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Circles, not lines: Circularity is getting Kiwi incumbents to switch to circular business models

As environmental pressure and the threat of global calamity drives innovation into business, new economic models have emerged. One of those is the concept of the circular economy, which many local companies – such as For The Better Good, Ethique and Wishbone – have based their business model on. But while momentum gathers, many companies either don’t like the sound of change or don’t know how to change. This is where Circularity comes in. It's a company that designs products and platforms for businesses that have a regenerative circular model. We spoke with its founder, Louise Nash, who currently is also juggling a Masters at Tech Futures Lab that explores how technologies can create mass behaviour change to protect the environment.

When asked whether her Masters research led to her new business venture, Nash says, “I’m very interested in how we create more economic value without environmental degradation. I made the leap from researching to working with companies to adopt new strategies and I want to accelerate that.”

This inspired her to create Circularity – a company that unlocks future economic growth by helping businesses to become circular by design. It designs solutions for businesses to create new business models, digital platforms or products produced from waste through services such as circular activations, workshops and consultancy briefings. Additionally, Nash connects her research insights with Circularity.

“Most companies are coming to me to help extract growth without causing environmental damage. We currently exist in an intersection between sustainability, technology, and design. Our role focuses on how businesses can design solutions that removes waste and turns issues into economic growth."

Circularity isn’t the only ones predicting a rich future if we move from a take-make-waste model into a circular one. Sustainable Business Network research argues Auckland could be $8.8 billion better off in 2030 if the city makes the transition to a circular economy. But how do companies begin to move in a circular direction – and how does Circularity enable this movement?

Nash says, “When companies come to us with these challenges, I sit down with several stakeholders and understand the business model. At Circularity, this involves systems mapping in a five-day sprint which explores their systems, co-designs solutions, before building and prototyping a relevant product or service that is later put to market."

One specific area that Circularity works on is finding an alternative to plastic packaging. And while there are many environmentally friendly and unexpected alternatives, Nash points to one in particular, Mycelium, where packaging is made from the root structure of mushrooms and can replace polystyrene and plastic, while also being fed into gardens to support natural growth.

Nash says that when she launched Circularity, she has been inundated with interest from businesses wanting to change old age linear ‘take-make-waste’ system into regenerative models. But what exactly needs to change? And is the onus on businesses to supply environmental alternatives for customers, or on consumers to be more environmentally inclined?

“We have to change the mindset of business," she says. "At first I thought we simply need to create behaviour change, that people need to recycle better, and buy better products. But after looking into the problem through the lens of a consumer, I noticed how difficult and complex it was to be good. I then researched the circular economy deeply, and inside of that, I noticed that the system is broken. People sell products and expect others to clean them up."

Asked how government could better support circular systems, Nash states, “We have an act here, called the Waste Minimisation Act, where they can choose to implement stewardship plans to products. But if you listen to the way government talks, they tend to listen to both business and consumers before they act.”

It must be said that change in the realm of business is usually hard to come by, especially when dealing with large businesses. So, what is Nash’s strategy when knocking on the door of large incumbents with a fresh approach to their business model?

“I pick up the phone and phone them – when you put yourself out there, people respond. It is that great Simon Sinek line: ‘People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.’ And so when you do that, it is an attractive thing. I am getting two or three contacts a day from high profile people in big businesses wanting to talk. The momentum behind this is massive.”

There is no shortage of successful businesses working under the model, either. International outfits like IKEA are making various products and reincarnating old furniture alongside Patagonia, which manufactures, repairs and recycles products to ensure it lasts a lifetime. And with some suggesting that at our current rate of resource use, we will need an additional planet earth in less than 12 years – solutions are certainly welcomed.

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