsibilities, my manager cautioned me, on more than one occasion, not to try and “boil the ocean.” (Let’s set aside for the moment that this is a terrible phrase to use when discussing sustainability and responsible sourcing initiatives.) She was right. If we tried to build and execute a comprehensive strategy to address every current challenge we were facing, our chances of success would be slim indeed.

Which leads me to this: “Not boiling the ocean” is how I’d encourage you to think about taking part in the circular economy.

But Where to Begin with Circular Strategies?

Commit to the broader concept of going circular. Outline what this work means to you, your organization, your customers, your team, your community, and the planet. It sounds a little overwhelming, I know, and in this initial stage, your good intentions can quickly fade away.

That’s why frameworks like Circulytics, from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, are so valuable. (I invite you to check out this earlier post on Circulytics for a complete refresher.) But here’s the TLDR version: Circulytics is the implementation toolkit that the Foundation launched in 2020 to help organizations assess and develop circular systems.

As a consultant, I’m a huge fan of frameworks in general, and of Circulytics in particular. It can help you organize your priorities and approach, develop and measure progress against your KPIs, and communicate progress to your stakeholders.

Start Closing Circles of Waste

You don’t need to have all the answers to get started. Start with the commitment to change and the commitment to learn. Then, create a list of the circles you can close, and the waste you can eliminate.

The big secret about the circular economy is that you’re not closing one GIANT circle of waste. Rather, you’re closing many smaller circles, prioritizing what works best for your company and customers.

The key, my friends, is to start somewhere. Then, the momentum you build as you pursue circle after circle will be stunning.

By the way, I should also mention that I’m not associated with the Ellen McArthur Foundation. But I am obsessed with helping retailers and their partners make their first steps toward circularity.

As someone who’s familiar with many strategic frameworks, I can assure you that Circulytics is the real deal. It is a straightforward way to start your circular journey or accelerate it. And when your resources are easy and logical to use, as Circulytics is, you’ll be more likely to use them.

One More Time, With Feeling

No question about it. People today think differently about the items they buy, with a clear and critical eye toward sustainability. It is a time of transition for consumers and the brands and retailers who serve them.

This transition is also the perfect time to connect deeply with your customers, stakeholders, and team members and develop a sustainable, quantifiable, circular approach.

The partners you can take are diverse in scope, placement, and impact. The solutions you can pursue range from the simple to the complex. What makes the circular economy so powerful is that you can—and often should—start with simple, straightforward approaches. Sure, you’ll need to dedicate resources to the effort. But the work itself is doable. And it will bring meaningful rewards.

Beware, though: this time of transition won’t last forever. Every day, you hear how other brands and retailers are marching toward circularity. And while the opportunities to adopt a circular approach will continue to expand, the opportunity to lead may not.

Those who act with speed and impact—and who can clearly communicate their vision and progress—will be best positioned to lead where this circular journey goes. They will secure the partnerships, the funding, and ultimately, the customers who want to spend their money with companies committed to sustainability.

Unfortunately, playing catch-up to these leaders means that your business will need to invest even more time and effort into the circular effort—and that the environment will suffer more needless damage.

Redefining “Enough”

One of my favorite retail thought leaders, Chris Walton, is fond of saying that retail experiences a transformation every 40 years or so.

It has been two centuries since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in America, the birth of modern retail, and the time when manufacturers and retailers purposely redefined what it meant to have enough.

Next, we saw the rise of department stores, followed by the age of the catalog. Then came malls, mass retailers, and in the late 1990s, the ascendence of Amazon and online shopping. We are now living in the latest age of retail transformation. Never have the consequences of failing to act been so dire, nor the benefits of action so great.

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the definition of having enough. Not to something less but to something more.

A more sustainable approach, a more holistic approach, a more circular one.

I encourage you to join—and lead—this most critical movement.

If you can, take a moment and share a few words about your experience with the circular economy. How has it affected your business? What challenges have you seen while moving this work forward? And what rewards has it brought? I look forward to hearing from you – please comment below or reach out: I can’t wait to talk more.

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