Circular Economy Gets a Boost from Workplace Disruption

Circular Economy Gets a Boost from Workplace Disruption

March 26, 2020

Bosch Home Appliances Head of Marketing Adrian Kok argues that while the transformation from a linear to a circular economy may take years, current disruptions to how we work may just help prepare the business community to embrace more permanent sustainability solutions, sooner.

By Adrian Kok

From incentivising eco-awareness at home, to buffering rising sea levels and protecting Singapore’s coastlines, the Singapore Government’s 2020 budget has put sustainability at its core to protect the future of our nation, as well as to combat a world threatened by climate change.

While enterprises around the globe are grappling with the ramifications of COVID-19, the outbreak could inadvertently create a rare window of opportunity to unite in solidarity for good causes that could include social and environmental sustainability.

In this challenging and dire time, nations, companies, and citizens alike are desperately looking for ways to work together to address global issues. It’s starting to become clearer what we can accomplish together, and the same is true if we all work towards meeting the Paris Climate Agreement goals.

As the Government steps up its commitment to the Paris Agreement in an accelerated effort to meet its vision of a low-carbon sustainable future, it’s also rolling out incentives to help lower-income households purchase energy-efficient household appliances. This is an encouraging move that’s aligned with the public’s interest to exercise sustainable practices in every aspect of their lives. At the same time, it will introduce a new HDB Green Towns Programme, to focus on reducing energy consumption, recycling rainwater, and investing in cooling technology.

By 2030, Singapore wants to slash the amount of waste it sends to its landfill by a third, in order to extend its shrinking lifespan. The need to rethink our understanding of ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’ has never been more pressing.

While the Government is advancing its sustainability efforts and incentivising citizens to go green, the onus should not only fall on these two parties but on businesses as well. However, the reality is that many enterprises are still not driven to make sufficient changes to their business models.

As the Government rolls out new incentives and funds to support Singapore’s sustainable development goals, this demonstrates its commitment to investing in sustainability. In 2019, the Resource Sustainability Bill passed in Parliament made it compulsory for some bigger firms to re-use and recycle more.

Moving towards sustainable business practices doesn’t need to hurt a company’s bottom line. Aside from waiting for mandates, companies need to espouse the concept of a Circular Economy for there to be tangible processes. Instead of looking for short-term quick fixes, we need to look at long-term approaches that integrate into core business strategies.

Investing in sustainability is a two-way street where sustainability has become an urgent opportunity for companies to connect with consumers who are excited about change.

Consumers in markets both big and small are increasingly motivated to be more environmentally conscious and are exercising their power and voice through the products they buy.

According to a recent Nielsen survey, 81% of global respondents feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment. Millennials, Gen Z and Gen X are the most supportive, but their older counterparts are following closely too. These consumers will soon have the greatest buying power, not only through higher consumption, but also through obtaining higher wages.

If brands want to reach the next generation of consumers, they need to develop different business practices that focus on impact and purpose to align with these demographics’ vision of a quality life.

We’ve seen a steady increase among companies doing their parts to go green. Over the past couple of years, Singapore organisations have been phasing out disposable plastic, and installing LED lighting, solar panels and rainwater collection systems in an effort to champion sustainability practices. Others have integrated sustainability measures into their long-term business strategies. For example, Bosch has been steadily rolling out more green household appliances.

Around 40% of Bosch’s patent applications relate to environmental protection, and since 1990, the brand has been able to cut the water consumption of their appliances by more than half.

In terms of processes, Bosch recently introduced its global “Circular Economy” strategy that looks at the entire lifecycle of an appliance, to make an even greater impact on the environment. Its model covers the full cycle of the reduce, reuse, recycle approach, covering all activities that either neutralise or at least significantly reduce BSH’s ecological footprint, reusing resources as long as possible to keep them in circulation to avoid waste, and recycling materials and products which have reached the end of their lifecycle. However, the transformation from a linear to a circular economy will take years. Value chains must be rethought, and product architecture may have to be adapted.

So, what are some steps that companies can start taking now to contribute to the nation’s sustainability goals? We’re already seeing the benefits of companies that are disrupting daily commuting patterns by adopting work-from-home policies, thus scaling back carbon emissions and allowing employees to spend more time working and less time commuting. Other efforts companies should begin implementing can start from the ground up.

We must inspire and educate employees about the importance of resource sustainability at the individual level. Creating a workplace culture that focuses and takes pride in efficiency can be a very beneficial component of a resource efficiency plan. More importantly, this needs to happen concurrently at a macro level in partnership with the Singapore government and its citizens.

The very first step that companies can make is to look at their current processes in place and think about the very simple pattern that we in Singapore are all familiar with: “Reuse, Reduce, Recycle.” Often times this manner of thinking has been deliberately spoken about at the individual level, but omitted at the corporate level.

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