#13 What is The Circular Economy and How Can Online Retailers Get Involved?

This is the THIRD (not the second like I say in the recording), episode of our series where we upload our special panel events with our ecommerce and sustainability experts. This event is all about the circular economy: why ecommerce brands should get involved and how can they go about it in the easiest and most efficient way possible with our incredible guest speakers Claire from One Circular World and Adam from Recurate.
Find us: 
Where to find One Circular World:

One Circular World - Website

Where to find Claire Potter:

Claire Potter - Email: claire@clairepotterdesign.com 

Krissie Leyland  0:00

Hello, and welcome to The MindfulCommerce Podcast, a place where we talk to ecommerce brands and service providers and developers who care about protecting our planet. I'm Krissie!

Rich Bunker  0:11 

I'm Rich, and we're your hosts. This podcast is an extension of the MindfulCommerce Community.

Krissie Leyland  0:18 

The MindfulCommerce Community is a safe place for ecommerce brands and experts to connect, collaborate and explore opportunities to work together to unleash the power of ecommerce as a force for good.

Rich Bunker  0:30 

You can join by going to mindfulcommerce.io and clicking "Community". See you there!

Krissie Leyland  0:35 

Hello, this is the second episode of our series where we upload our special panel events with our ecommerce and sustainability experts. This event is all about the circular economy: why ecommerce brands should get involved and how can they go about it in the easiest and most efficient way possible with our incredible guest speakers Claire from One Circular World and Adam from Recurate.

Claire is from One Circular World, which is an educational resource exploring the circular economy – not just for business managers, politicians or policymakers, but for all of us, including those in the ecommerce world. And Adam is from Recurate. Recurate enables a beautifully integrated resale marketplace directly on ecommerce stores. So this means you can very easily integrate a secondhand store directly on your website, which is great for your brand and great for the planet. If you're a regular listener, follow us on social media or have gone through our incredible Sustainability Framework, you'll know that I talk about Recurate a lot, so this was a long time coming. So thank you, Adam and thank you Claire, so so much for taking the time to deliver your knowledge to us. Thank you to those who attended the event live and thank you lovely listeners for being here with us on the podcast. So if you enjoy this event, you'll love being in our community. We are introducing live training events in our community group, so it's a great time to get involved if you want to learn about growing your ecommerce business in the most sustainable and positively impactful way. You can join the community for free by going to mindfulcommerce.io and clicking on "Community". I'll also link to the direct link to join on the show notes. Okay, let's get right into it and let's go over to the event. Enjoy.

Claire Potter  2:50 

Good afternoon, everybody. Hi! Thank you so much for having me. We're gonna be talking about circular economy, and what can basically people do with it, particularly from a commerce perspective. Firstly, I'm going to give you a quick, quick introduction to me. So like many of us, I wear many different hats. I run a design studio, I identify as a designer, I trained as an interior architect, and I specialized in eco sustainable ways of working that eventually became a circular economy way of thinking. That was founded in 2008.

Also I'm a lecturer at the University of Sussex, and I'm the head of the product design course at University of Sussex. Mostly because of my interference, I suppose we've become quite a sort of a hub for circular economy learning with regards to products, and how it can become an integral part of the educational process because our product designers are making all the stuff that we have in the world. So that's another day job.

As far as volunteer stuff, I'm actually the working group coordinator for the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, which is a bit of a mouthful, but basically this is end of life fishing nets, stuff that's been abandoned, lost or discarded. And this is a global thing. So we've got members of the GGGI that are really little organizations like me and my design studio, all the way through to governments. So it's really far reaching and an amazing set of people doing incredible stuff globally. On a more load local scale... I'm based usually down in Brighton, in Lincolnshire. I'm actually based down in Brighton & Hove and I'm one of the regional reps for Surfers Against Sewage, which again is a volunteer role and I'm the plastics person. As I say: disclaimer, I don't surf but I can snowboard and I know nothing about poo, but I know a lot about plastic. So that's basically the stuff that I do for Surfers Against Sewage: leading beach cleans, educating people about plastic, in particular marine plastic, and that's been my specialist nerd niche, as I call it for the last year 12 years.

Then everything sort of came together with One Circular World, which is the hats that I'm wearing today and I'm going to talk to you a little about that in a second. But how does all of that knit together: it all knits together because of design – because everything we have in the world is designed from our systems to our stuff. The way that we behave has been designed and influenced in multitude of different ways. A lot of that can be influenced in a good way, I think through behavior change, circular economy thinking, and the value of the products and the materials we have in our lives, regardless of whether there's something that is relatively short term or something that lasts for a very, very long time. So basically, I deal with people and I deal with stuff. That is the sort of the top line of everything I do.

I know a lot of you have probably joined this and know a lot about the circular economy but just in case you're not too sure about the terminology, this is the kind of way I explain it to most people: It's basically how the natural world works. So if you think about it, you can have a leaf, that leaf will get eaten by Caterpillar, the caterpillar gets eaten by the bird, the birds sadly dies, that bird falls to the floor, it composts, and then it ends up nourishing the earth itself and allowing a tree to grow more leaves, which can then be eaten by more caterpillars. So you can see here that even though I've put this in a line, it's a system that works in a circle, or a loop in a way, because it's a little bit more complex than that. So whatever is at the end will eventually go back to the beginning. But we don't work in that way.

