A trillion dollar business opportunity with CSR

By Drs Daan Elffers

According to the latest ‘Towards the Circular Economy’ report presented at the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos, the circular economy could generate USD 1 trillion a year for the global economy by 2025, and create 100,000 new jobs.

Whereas businesses worldwide have been talking about sustainability for more than 40 years, the overall results so far have been limited. It is increasingly evident that the traditional approach of reduction and minimization in combination with our growing population of a billion people every 12 years is no longer sufficient.

In theory, the solution is very simple. Instead of focusing on how to be less bad, businesses should focus on doing more good – not just economically, but also socially and environmentally. Today’s leaders in sustainability are proving that placing this principle at the heart of their business strategy is a core driver of their success, creating a ‘positive’ footprint at every level.

The circular economy is essentially a way to turn material scarcity into a significant competitive advantage. It is based on the principle that – as in nature – materials can flow in continuous cycles: either a biological cycle (via composting), or a technical cycle, where materials retain their high quality for the manufacturing of new (upgraded) products over and over again. Essentially eliminating the concept of waste, it’s the opposite of the linear process of ‘take, make, dispose’. After all, when we throw something ‘away’ – what does that really mean? When you think about it, there really is no ‘away’, anyway. The future has to be circular.

Of course, the innovation doesn’t end with material re-utilization. Companies will ask similar questions on how to be more effective in terms of energy, water stewardship, and social aspects. In further aligning business values with the way the company does business, other results may logically also include the phasing out of toxic materials and so forth.
The underlying principles of this philosophy do not therefore apply only to manufacturing, but to every sector.
In an era of space tourism, supersonic commercial flights, the Burj Khalifa and super-hotels such as the Emirates Palace, it is clear that what’s possible is limited only by our imagination. What it really comes down to is deciding what it is we want to achieve.

The above is a sneak preview of the topic covered in the certified post-summit workshop on Wednesday 21 May 2014, led by Drs Daan Elffers, CEO of international sustainability consultancy EMG (www.emg-csr.com) and Chairman of CSR Dubai 2014.

Daan is a passionate believer in the circular economy model and is a certified Cradle to Cradle consultant (2008), trained by Prof. Dr. Michael Braungart and EPEA in Hamburg. He holds a Master’s degree from the Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University and has lived and worked in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Singapore and the United Kingdom.