Empowering Consumers: Driving the Circular Economy Through Sustainable Choices
, by Circonomy, 8 min reading time
Creating a world without waste – including human potential
, by Circonomy, 8 min reading time
If the circular economy is going to be impactful on a global scale, power must come from the people, writes SIMON DELL.
The world is at a pivotal moment, and the urgency for sustainable practices has never been greater. In this journey towards a more environmentally conscious future, consumers have emerged as the driving force behind the circular economy. As we move away from the traditional linear model of 'take-make-dispose,' it is the power of people that will shape a more sustainable world. In this article, we explore the pivotal role of consumers in promoting sustainable practices, highlighting their influence, actions, and the transformative impact of their choices.
Consumers hold immense power in shaping the marketplace and influencing business practices through their everyday choices and actions.
A conscious consumer as myself, who aligns their values with sustainable practices, can make a significant impact on the transition to a circular economy. Here are five powerful ways how empowered and forward-thinking consumers can make a difference.
Consumer empowerment begins with awareness and information. By educating themselves and others around them about the environmental and social implications of their purchasing decisions, consumers can make more informed choices. This involves researching brands and products, reading labels, and seeking out information on sustainable certifications, ethical sourcing, and environmental impact. By prioritising companies that align with their values, consumers can drive demand for sustainable options and encourage other businesses to follow suit.
Transparency is really crucial for empowering consumers. According to a study conducted by IBM, consumer demand is a primary driver for companies to adopt sustainability and circular economy practices. The study found that 60% of CEOs surveyed see significant demand from investors for greater transparency on sustainability.
Transparency from businesses regarding their supply chains, manufacturing processes, and environmental footprint, should be a non-negotiable requirement for consumers. They can then support companies that are transparent about their sustainability initiatives, openly share their progress, and are willing to be held accountable. This not only creates a culture of trust but also encourages other businesses to adopt similar practices.
You as a consumer play a pivotal role in supporting and promoting businesses that embrace circularity. By choosing products and services that are designed for durability, repairability, and recyclability, consumers signal their preference for a circular economy. Why not opt for products with minimal packaging or seek out second-hand or refurbished items, or even engage in sharing or rental platforms?
A brilliant case study around this is by Signify, formerly Philips Lighting. Signify offers ‘lighting-as-a-service’ (LaaS) to its commercial and public sector customers. Under an LaaS contract, Signify installs, operates and maintains the lighting systems while the customers pay a monthly service fee for light. At the conclusion of the contract, the client can choose to either extend the contract or return the lighting equipment to Signify, for reuse or recycling. This model incentivises the manufacturing of high-quality, durable and modular equipment, which circulates in use for much longer.
By embracing the principles of ‘reduce, reuse, and recycle’, consumers actively contribute to the circular economy and motivate companies to adopt more sustainable practices.
Consumer empowerment extends beyond purchasing decisions. Adopting sustainable lifestyles involves conscious choices in various aspects of daily life, such as energy consumption, transportation, and waste management. Consumers can embrace energy-efficient appliances, opt for renewable energy sources, use public/physical means of transportation, reduce food waste, and practice recycling and composting. These lifestyle choices not only minimise personal environmental impact but also serve as inspiring examples for others to follow.
Consumers can be powerful advocates for the circular economy by amplifying the message through their social networks, both online and offline. According to a Nielsen survey, 92% of consumers worldwide trust recommendations from friends and family more than any other form of advertising. This highlights the significant influence consumers have when it comes to spreading the message of the circular economy through their social networks.
Consumers can use their Tweets or Insta Posts to share their experiences, promote sustainable brands, and raise awareness about the importance of adopting circular practices. By engaging in conversations, sharing success stories, and inspiring others, consumers can create their own ‘ripple effect’ that encourages involvement in sustainable practices.
One of the critical role’s consumers play in the circular economy is that of being advocates and educators. As ambassadors for the circular economy, we are the ones that can inform our peers, friends, and family about the importance of sustainable practices.
Whether through social media, personal conversations, or local community initiatives, consumers can raise awareness about the benefits of adopting circularity, such as reducing waste, conserving resources, and minimising environmental impact.
Consumer demand is a powerful force that drives business decisions. By actively seeking out and purchasing circular products and services, consumers create a market demand that incentivises businesses to adopt circular practices. A great example that I really like from a ‘recycle-reuse’ perspective is that of IKEA's Buy-Back Program where customers can return their used IKEA furniture in exchange for store credit.
Whether it's supporting companies that embrace recycling, product durability, or innovative reuse and remanufacturing approaches, consumers can influence the choices made by businesses.
Consumers also play a pivotal role in fostering collaboration between businesses and policy makers. Through their choices, feedback, and active engagement, they can encourage companies to adopt circular economy principles and push for supportive policies.
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) for instance is a collaboration of leading apparel brands, retailers, manufacturers, and NGOs working to reduce the environmental and social impacts of the apparel and footwear industry. SAC developed the Higg Index, a suite of tools that enables companies to measure and improve their sustainability performance for exponential impact.
Advocacy groups, sustainable certification initiatives, and engagement with local and national governments provide avenues for consumers to influence systemic change and promote the adoption of sustainable practices across industries.
Consumer feedback is invaluable in driving continuous improvement. By providing feedback on product design, packaging, and overall sustainability performance, consumers contribute to the iterative process of creating more circular solutions.
Companies can involve consumers in co-creation processes, inviting them to share their ideas and perspectives to shape the development of innovative and sustainable products and services. A study by Twilio found that 60% of consumers report that they will become repeat buyers after a personalised purchasing experience. One of my favourite examples of this is Adidas and Parley for the Oceans, a global environmental organisation and network where creators, thinkers and leaders come together to raise awareness for the beauty and fragility of the oceans and collaborate on projects that can end their destruction. This form of ‘co-creation’ has not only raised awareness about ocean pollution but has upcycled plastic waste collected from beach communities. Consumers were also involved in the design and style of the shoes, an important feedback element.
As we conclude our exploration into the power of consumers in driving the circular economy, one thing becomes abundantly clear: change starts with each and every one of us. By making informed choices, demanding transparency, supporting circular business models, embracing sustainable lifestyles, and amplifying the message, we become agents of change. Our collective power has the potential to reshape the marketplace, influence businesses, and create a lasting impact on our environment. Let us unite in our commitment to a more sustainable future, where the circular economy thrives, and the power of people propels us towards a brighter tomorrow.
Simon Dell is the founder of Cemoh, a Brisbane based company that delivers marketing consultants and services on-demand. Simon has consulted for hundreds of businesses from new start-ups to large ASX-listed organisations, across a broad selection of industries. For over 20 years, Simon has crossed every discipline – from creative and branding to strategy and digital. He’s built brands, directed videos, created a TV show, run social campaigns and most recently, launched DrinkedIn, a new generation of business networking. Simon's dedication to sustainability extends beyond his role at Cemoh. He is a sought-after speaker and thought leader, captivating audiences with his insights on how businesses can embrace sustainability and use it as a powerful force in the storytelling and marketing of a brand as a core principle