We're the only species on the planet that creates any kind of waste, which is quite staggering. So we work in this linear way: we dig things up, we make something, we sell, we buy things and then it gets to the end of its life, regardless of how long that life is. It mostly ends up in landfill, or ends up in incineration. Sometimes it gets recycled, but it works in a linear way. Not all of our systems work in that cyclical way, just like nature does. So if in doubt, when you're thinking about the circular economy, because it can be pretty complicated, we're going to dial into a few bits of that in a second, think about how nature works. Does nature do this? If it doesn't, then it probably isn't part of a circular system. So another way of calling it is "cradle at the beginning to the grave at the end": it's a linear lifeline.

Now I have a bit of an issue with the word sustainable but it is genuinely the word that most people associate with green living, eco living & sustainable living. But if we think about that linear model we just looked at, in the truest sense, that isn't a sustainable way of working. Because we have finite resources & we have finite amount of carbon we can put up in the atmosphere. We're really reaching the limits. So to sustain that way of working into the future, it's going to be hard, if not impossible. This is why I tend to try to not use the word sustainable when I'm teaching because I really need to tell the students, "they need to shake up the system a bit and make the system better."

So a lot of people go, "Amazing. Well, that's the reduce, reuse, recycle, isn't it? We've been doing that for a long time." Well, not quite, because we've got the linear economy, the cradle to the grave, stuff gets made stuff goes to the bin/ Then we have the recycling economy, which is better, you can see the bin I've drawn is a lot smaller. But it means that things might take a little bit longer, but invariably, they get to not being a greater quality, or they get broken, and variably they just end up in the bin anyway. But the idea with a circular economy is that we don't have a bin at all. Everything goes round in a circle, or loop. It isn't as neat and tidy as this but it goes round and round and round, sometimes in the same form, ie a plastic bottle to a plastic bottle, sometimes in different forms like a fishing net, all the way through to a carpet tile, for example. But it gets transformed in different ways or it's the same thing again, it goes round and around.

And it is a lot more complicated than just making stuff. We have what we call a hierarchy of actions and this is a really important thing to think about when you are understanding how to engage in a circular economy either as an individual or as a brand. So we have the reduce, reuse, recycle in this spectrum here and you can see the biggest one we have is reduce. We need to reduce a lot of things that were buying, using and consuming so quickly. We have got recycling there and we got rubbish, which is basically at the very end. But we've got reusing the stuff again, and again, we've got longevity, we've got repairing, which is part of reuse. So if you have something that needs to last a long time, you might need to amend it to be suitable for how your life has changed. It might be that it needs repairing as it goes along and we know that so many of our products are not designed to be repaired. They are produced with snap fittings, which means that you can't really easily get into them, they break as you try to get into them. It might be we can't get parts. So the way that our stuff has been designed has meant that circularity in the sense has become much, much harder. So that's something we're trying to shake up in the educational system. We do have recycling, of course, but recycling is a destructive process, ie the thing needs to be dismantled, taken to pieces, smashed apart, melted before it can be turned back into something, which of course takes energy. Then we have recovery, which is a fancy word for incineration with energy that is taken from the incineration process. Then hopefully, if we've got a biological waste, we might be rotting it, turning it into compost. And at the very, very, very bottom: we have rubbish, which might be landfill. As you can see here, this is the hierarchy of what we want to be doing: rubbish at the very bottom, and actual reduction at the very, very top.

But when we really think about circular thinking, you get even fancier little sketches like this one, which is called the butterfly system or the butterfly sketch. You can see here we've got each of those different hierarchies that we've just looked at but we've sort of split them into halves. So we've got us, as the people in the middle & at the bottom. Then at the very top, we've got our linear system. So we're grabbing the stuff out, we're manufacturing our things, we're distributing, selling our things to us, but instead of it going to the grave at the very bottom, the landfill incineration, it gets split into two elements. So technical materials, which is everything synthetic. Metals go into that as well. Everything that's biological is everything that's organic, not in the certified sense, but in the sense that it's been grown.

I just want you to take five seconds to look around your room now and look at every single thing in that room. You will not be able to find anything that is an either a technical material, or a biological material. So where I'm sitting at the moment, I'm sitting at a table, and it's got a wood core. So that's very much a biological material, but it has a plasticized top to it. So that's a technical material. So some things might be pure. I've also got a cotton tea towel looking at me. So that's pure cotton. But we might have something that's a mixture of the two just like this table. So you might have something that's purely technical material, synthetic, like a plastic, something that's biological, like this tea towel that's looking at me, or we might have something in the middle. But each of these things can be split. And we could be thinking about how we might be reusing them, how we might be repairing them, how we might re manufacture them, or at the very end recycle them. Hopefully, the recycling goes into some kind of remanufacture stage. So nothing really drops through the bottom. If this is a big sieve, all of our stuff is sitting in the sieve and nothing's falling through the gaps at the bottom. It's a landfill, or incineration. As soon as we start to mix things together, just like this table I'm sitting at, it makes it harder to reprocess. So when we're thinking about circular systems, we really want to try and keep them as pure as possible to either being a biological material, or either being a technical material if we can. This is basically how circularity works. It's a series of systems that interconnect and crossover in a multitude of different ways. I'm happy for you guys to have these slides as well, because these are all my little doodles in here. It makes it much easier to look back in it when you're thinking about this.

