30-minute masterclass: Seven ways to adopt the circular economy across your business

During a 30-minute masterclass webinar hosted by edie last week, Cranfield University's senior lecturer in circular innovation Fiona Charnley outlined the essential skills needed to implement circular economy principles. Here, edie rounds up her key takeaways.

Brought to you as part of the new Sustainability Leadership Programme developed by Cranfield University for edie’s network of sustainability professionals, the 30-minute masterclass is the second in a new series of free online sessions to support career development.

The 30-minute masterclass, which was broadcast live on Wedneday 12 September at 2pm, explored approaches to sustainable and collaborative innovation and how to develop a cradle-to-cradle strategy. The webinar is now available on demand.


During the broadcast, Charnley who has worked with businesses for more than a decade to help them make the shift towards closed-loop solutions, outlined some key advice on how organisations could re-evaluate their relationship with resources. Here, edie rounds up seven of her top tips. 

1) Re-examine the concept of “value” to build the business case

“We are all used to hearing about how the circular economy is estimated to be worth trillions of euros to our economy, and that there are thousands of jobs to be created through the adoption of the circular economy,” Charnley explained.

“However, when it comes to implementing these strategies, it is often difficult to know where to start – and this is where value comes in. Looking at the circular economy in terms of the new value that can be generated and circulated amongst industries, the environment and society is a useful vehicle to begin to understand how the circular economy can benefit certain businesses.”

2) Be aware that circularity is not ‘one-size-fits-all’

Charnley noted that much academic literature surrounding circularity has enabled her to identify five broad archetypes for circular business models: circular supplies, resource value, product life extension, extending product value and sharing platforms.

She noted that most businesses would likely adopt a “hybrid” of two or more models, adding that the most successful businesses develop their own unique models.

3) Adopt sustainable design principles for your products

Charnley identified five circular design models that can help businesses bolster the circularity of their products. These include designing for circular supplies, designing for resource conservation, designing for multiple cycles, designing for long-life use and designing for systems change.

She emphasised the importance of collaborating with suppliers and designers, adding: “One of the challenges a lot of organisations face is that, no matter how circular they are, they are reliant on their suppliers. Trying to influence them to take back products for remanufacturing, for example, is a significant challenge.”

4) Develop partnerships to create a circular value chain

During the webinar, Charnley discussed how consumer goods firm gCycle had created closed-loop nappies, only to struggle to compete with the price of disposable alternatives.

She explained that, to overcome this problem, the company had partnered with a string of childcare and waste management firms to generate more value from used nappies by implementing anaerobic digestion and large-scale composting. As a result, they could pass cost savings onto their customers. 

5) Explore servitisation models

The second company case study covered in the webinar was Philips’ move to refurbish and sell high-value medical equipment such as MRI scanners.

Charnley explained that such servitisation models had proven particularly successful as many medical service providers are currently short on funding to purchase new equipment, but at the same time, they need fully-refitted or refurbished alternatives to meet their standards. 

6) Consider shared ownership

Charnley emphasised that circularity was not always about a product’s end of life, but whether it was used efficiently during its lifetime. She claimed, for example, that the average car is only used for around 3-5% of its life – making it an example of inefficient use.

She said: “A lot of high-value manufacturing organisations are considering the ownership model of their products, such as Rolls-Royce with its ‘power-by-the-hour’ programme. It makes a lot of sense to retain product ownership within the organisation and just sell access to the use of a product.”

7) Change the way you use data

Lastly, Charnley highlighted the ways in which businesses could use data typically harvested for marketing purposes to champion circularity. 

“At the moment, we are surrounded by products which are collecting huge amounts of personal data from us, whether we like it or not,” Charnley said.

“At the moment, a lot of this data is just being used to perpetuate the linear economy – to sell us more products, to customise our products and to make services more attractive. I think there’s a huge opportunity in using digital technology to really understand better how we can implement circular economy approaches to industry and to business.”

Sustainability Leadership Programme

This 30-minute masterclass offers a taster of the full Sustainability Leadership Programme that has been developed by Cranfield University for edie’s network of sustainability professionals. 

Beginning in January 2019, the Sustainability Leadership Programme will be made up of five modules which combine academic excellence with first-hand industry experience. The modules, which take the form of intensive one or two-day courses, will be made up of small, focused groups, allowing for an immersive and personal learning experience. 

Find out more about the Sustainability Leadership Programme and apply to join here.

edie staff

Comments (1)

  1. Gordana Kierans says:

    Thank you for sharing the link. There is also a Circular Economy Course on Udemy but with focus on entrepreneurs.

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