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Imagine you are a senior consultant managing a newly formed business unit in one of the top Australian consulting firms. The task for the new unit is to provide strategic advice for companies interested in implementing circular economy practices.
It is early days for Australian companies for circular economy thinking, but you know there has been considerable uptake of circular economy principles in Europe and China, and you have been inspired by the work of the Ellen McArthur foundation in developing the CE 100 group.
As your first task in the newly formed unit, one of the managing directors has requested that you prepare a short report that explains the key benefits of the circular economy and the potential such a model may offer for Australian companies. This is an internal report that will be presented to the board of managing directors so they may understand the how the circular economy can provide new opportunities for their clients.
In particular the managing director has requested you addresses: How might adoption of Circular Economy practices provide competitive advantage for a company? Selecting a specific sector (for eg. manufacturing, retail, hospitality… etc.) briefly synthesise how leading companies have incorporated and benefited from adoption of circular economy practices. From this synthesis, outline and explain specific recommendations that could be offered to other companies to leverage such best practice.
Over the past few years, CE has gained significant attention across the globe as a means to overcome the limitations arising from the existing production and consumption model, which is based on the continuous growth and rise in increasing resource throughput (EMF 2015). With the promotion of the closing-the-loop production pattern, CE is expected to improve the efficient use of resources, with a major focus on waste management in order to create a balance and synchronisation between economy, environment and society. It is estimated that adopting CE in the supply chain would earn USD1 Trillion annually by 2025, along with the creation of 100,000 jobs created during the same period (EMF 2014). CE is expected to assist companies in reducing their carbon footprint, achieving their climate protection goals through the management of risks arising from the diminishing supply of natural resources. This report outlines the concept of CE, the opportunities it offers to the company and its ability to offer a competitive advantage. Further, using the CE practices adopted by Australian steel manufacturers and the benefits they have encountered, recommendations are made as to how other companies would be able to leverage these best practices.
Circular Economy Adoption among Companies
The principles of CE are based on ecological and environmental economics and industrial ecology. The adoption of this model differs between countries. Countries in the European Union, Japan and USA adopt CE as a tool to design bottom-up environmental and waste management policies, whereas, in China, it is used as a top-down national political objective (Ghisellini, Cialani & Ulgiati 2016). The primary goal of CE is to decouple the adverse environmental concerns arising from increased economic growth. The implementation of CE is reported to be still in its nascent stage, with a major focus on recycling rather than reusing. It is estimated that 62% of companies offer a product or service based on CE, which include materials recycling, remanufacturing, product take-back, repair and refurbishment (Ecofys 2016). It is found that 80% of companies globally have adopted or initiated strategies involving a circular approach, and with the complete adoption, it is expected to save $700 billion in material costs per year (Ecofys 2016). The major barriers for CE implementation are reported to be the lack of internal and external education and awareness regarding the CE business model, as claimed by 36% of companies. Despite its advantages, companies and investors are focused on the economic return on investment expected of the CE practices.
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