So if we go back to our hierarchy of actions, I want to look at a few examples of how different brands are doing really great stuff in different stages. I have a few hero brands that I talk about. Some you might agree with, some of you might disagree with. Yeah, really happy to chat about this. One of my favorite brands is Patagonia and they've been going for a long time. I actually had a very interesting conversation with a friend who wondered whether Patagonia were doing the good stuff, because they needed and wants to do the good stuff, or whether they understood that the good stuff would make them money. In some ways, it's kind of a bit of both because business makes money. Circular economy has economy in the second half. It's not done for fun. It's done for business. So this is something we really need to understand: that you can be a business and work in an ethical manner. Really you should be, there's no question about it. But when we look at the refuse and the reduce, which is the first two of our hierarchy of actions, we can see that this is something that Patagonia did quite a few years ago now, which was the ad that they ran in the New York Times, just before the Black Friday events. And it said, "Don't buy this jacket." Now, that isn't the sort of advert you'd usually see around Black Friday, it would be like "buy this thing", "this thing that you own isn't good enough anymore", "this is how you should upgrade it" & "this is what you spend your money on". Patagonia went the other way and went, "We don't want you to buy this jacket, unless you really need it. We don't want you to buy this jacket unless you pledge to actually repair it and keep it going for as long as possible." So it's almost like you were entered into a contract that you were saying, "okay, I take ownership, and I take stewardship of this jacket." It isn't something that is just a throwaway item, because you understood that the brand wants to help you keep it going for longer. Patagonia do this, they have one of the largest repair facilities in the US and they will help you find a second market and Patagonia stuff holds its value really well, because it's good quality. So this is one brand that's working really well in the kind of the refuse and the reduce sections. Yes, they're massive. But this doesn't mean to say that smaller brands can't do similar things as well.

When we get to reuse, we can look at systems like Loop. Now Loop again, originated in the US, and it's just come to the UK. And it's functioning through Tesco, which is really interesting. Loop is a deposit return scheme, but it's actually maintained by the Loop manufacturers themselves. So the interesting thing with refill stores, and I'm sure wherever you are, there's probably somewhere you can go and get a refill of beans, pasta etc. But it's not really a branded item, it's a generic item of pasta, rice, etc because quite often we're not really wedded to any particular brand when it comes to these kind of items. Whereas when it comes to some other things like your deodorant, your ice cream, your tomato ketchup, some people will only buy a particular brand. Now, how did you get somebody who was that wedded to a particular brand to engage with the reuse system because it's very much you go to the shop, you buy it, you use it, it ends up in recycling. Loop bridges the gap: you basically do your shopping as you would do, usually you pay slightly more for your items. But those items come packaged in glass, in stainless steel, and in refillable packaging, and then when your next delivery arrives, you can put your empties into a Loop box and they go back for refilling. So you're getting the actual items in a reusable container, which looks pretty awesome. It doesn't have any leaching of chemicals from the plastic into the item as well which some people are concerned about. But it means that you're able to get your Heinz tomato ketchup, or your Haagen dazs ice cream or something that you really are wedded to. So again, this is a massive example. If you run a business that has any kind of item that is used up, is there a way that you can try get that packaging back to be able to refill it for your customer. There's huge amount of benefits for this because you have to buy less packaging, because you're not giving away the packaging with your item. It also means that you're taking responsibility for that packaging as well, which is actually a really great thing in the eyes of the consumer. So there's lots of wins, if you can incorporate any kind of reuse system into whatever business model you have.

As we said earlier, repairing is something that we used to be able to do, there were screws that held things together. Now, if you want to try and get into your iPhone, you need special tools to get into your iPhone because Apple doesn't want you to get into it. But there are lots of companies that are challenging this and Fairphone is one of the best examples of repair. So the Fairphone is designed to be taken to pieces and to be upgraded. So it's sort of every 18 months or so when your telephone provider rings you up and say hey, you're entitled to a free upgrade. Nothing's free. By the way, if it's free, it means somebody else is paying along the way. And all they want is for you to carry on paying your monthly subscription. If you own your handset, you're not making them any money anymore. The way that Fairphone works is that they don't really want you to have a new phone. If you want to upgrade your camera. Great, buy the camera module, take it to pieces, plug your new camera module in and then you can send the old one back to them. So it's an upgradable system, not the entire handset like we have with most of the other manufacturers. So if you have anything that's electronic that will get out of date batteries get old, they wear out. Is there a way that you can take it to pieces which makes it actually easier for you to be able to repair it as a manufacturer, as a producer. But it definitely means that other people are empowered to want to keep it going for longer. As we said, circularity means keeping stuff in the loop for as long as possible before it gets towards the bottom of that sieve, and could potentially fall through the bottom.

