With an eco-efficiency model, companies choose the most resource-efficient option, even if this does not use renewable resources and is more difficult to sustain in the long term.
With a circular economy, companies choose renewable resources or recyclable designs, but accept a less-efficient overall packaging option in the short term. This option can require a complete system redesign, and includes a lot of uncertainty and investment.
There are four things to consider when deciding between the strategies:
- Leadership positioning. For companies that tend to be “first to be second,” it might be better to allow others to blaze the trail. These companies can still support a longer-term vision, but their targets and initiatives can stay focused on efficiency. For companies that are innovation leaders, they may apply technologies that don’t give the lowest carbon or waste today, but they are making important steps toward a bigger goal.
- Product system key impacts. Although packaging contributes to environmental impact, companies may do better by focusing on different areas, and life-cycle assessment can help with this focus. It’s important not to lose sight of overall product supply chain priorities.
- Stakeholders’ perspectives. The priorities and values of a companies’ consumers, customers, communities, employees and other stakeholders should inform strategy. Driving business success with sustainability usually ties back to meeting their expectations.
- Associated brand/sales impact. Responding to stakeholder expectations doesn’t necessarily require a change to brand promise or message. Conversely, the lowest overall impact design may not be the most “brandable.” Stay true to brand commitment and be mindful that messages consumers don’t understand could represent a significant investment in brand communication.
In recent years, organizations such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation have strongly advocated for a circular economy model, while acknowledging that the consumer goods industry faces significant hurdles as it tries to break out of the linear model.
In the UK, a recent report by the Environmental Audit Committee stated that the linear way the UK’s economy consumes resources is not sustainable and needs to be changed to a circular economy.
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