The concept of the circular economy has the potential to benefit society and communities in addition to generating commercial benefits for retailers. Retailers that adopt circular economy practices can reduce their environmental impact, improve their bottom line, and contribute to local economies and communities. In this blog post, we will explore examples of retailers implementing elements of the circular economy in the North West of England and beyond, and the societal and community benefits of this approach.
1. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a circular economy practice that requires manufacturers and retailers to take responsibility for the environmental impact of their products throughout their entire lifecycle, including disposal. By implementing EPR, retailers can reduce waste and improve resource efficiency, while also contributing to the creation of new markets for recycled materials. For example, the British Retail Consortium (BRC), an industry association for UK retailers, has developed a voluntary commitment to EPR that aims to reduce waste and improve recycling rates. By signing up to the commitment, retailers commit to taking responsibility for the environmental impact of their products and packaging, and to working with suppliers to improve resource efficiency. You can find more updated information on EPR here (https://www.pwc.co.uk/services/legal/insights/update-on-extended-producer-responsibility-changes-in-uk.html)
2. Rental and Resale
Another circular economy practice that is gaining traction among retailers is rental and resale. By allowing customers to rent or resell products instead of buying new ones, retailers can reduce waste and improve resource efficiency, while also providing customers with access to affordable products. For example, the clothing rental services allows customers to rent high-quality clothing for special occasions, reducing the need to buy new clothing and promoting sustainability. Similarly, the London-based company Depop operates a resale platform for second-hand clothing, which allows customers to buy and sell clothing items that would otherwise go to waste. (Source: https://www.makeuseof.com/what-is-depop/
3. Packaging and Waste Reduction
Retailers can also implement circular economy practices to reduce packaging waste and promote sustainability. By designing packaging that is reusable, recyclable, or compostable, retailers can reduce waste and improve resource efficiency. For example, the Manchester-based company Boomerang Bags produces reusable bags made from repurposed materials, reducing the need for single-use plastic bags and promoting sustainable consumption. More information about Boomerang can be found here (https://boomerangbags.org/about-us/)
Similarly, the British retailer Boots has implemented a closed-loop system for its plastic gift card packaging, allowing customers to return used cards for recycling and reducing waste. It has also developed its own recycling scheme encouraging customers to return their hard to recycle health, beauty and wellbeing products in store. For every 5 products returned they are rewarded with 500 Boots Advantage Card points the equivalent of £5. Source (https://www.bootsuk.com/newsroom/features/boots-launches-new-sustainability-scheme-rewarding-customers-for-recycling-their-empties/
4. Local and Sustainable Supply Chains
Retailers can also promote sustainability by sourcing products from local and sustainable supply chains. By sourcing products locally, retailers can reduce the environmental impact of transportation, support local economies, and promote social sustainability. For example, the Liverpool-based company Homebaked Community Land Trust operates a community bakery that sources its ingredients locally and promotes sustainable food practices. The bakery provides training and employment opportunities for local residents, promoting social and economic sustainability. Similarly, the Manchester-based company Unicorn Grocery sources its products from local and organic producers, reducing the carbon footprint associated with transportation and supporting local communities. Learn more here (https://www.unicorn-grocery.coop/our-co-op/)
At the Whatifgroup, we have been working with the roll out of STACK, a food, beverage, and leisure concept. It makes huge business sense to the company to seek to source its traders, entertainers and offer locally. It has resonance with the customer base and also can tap into local entrepreneurial talent.
5. Community Engagement and Education
Finally, retailers can engage with local communities and provide education on sustainable practices, promoting awareness and behaviour change. By doing so, retailers can contribute to the creation of more sustainable communities and promote social sustainability. For example, the London-based company The Soap Co. employs people with disabilities and promotes sustainability and social inclusion through its luxury soap products. The company also provides education and training on sustainable practices to its customers and stakeholders, promoting awareness and behaviour change.
In conclusion, the circular economy has the potential to benefit society and communities in addition to generating commercial benefits for retailers. By implementing circular economy practices such as EPR, rental and resale, packaging and waste reduction, local and sustainable supply chains, and community engagement and education, retailers can reduce their environmental impact, improve their bottom line, and contribute to the creation of more sustainable communities.
PHOTO courtesy of Adrian Siaril (Unsplash)