Redirection. eBay is the best example of redirection. We've had booth fairs, charity shops, anything that means that you are giving something a different life in a different way, with a different owner. But what is interesting from retailers is that it hasn't really been tackled much. It has been very much a person to person or business to business kind of model. But IKEA has literally just launched their circular system, which means that they will take back your old IKEA furniture, and they will help redistribute it. So this is second hand IKEA furniture. Yeah, of course it has to be in working order, it can't be falling to pieces. That is one criticism of some IKEA furniture, that it is designed to be put up and kept up. It's not designed to be put up taken to pieces put back up again, etc. But a lot of IKEA stuff is very solidly made, whether you like it or not. So it is actually great to be actually redistributed. A lot of IKEA furniture isn't seasonal, it doesn't come in and out of fashion, so you find the same thing for years and years and years. It has got quite a utilitarian way of being designed, which means that it's great for redirection. If it's in good condition, why not distributed to somebody that needs it? So this has just been launched, I had a bit of a hold because of COVID. But it's just been launched in the UK. It's be interesting to see how it goes. Hopefully really well.

Renting is something we don't really think about. We rent, hotels, Airbnb, we rent cars. But we've never really think about renting clothes. This is something very circular. Sometimes it's you rent something for a small amount of time like a tuxedo or a prom dress. But there are actually companies like Mud Jeans, which allow you to lease your piece of clothing and at the end of that lease period, you can send it back to either be leased to somebody else, to be purchased by somebody else or re processed, if it's completely smashed to pieces. As the founder of Mud Jeans likes to say, they don't weather an age their genes, which is what happens in a lot of brand new jeans, they go through multiple processes to make them look weatherbeaten and worn with holes in the knees. He's like, "Lease the jeans from us and you do the wearing out for us. So if it's a brand new jeans, you know, go climb a mountain in them and rip them for us." It's a really interesting model, it makes you understand a little bit more about fast fashion. So even if you're a clothing retailer , it doesn't mean to say that you can't engage in a rental way of working. Mud Jeans is one of the best examples working at the moment how this is going to work.

Here's a quick wrap up for you: Consumers do want change. About one in three consumers that were polled just last year, said that they had stopped purchasing certain brands because they either had ethical or sustainability related concerns about them, which is you know, a fair chunk. One in three, that's a fair chunk. And actually it was the lack of simple information that people found is a barrier to making choices and good choices. So again, about a third said that this is the reason they haven't changed their behavior. People want to change but a good chunk of people don't know enough. So if you can be really clear about what you're doing, the benefits, you could capture quite a large and growing amount of people across a lot of sectors.

A quick word of warning: don't ever greenwash. Be very truthful about what you're doing, be very truthful about the lengths that you've gone to, but also the steps you still need to take. Don't make anything sound better than it actually is. Through social media you can be called out very quickly if somebody finds some little loophole that you're trying to misdirect people to. This happens a lot with big brands. And so just be truthful, people really do value the truth. So really, when it comes to thinking about anything about making your business models more circular, it is very complicated, for sure. But always be honest about what you're doing and what you want to do. Always be clear about the steps that people need to take to engage with you and to become more circular in their own way of living. Take responsibility, whether that's through rental, through that deposit return, or even allowing customers to send things back to you packaging wise or the product wise as well. And ultimately create value. If you're creating value for the your customer and you're showing that you're creating value for the planet, you are certainly going to keep those customers for as long as possible. This is what Patagonia has always done and you have brand evangelists for Patagonia. So really, always strive to be more circular and always do the very, very best that you can.

So here's a lot of details. If you do want to get in touch, you can find us on all the usuals and website, onecircular.world. Drop me an email, say hi on Instagram. I'm on clubhouse as well, as you can find me on there occasionally getting up on stage and yabbering away about anything circular. It's been really lovely to present to you guys. Any questions? I'd be delighted to help hopefully,

Ayesha Mutiara  25:40 

Wow thank you, Claire. I love hearing you speak. It's no wonder to me that your lecturer. I wish I could have you narrate everything in my life. I would love that and I definitely learned a lot. So yes, before we get into the questions, I see some people joined us since before we started Claire's presentation. So please feel free to share your contacts in the chat. Especially if you didn't sign up through Eventbrite, then please share your contacts so we can keep you in the loop. Other than that, we will open up the floor. Now if anyone has any questions, please make sure to unmute yourself so that Claire can hear any questions that you may have for her. I think this is a sign that you just explained everything so clearly. No one has any questions... Hi Janice!

