5 Creative Companies Walking the Walk of a Circular Economy

Circular Economy Rubicon Global

Circular Economy Rubicon Global

For most of us, life looks pretty linear. We live in a linear economy that uses a “take, make, and dispose of” model. We take resources from the earth, make products like clothing and cell phones, and dispose of them when we’re done. All that taking, making and wasting just isn’t sustainable.

The future is circular.

You might have heard the term “circular economy.” This essentially takes our current linear model and closes the loop so that nothing is ever truly wasted. Resources flow continuously: Take, make, use, return and repeat.

To live circularly takes a lot of creativity. It’s much easier to go with the status quo of waste. Lucky for us, there are several companies out there that are stepping up to make the circular economy a reality – and they’re doing it with some pretty creative ideas.

Check out some of the visionary companies walking the walk of a circular economy.

1. Levi Strauss

There’s nothing better than a pair of jeans that fits just right. Levi’s agrees. But they also want to make sure that when you’re ready to say goodbye to your favorite pair, all the care (and resources) that went into the jeans doesn’t just disappear. The company committed to establishing a closed-loop infrastructure by 2020. Here’s how they’re doing it:

  • Recycling in stores. Instead of sending last season’s trends to the landfill, you can drop off old clothes and shoes – from any brand – at your local Levi’s store. Levi’s has partnered with I:CO to ensure discarded items are re-worn, repurposed or recycled.
  • Saving water. Water is essential to Levi’s production processes. They launched the Water<Less initiative to reduce water use – removing water from stone washes and combining multiple wet cycle processes.
  • Recycled & recyclable materials. Levi’s has a collection of products that are made from 20% recycled plastic bottles. They also ensure all fabric, thread, pocketing, and labels used are designed for recyclability.

2. TerraCycle

As far as TerraCycle is concerned, everything is recyclable. The company is focused on how to reuse and recycle the unwanted junk that we toss every day… and not just the plastic bottles or aluminum cans. They’re innovating ways to create a wasteless future using chip bags, flip flops, toothbrushes – just about anything you might toss in the trash instead of the recycling bin. How’s it possible?

  • Charitable donations. To incentivize people to collect these cast-offs, TerraCycle offers “points” that can be redeemed into charitable donations. Once the materials have made it to the TerraCycle warehouse, they’re processed for reuse.
  • Refillable containers. TerraCycle is working with big brands to stop waste before it begins. Just like the glass jugs your parents or grandparents set out for the milkman, TerraCycle is helping companies bring refillable containers back into the mainstream.
  • Recycling foot traffic. In today’s online economy, retailers need an excuse to bring people in the door. TerraCycle implements hard-to-recycle programs in brick and mortar stores, based on the belief that people want to recycle when given the opportunity.

Check out our partner, TerraCycle, in the Rubicon Partner Marketplace to learn more!

3. Unilever

Unilever is a consumer brand powerhouse. They oversee more than 400 separate brands, like Dove, Lipton, Axe and Hellman’s. The company first launched is sustainability program back in 2010. Unilever has since announced that brands considered part of its “Sustainable Living Program” have grown at a rate 50 percent faster than the rest of the company.

Unilever stands out from other eco-friendly businesses because they focus on more than just their products and processes. They focus on their people:

  • Internal training. Employee buy-in is hugely important for companies who are trying to reprogram their supply chain and processes. Unilever runs internal workshops and training sessions to convey what the circular economy means and why it’s important.
  • Multi-level involvement. Many companies silo their sustainability efforts into a specific team or department. Unilever approaches its circular economy goals differently. They know that to succeed, they need involvement at every level. The company integrates sustainability into every job function. It’s no surprise that 73 percent of employees agree their job drives sustainable growth.

4. Looptworks

You may not have heard of Looptworks, but they partner with some pretty big household names (ahem, Southwest and Alaskan Airlines). This Portland-based B Corp makes bags, purses and other accessories out of scrap materials, like the leftover leather from airline seats. They even partner with wetsuit companies to create cushy laptop sleeves. How cool is that? Check out more about Looptworks’ process:

  • Upcycling materials. Wondering the difference between upcycling and recycling? Upcycling actually adds value to a discarded material. Reusing waste without breaking it down, like you’d do to recycled goods, also helps save energy.
  • Saving water. Upcycling doesn’t just save energy and landfill space. Upcycled products directly offset water use too. In fact, Looptworks created a nifty water conservation calculator that they use for all their products. Check it out!

5. Thread

Thread takes the social enterprise to the next level. Instead of the popular “buy a pair, give a pair” model, Thread brings sustainability and the circular economy into manufacturing. Working in developing countries, the company takes plastic OUT of the trash and converts it into thread used to produce apparel. They’re also creating thousands of jobs in developing nations along the way. Here’s the Thread secret sauce:

  • Partnering with brands. Thread makes their own products, but they also collaborate with other apparel companies like Timberland. The fashion industry is notoriously wasteful– so partnerships like these can go a long way towards reducing overall impact.
  • Positive human impact. While this doesn’t tie directly into the circular economy, the ability to help people while also helping the environment is an admirable goal for anyone. Thread creates jobs in developing nations. By collecting plastic from local trash heaps, people can begin to climb out of poverty.

Editor Note: References made to businesses/companies in this post are not meant to convey endorsement by Rubicon of those companies in any way.