Discussing the Circular Economy with Environmental Sustainability Changemaker, Circularly

Core Values Series
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Gate 39 Media’s Core Values Series posts in April revolve around our earth and environment, including highlighting companies and technology fostering positive change. And since our core values include learning and empathy – not just empathy for each other, but also for our planet, we want to actively learn how we can live and work more sustainably.

We invite you to meet Circularly.

Circularly Public Benefit Company believes that businesses have the power to turn the tides on climate change and was founded to help businesses understand and act against man-made climate change in a way that is easy to understand, measurable, and shareable. They believe that businesses have the single greatest opportunity to drive the greatest amounts of social and environmental change—and they are here to accelerate that potential.

Casey Plasker is the Founder and Head of Impact at Circularly. She holds a master’s degree in Sustainability Management from Columbia University in New York City and has 10 years of experience focusing on climate change, plus 6 years working in rapid growth startups focused on building programs and relationships that enable triple bottom line impact. She envisions a world where businesses positively impact the planet—and believes we all must work together to achieve this outcome.

We spoke with Casey to learn more about how all businesses can play a role in having a lasting positive impact on our world and our environment.

G39: What is a circular economy and why is it important we achieve it?

CP: A Circular Economy is an economy that designs out waste, keeps products in use as long as possible, and regenerates natural systems. Today, our current economic system is a super wasteful linear economy with a take, make, and waste model. There really is no thought or responsibility for what happens once you sell a product.

A circular economy allows you to take responsibility for every stage of the product or service journey, not just until the point of sale. That means you can get the full monetary use out of a product, plus consider, and even take action to increase its positive and negative environmental and social effects on key stakeholders.

Oftentimes, people think that a circular economy is simply about recycling, but what’s really important in a circular economy is all phases of a product’s journey and creation. A circular economy done properly means that in the design stage of any product or service creation, you’re thinking about how you can design out waste throughout the process and not just do less bad, but how to do more good at each stage of the journey.

G39: Can businesses who sell services (i.e. not a physical product) still be a part of the circular economy?

CP: Totally. A service business model is actually a huge component in the circular economy. One of its major concepts is that people don’t own physical items, they are rented, shared, or borrowed to maximize the product’s use.

For businesses who sell services, this can be done internally, for example, by renting equipment when possible. Service-based businesses can also provide a platform for other organizations who are keen on creating a circular economy, making it more about who you are supporting than selling your own physical products.

G39: How easy is it for businesses to adopt corporate sustainability initiatives?

CP: It’s fairly simple, if you have the genuine support of your leadership team. Successfully implementing sustainability initiatives within your organization is sort of no different than implementing any other operational or cultural change within your organization—it’s just slightly reframed.

Your leadership needs to understand that sustainability goals are long term in nature and take into account all key stakeholders that touch your business. Historically, success in business has had a near term view—an example being month over month monetary targets. While this is important to keeping the day to day running, it should not be the sole “why” that is driving your business forward and having a leadership team that fundamentally understands the importance of this is paramount.

Additionally, I firmly believe that in order to successfully implement any sort of sustainability standard within an organization, it needs to be widely adopted and owned by the company’s employees. It can’t be one individual’s job – it needs to be embedded as part of the ethos of the entire organization.

G39: How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted corporate sustainability in the past year?

CP: I’ve found that the pandemic has definitely increased interest in corporate sustainability. People have had time to sit and reflect on what is important to them and to the world. The pandemic has given us a unique opportunity to take a step back and realize how we’re really impacting the world. This has resulted in momentum and some traction around corporate sustainability, which I hope is here to stay.

Many people are finally waking up to the damages associated with not focusing on environmental and social responsibility. And now that we’re in the decade that the UN IPCC has identified as imperative to maintaining below a 1.5 degree increase in the earth’s climate, it feels like there is more momentum around organizations prioritizing sustainability.

Uniquely, and most importantly, this year has highlighted how deeply environmental and social justice are interconnected. You simply cannot have one without the other—they are intrinsically linked. It’s never been more important for businesses to consider all of their stakeholders—all individuals and communities that touch or are touched by their business—when thinking through social and environmental impact strategies.

Environmental degradation has gotten this dire without global decision makers and business leaders at large taking meaningful action sooner because it has been dished to marginalized communities. And it’s never been clearer that this needed to change yesterday for us all to thrive on this planet.

G39: Any other advice you would offer to professionals looking to introduce corporate sustainability to their workplace?

CP: Having one individual spearhead a company’s sustainability efforts is good, but I will underscore the necessity of collaboration in any sort of sustainability initiatives that are undertaken. Sustainability spans all different areas of a business, from product creation, to overarching strategy, to individuals and policies. Sustainability needs to be every person’s job, in every corner of the business. Engaging your leaders is important for this to succeed, as is capturing the support of key stakeholders across the organization. Sustainability is a team sport.

Learn more about Circularly at https://www.circularly.io/

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