Janice Wong  26:31 

Oh, hi Ayesha. Hi, Claire. I'm sorry, my technical difficulty... I unmuted a little later than I wanted but thank you so much for this presentation. Oh, my gosh, you broke down complicated thoughts and information in such a digestible way and I really appreciate it. Claire, I have a question surrounding your thoughts on the current culture of how some customers think that, "Okay, when I'm going for sustainability, everything has to be perfect. Everything has to be sustainable." And I think as a startup ecommerce owner, I don't have the capital to to offer that, even though that's my goal of where I'm heading to. What are your thoughts on how I can explain to my customers that I'm working towards it? I think I am having this self doubt, or I'm feeling guilty of calling myself a person of sustainability, but not kind of being able to offer that, if that makes sense.

Claire Potter  27:43 

Yeah, that makes a huge amount of sense. And actually, the Eco anxiety we've seen absolutely explode over the last sort of few years of people saying, "These Instagram/Pinterest, perfect, beautiful, sustainable, oh my god, I live such a wonderful life." That's not reality. We all have the times we forget our reusable cup. You know, even though this is literally my life, and what I live and breathe and teach and love. We all have things. It's like we can't be perfect all the time. So that's the main thing is to really communicate is that nobody's perfect but we are all striving. If you are striving to reach a particular goal, so for example, have only 100% home compostable packaging, great. How would you communicate that to your customers? Say this is the end goal, this might be somewhere that we would love to be at the end of our second year or third year. The other thing is to think about what would make the biggest impact for you and for your customers now. Packaging is a great one. If you're sending anything out the thing that people get really aggravated about is packaging. So even though on your scale of things that you think is most important might not be packaging, if you think about it from that customer experience perspective, that might be the thing that is their biggest bugbear, ie what do they do with this bit of packaging once once they receive it in their home?

Actually I've got something. My friend got a new job. So I've got a really lovely brand of donuts. I met this guy through clubhouse, and they sell keto doughnuts, which sounds amazing. So basically, they were like guilt free, apparently. But what was lovely about the package is that the instructions and the different bits and pieces information about the doughnuts came on paper that was really small. It wasn't big, it was really small bit of paper, and it was seeded paper and it quite clearly said we need to tell you all this for legal reasons it was about ingredients and stuff, but we know you don't need to keep it. So basically here's some paper that you can compost. You can grow seeds. And it was a lovely little thing because I was like that is amazing. I have to do this, but they're gonna make sure this bit of paper is as good as this bit of paper can be. It was a lovely experience opening that, of course the doughnuts were insane as well, but that little thing was just a really lovely touch because it made me think that they thought beyond just their ingredients in their doughnuts. They thought about everything that was being packaged as well. So think about that your customer experience, whatever that might be, whether it's face to face, whether it's virtual, and be really clear and upfront about what you can do now, as well as the way you love to be in one year, two years, five years, whatever your vision might be. And get people involved in your journey through your social media, on your website & keep people up to date, the good stuff, and the stuff that's not going so well as well. Always Be honest.

Janice Wong  30:43 

Thank you so so much.

Ayesha Mutiara  30:47 

Great. That's such a great question as well as an equally great answer. Actually, we have another two questions and maybe we can try to answer these quickly before we move on. They're from Steven, who always has great questions. First of all, he asked, "Will Loop scale?" and two, "Are there efforts in the zero waste retail world to standardize on reusable containers (that you can use at multiple locations)?"

Claire Potter  31:20 

Both really good questions. So will Loop scale? Hmm. They've scaled very quickly in the US. What I also thought was interesting when they came to UK is, I automatically thought putting the stereotypical "who would be the consumer that would buy into this type of system" well I thought they would have gone with Waitrose & Ocado, that kind of target market. They didn't, they partnered with tesco, so a much wider customer base, which I think was a really great strategic choice. It's introducing a system to a very wide customer base and maybe people that, as I say, aren't the stereotypical will only buy organic kind of consumer. So I have real high hopes that this could be something that scales as long as people are able to swallow that quick & small cost at the beginning, which is the effectively the deposit. So you do pay a little bit more for products in the outset. That is going to be the barrier and quite often with anything that is ethical, sustainable, eco, you know, however you want to label this type of product, it does come with a higher cost, because our upfront costs are more. Our labor is more, and our packaging might cost more. It is a higher cost. So that's the only thing that might be the barrier for a large scale at the moment. But as everything, the bigger it gets quite often the cheaper it can become.

With regards to the zero waste retail world, this is a really tricky one as well, because some places will only allow you to wrap things in paper bags, and then weigh them at the counter. Some things that some stores, particularly smaller ones do, particularly in Brighton, is allow you to put your own containers and put their own stickers at the bottom. So effectively it zeros your container and if you're going back to the same stores, again, you can use that. I haven't seen anything as yet. But it would be really helpful because again, this is a barrier for a lot of people wanting to bring their own containers not understanding the system. Iit would be great to have that as a more standardized system. We will wait and see. It's something that definitely should be tackled.

Ayesha Mutiara  33:27 

Great, fantastic. So with that, Adam, I would like to give you the floor. Now it is your turn to give us your lovely presentation.

