The human side of circular systems
Over the past few years of covering the circular economy, I’ve tracked impressive innovations in materials, products, business models and processes — but innovation on how we treat people has been notably absent. That’s starting to change, as I noted in my essay, “The Circular Economy Shows Its Human Side,” in the 2021 State of Green Business report, released this week.
As companies, cities and countries embrace a more holistic understanding of sustainability and adopt circular principles, a growing number are recognizing the opportunity to drive social change in lockstep with an economic transformation that puts people at the center.
Consider sourcing and supply chains in a circular economy: If procurement no longer focuses exclusively on virgin materials, the conditions in which a child disassembles a smartphone can be as problematic as if that same child was mining cobalt in a conflict zone to make the smartphone in the first place. Corporate initiatives to center transparency and traceability in upstream operations to address human rights are beginning to turn downstream.
The best example I’ve seen of this is HP’s often-cited $2 million investment in a new plastics washing line in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to support the local collection of ocean-bound plastic. Working directly with waste collector communities through a partnership with First Mile Coalition, HP buys the plastic from a local business to use in its laptops and ink cartridges. HP is working to support the social infrastructure of plastic waste as well as the physical infrastructure of materials recovery, creating more than 1,000 new jobs along the way.
But job creation and social benefits aren’t limited to the Global South. The European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan emphasizes the opportunity for social and economic development through circular value chains — to the tune of 700,000 new employment opportunities by 2030 in Europe alone.
From supply-chain transparency and economic empowerment to job creation and access to new circular models, the trend towards human-centered circular supply chains and economies is one I’m tracking in 2021.
Is your company centering people and prosperity in its circular economy strategy? Let me know at [email protected].
Speak now: T O D A Y is the speaker nomination deadline for the Circularity conference, taking place online June 15-17. Submit your nomination now!
One more thing: GreenBiz is hiring a Startups Program Manager. Please share the role with the job-seeking innovation-enthusiast in your life.
Now, on to this week’s list of stories worth reading, curated by my brilliant colleague Suz Okie.
A collection of news and stories worth reading, by Circular Economy Analyst Suz Okie: