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Creating the Circular Economy, Part I

david dornfeldOr, putting some wheels on the Ricoh comet circle

The end of my last article, I spoke of the need to do a better job of communicating just what sustainability is. That is, of course, one of the objectives of these articles – or at least as it applies to manufacturing, design and all things related to product creation and production.

An early concept introduced way back in September 2009 was the circular nature of sustainability as practiced in society represented by the Ricoh Comet Circle reproduced here below.

The circle diagram visualizes nested loops of tight or loose linkage between the consumer and the forward and reverse supply chain. The forward loop is from material extraction through production to delivery and use. The reverse loop (at the bottom of the comet) is after the consumer is done with the product and winds back through recycling, recovery, and return to material supply chain. Usually when a green supply chain is mentioned it is in the context of the return loop – resource recovery. That is only half the battle and, if the forward loop is done correctly, is much easier.

The nested loops start with the consumer as “the comet’s core” and can be you or me at home, or a company buying something (machinery, paper, electronic components) and the loops represent “the comet’s tail.” A key idea of the comet circle is that the closer to the consumer that the circle loops, the more sustainable/green is the scenario.

I use this image in my sustainable manufacturing class as well as in other presentations to illustrate the circularity concept of material/product use and reuse as higher valued than destruction and disposal.

As part of the earlier article about the comet circle the strategy behind the creation of the circle was summarized from Ricoh as:

1) Including the identification and reduction of environmental impact at all stages (Japanese continuous improvement at its best and key to identifying elements of the operation that need to be identified, quantified, and reduced, eliminated or otherwise offset).

This places priority on “inner loop” recycling, the highest value resources are those either returned, after repair/upgrade, to the consumer or converted into product and used by their customers along with  minimizing the resources, cost, energy needed to return a used product to “the state of highest economic value.”

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