Adam Siegel  33:35 

Well, thank you Ayesha. Actually, do you mind if I ask a question to Claire before I jump in? Claire, if you're still there? It looks like you just jumped off camera. I had a question and I was curious to hear your answer before I jump in, which is specifically with regard to rental. I had been thinking a lot about clothing rental, a couple of years ago and eventually I got turned off of it. I'm actually not certain of the environmental benefits relative to just outright purchasing an item, especially a used item. So I guess I I'd be interested in your, your thinking about the benefits of rental.

Claire Potter  34:21 

Yeah, I mean, the benefits of rental take a lot of weighing up. When you say about environmental cost, it's getting the item to the person who's recovering the item from the person & it's cleaning the item. Now because of COVID we've seen a lot of people being a lot more hesitant about something that is owned or being used by somebody else and quite rightly so. So that is put a little bit of a pause and a lot of rentals. But what we have seen is more people being interested in in the rental of very high ticket items, stuff that they would like to wear once or twice but don't maybe want to or cannot afford to actually own. So this is like the prom dresses & the event dresses... Yeah, when we have events, remember that, everybody? We actually used to go and see people in real life. So... that's the kind of way of working. I think it's where it will continue to get much, much bigger like Rent the Runway, which is a US example, we've got other ones around the world as well. What has been interesting with Mud Jeans is that even though it's sort of leasing rental, they're much at the lowest scale. It's still expensive as an item, but it's allowing access for people over a period of time to get something that's a higher ticket, maybe a 150 pound pair of beautifully made organic Italian jeans. If you can't spare 150 quid at the outset, then it's spreading the cost effectively but then it is also rental in the sense that you can send it back. So that is a new way of working that is really started to grow, and is continuing to grow. I think I'm with you. Clothing rental is something that we've had forever and it hasn't really changed too much. So it's an interesting one to watch but it's one that one that I weigh up more than maybe some of the others scrape point.

Adam Siegel  36:04 

Yeah, in my mind, maybe there's two different types of rental and we can switch over. But there's the occasion where, and I think that makes sense: you don't need to buy a ball gown, if you're only ever going to wear it once makes more sense to rent it so that multiple people can enjoy it. But then in the US we'd start we started to see the growth of monthly subscription rentals. Rent the Runway was pioneering it, where you'd get different items every month and to me, it just seemed like the the costs of the transportation associated with it, as well as the packaging, as well as the cleaning and everything else kind of outweighed the environmental benefits. And it also promoted this culture of, you know, continually wearing new items.

Claire Potter  36:57 

Yeah, it does, it scratches the itch of fast fashion that some people have but ultimately, you're not changing the behavior, it just means that you're getting something on subscription, rather than just buying it and, chucking it off for a month, which is unfortunately, what a lot of people still do. So should we be scratching that itch in a better way? Or should we just put in something and making that itch just disappear?

Adam Siegel  37:17 

Yeah, great way to put it. Well, very good to meet all of you this morning. I am representing from this side of the pond. So it is still morning for me for another 20 minutes. Very cool to be here because I recognize a lot of your names from the community, the slack community in particular, but haven't had a chance to see some of you yet. So, glad to be here. Claire, that was an awesome presentation and it makes me wonder what the heck I'm doing here. I'm not sure there's anything more to present. But I was trying to furiously change my presentation as I was listening to yours, to see if there's something new that I could add as well. So I'll share my screen and go through the presentation rather quickly. I'd say that I think what you did was lay a really good foundation for how to define circular economy, which of course is the objective of this call. But then all dive a little bit more into the like actionable or practical steps that small and mid sized brands can take to engage or begin to engage in circularity. I really like what you said at the beginning of your presentation, Claire, defining the difference between circularity and sustainability. I'll try to highlight some of those differences through the examples that I share. I also really liked your hero brands at the end. And I have a few other hero brands that I'll share as well, just for examples, maybe on a smaller scale, that might resonate with some of the folks on the line.

So first, I'll just start with myself: Who am I and why do I have relevant experience to talk about this subject? You know, I started my journey in sustainability, I think maybe a good bit later than you Claire. But for me, it was 2006 or 2007 maybe at that point where I read the book called Cradle to Cradle. If anyone's familiar with that, it's basically an early Bible for circularity, you know, thinking about how you can keep materials and products in circulation for indefinitely. I was an engineer at that point and it's written from sort of an engineer's point of view so it it really resonated with me. At that point, I was going back to get my MBA, so I spent two years focused on sustainable business and really understanding corporate sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

In 2010, I was hired into the trade association here in the US, that represents the largest retailers and brands. My role over the course of eight years was to build and then lead their sustainability and ethical production program. So I had a chance to lead industry collaborations on issues like conflict minerals, worker safety and human trafficking, as well as a number of environmental issues like renewable energy generation, waste and recycling toxics, and chemicals and products. Of course, over that time, circularity was becoming a bigger focus. There's plenty of organizations that are working on circularity, but one of the premier ones that seem to come to prevalence over that time was the Ellen MacArthur Foundation so we had the chance to work with them as well as a number of others. Then specifically, with regard to circularity, one of the programs that we spun off was a global case competition, where we would get MBA students from around the world to engage in circularity challenges, and then ultimately bring the winners to Montreal, Canada. So that started about five years ago and is still going today.

So let me just get into things. I'll just say, that if you're a business, the trends are clear: engaging in sustainability and circularity are going to be beneficial for you. I think Claire said it well, but consumers are certainly interested in increasingly so, especially with younger consumers. They actively look for the term sustainability or circularity in the products they sell. Again, it's important to be honest and straightforward about it so you can't greenwash. But customers are looking for this, and that's one of the biggest drivers of change in the corporate world. These business models are becoming a lot more prevalent, as well.

I tend to think about circularity from the perspective of individual products. I'm sure a lot of you are familiar with a lifecycle analysis or lifecycle assessment and that would generally measure the environmental impacts associated with different stages of a product's life. We're looking at a linear system right here, a product's linear lifecycle, and what we tend to find, now this is over generalized because you have to look really on a product by product basis, but especially with fashion, you'd find that there's two lifecycle stages that provide the biggest impacts: One is the raw materials and you can think about like cotton, for instance, that requires a significant amount of water, fuel and chemical inputs to produce so there's a lot of embedded environmental costs associated with that. Then the second biggest, often tends to be the use of that product. The rationale, again this might be obvious is that you wash your your items a number of times, often in hot water, and it takes a significant amount of energy to to generate that, that heated water. So you know that this provides them a framework for us to think about how we can find the biggest opportunities for reduction. We'll talk about a few of these over the next several minutes but the short of it is, if you can find ways to reduce the raw material inputs, by using recycled material, for instance, as opposed to virgin resources, then that can significantly reduce the impacts at that stage. At the use stage, of course, the individual can wash in cold water wash less frequently, the additional benefit of that is that the product will last longer.

If you can find ways to keep items in circulation, rather than rather than needing to dispose of them or recycle them, then that has the potential to significantly reduce the impacts across the board. So let's talk about a few of these. First is materials, you know, I already mentioned this. There's several types of materials, Claire went into it as well. Circular materials would be those that are recycled and recyclable and I think there's probably more that we could add to it as well like, repairable. So if you can if you can find and and design products that use recycled content as much as possible while keeping the quality of the item, and are made in such a way that they can be recycled, then that would ensure that those materials stay within the system.

When you're engaging your suppliers, there's really three key questions that you should be asking them because, of course, not all of us have control over our supply chains, but you can still have influence over them. The first is: what's in the product? You know, if you're designing the product, you're likely deciding what's in the product, but there are certain categories of products where you're not that decision maker. And so you need to make sure you know, as well as ensure again, that as much recycled or non virgin content as possible is in it. Second, where does it come from and then third is how it's made. So this is more generally a framework around sustainable production, but it can certainly be applied to circularity.

With regard to packaging & the growth of ecommerce, and that's my focus now, there's been a significant increase in packaging as it relates to ecommerce deliveries. So there's the traditional cardboard packaging that's recycled or recyclable and often recycled. That's good. But if you think about Claire's hierarchy, it's not great, that will ultimately go to landfill, and often sooner rather than later. There are new packaging systems that are coming around that are being developed. The one that I have in the middle there is called LimeLoop and it's made out of recycled material. I believe it's a PVC material but that means that it is extremely durable and can be used a number of times. LimeLoop actually rents these out to retailers and brands, who will then use them for their deliveries and returns. Then when they are beginning to scuff or tear, they would then be returned to LimeLoop who will use reuse as much material as possible.Then also thinking about a different level of the hierarchy, there are some new materials that are being developed now made out of natural contents like mushrooms. That's an interesting one and the benefit, of course, to that is that they can rot. I like that hierarchy, they can they can go into compost bins.

So shipping is one of the most important legs in the lifecycle of a product. And depending on how you're shipping your product has a drastic influence on the carbon impacts associated with it. Now this is what I would call a linear impact because you know, you can't recycle transportation, you have to deliver it. But as much as possible, you can, you know, reduce the length of shipping and find a mode of shipping that reduces the impact to the greatest degree.

Of course, where we're really focused today is circularity. So again, Claire showed that great butterfly diagram, but I'll try to distill this for small and medium sized brands to think about like how can we specifically engage in circularity and taking this linear system and making it more circular? You know, we already talked about resale and reuse and I'll give you a few specific examples of that. That is top of the hierarchy because you can use the product as is without necessarily requiring any recycling operations or handling of the product so there's there's no degradation.

Refurbishing: there are some brands now that are doing some really cool things by allowing customers to send in their items to be refurbished. Or, over the course of resale to refurbish products to to increase the resale value of the items. For post consumer recycled content, of course, if an item does eventually end or get to the end of its useful life, then then there are ways to keep the materials in circulation rather than requiring virgin materials. Then there's pre consumer recycling of course and rental which we just discussed.

So here are my hero brands, just a few examples to kind of make this concrete. I didn't say it but the work that I do now is very specific. It's with direct to consumer brands, ecommerce brands, and allowing them to enable peer to peer resale directly on their website. We chose resale because it's at the top of the hierarchy. You know, if you have something that's stored under your bed or in your closet or garage, or wherever it might be, then it's not being useful right now. And we want to get that item back into circulation so that somebody else can enjoy that item, rather than having to buy a new item. So one of the brands that we really love that are certainly pioneers in this space is Peak Design. They're based in San Francisco but they sell globally, they have higher end camera accessories like this everyday backpack. It's primarily geared for photography enthusiasts and professional photographers and they just implemented with us this great option to buy used. So if you don't like this item, you can buy it new. It's kind of expensive for a lot of people so there's also USD options available directly on their website as well. This is where it gets you. For all of their items, they have peer to peer listings. So that's one there's 29 listings currently available between $100 - $240. If you were to click into it, you can see all of the different conditions of the items, the colors of the items, and then it would be shipped directly from the first customer to the second customer. We launched with La Ligne recently as well, they have a program that they call Re-Ligne. This is a higher fashion brand based out of New York. The great thing about them, it's beautifully on brand, this is a great visual experience for cost for customers who want to buy pre owned, instead of going to a place like eBay. That frankly is just not a great experience but all of these now are pre loved items. So items that the first customer is looking to sell to second customer.

We work with a brand called Brass Clothing. They're based in Boston. This is not our work, this is just their own awesome work for takeback. They offer their customers several times per year the option to buy this bag. It's just a bag, but I think they charge something like 18 USD, they'll send this bag to you, you fill it up with whatever you want and then it ships directly to a clothing recycler. The awesome thing about that is just that it makes it super simple and they actually get tons of interest, you'd be amazed. They get tons of interest.

This is a brand that I came across a couple of years ago called Jackalo. They primarily focus on kids clothing, and have this awesome trade up program where you can send your items back to them. They'll clean them, they'll upcycle them and they'll give you a $15 discount on your next purchase. Then, they have a beautifully designed webpage, if you have a chance to go to it where you can see all of the upcycled kids items.

Totem Brand Co is also a US clothing brand focused on outdoor fashion. They have implemented the LimeLoop program. But what I think is especially cool is that it's not just that they send it, it's that they create an experience around it and use it as a way to educate the consumer. So anyway, I'll skip the summary since we only have a couple of minutes left and and open it up for questions.

Ayesha Mutiara  53:59 

Thank you. Thank you, Adam. That was such a great way to kind of go more in depth from the groundwork that Claire laid out for everyone in the first half. So yes, does anyone have any questions for Adam?

Steven Clift  54:14 

Alright, so I got to come in here. Hey Adam, nice to see you. So my big question is, will efforts like resale circularity... Do you think this is going to be brought to more consumers via new upstart brands versus the big established corporate brands that are already kind of there? Obviously you want both, right? but I sort of feel like there's maybe we need to better understand how will this help upstart brands breakthrough by being more circular?

Adam Siegel  54:54 

Well, I'll say now I've had a chance to work with the large brands in my last role and now small and mid sized brands. I'll say that the small and midsize brands are always the pioneers, you know that they're the ones that are willing to be more innovative and try things differently. You know, their legal teams are not as big so they they don't have as much to worry about in terms of legal risks and that sort of thing. So, you know, that's almost always the case. But I do believe or I'm already seeing that large brands are engaging in circularity, some of Claire's hero brands like IKEA, and Patagonia, of course, Patagonia isn't pioneering this, but IKEA as well. But then, you know, here in the US or Canada, Lululemon just announced a resale program. They're certainly huge and we're talking with a number of large brands about implementing resale with them as well. So it'll go that way for sure. That said, almost always the case that smaller mid sized are the pioneers.

Ayesha Mutiara  56:03 

There are a lot of fans of Patagonia here. Peter was just saying his applause for Patagonia in the chat. But yes, definitely, for sure, fans. I hope that of all the hero brands that were mentioned today, basically a spike in their sales, hopefully. We can continue to show them that there is a demand and a desire to support brands who participate in these kind of practices.

Krissie Leyland  56:29 

Wow, what an incredible, valuable educational, just brilliant event that was. Thank you so much to Claire, and Adam once again. And thank you to everybody who came. Thank you for listening to the podcast. If you enjoyed this, we do have our MindfulCommerce Sustainability Framework, which is available for you to download from our website. It covers six pillars of sustainability and positive impact, specifically for ecommerce businesses. So whether you're an ecommerce brand, an ecommerce service provider, or tech solution, then this is for you, if you want to make a difference in the world with your business.

Of course, please do join the free community. We are doing lots of different things all the time is very, very exciting. And you can join by going to our website, mindfulcommerce.io and clicking on "Community". You can download the framework from our website as well. You just go to mindfulcommerce.io/sustainability/framework. I hope to see you in the community and at other events that we run. We are going to be doing 15 minute live trainings inside the Facebook group soon with our experts. And so yeah, just come and join in and let's have fun and make a difference in the world. Have a lovely day!

Rich Bunker  58:00 

We hope you enjoyed the episode today. If you did, you're probably like being in our community. There's a whole host of exciting things going on.

Krissie Leyland  58:07 

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Rich Bunker  58:13 

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