Time to pivot to a circular economy

During lockdown we often heard the post-pandemic period was our chance to do things differently – to be greener and kinder, to reimagine our world.

Now that we’re at Level 1, how do we balance these objectives with doing business in a time of economic uncertainty?

The reality is environmental sustainability makes good business sense, recession or not. The demands from customers, and the planet, for more sustainable practices and products remain and will continue to grow. Having gone through one crisis, we can use the lessons to prepare for the next, harnessing them to do what’s needed for our environment and our climate.

Action on sustainability brings measurable benefits like efficiency gains, cost cutting, resilient supply chains, increased sales, and reduced risk. It’s all part of moving away from the linear “take, make, waste” model – where we expect unlimited growth from limited resources – to a circular approach where the use of materials and resources are maximised, and reutilised at end of life.

Research conducted by Sapere Research Group with the Sustainable Business Network in 2018 estimated the circular economy in Auckland alone could liberate up to $8.8 billion in additional economy activities by 2030. It would also reduce carbon emission by up to 2.7 million tonnes.

The opportunity is no different for smaller centres like Hawke’s Bay.

We know from over 16 years’ experience that any time spent delving into inputs, outputs and processes generally benefits your bottom line. For example, something as simple as not paying to send rainwater to the tip. (As you can imagine, a lid was quickly added to that outdoor bin!)

While this might not feel like the time to think about sustainability, in fact there’s probably never been a better time to consider how it could help your business.

We’ve put together some of the key actions Hawke’s Bay businesses can take to pivot towards a sustainable, resilient, circular economy future:

Address your waste

Most business activity generates waste in some form, and it could well be costing you. We have worked with businesses to cut costs, often through simple process improvements including reducing product wastage, removing recyclables from bins destined for landfill and removing excess packaging in their supply chain.

Hospitality, for example, can make significant gains through addressing food waste – a harmful methane emitter in landfill. According to research in The Business Case to Reducing Food Loss and Waste from leading sustainability organisation WRAP UK, hotels saved $7 for every $1 invested in food waste initiatives, with 70% getting their money back in a year.

There are yet more gains to be made if waste can be reused as a resource. PanPac, for example, uses wood waste as fuel, while BioRich turns organic waste, which would otherwise create harmful methane emissions in landfill, into compost to rejuvenate our soils.

Tackle carbon emissions

Understanding where you use the most carbon allows you to target not only the carbon but the costs. For example, fleet management offers an opportunity for substantial carbon reductions, and efficiency gains directly impacting the bottom line. The new normal of web or phone-based contact with customers and suppliers can help reduce travel costs, time and emissions. Covid-19 has also shown us how we can influence the emissions our staff create on our behalf. Consider how you can reduce emissions from their commute and increase health and well-being by encouraging people to work from home or use alternative transport.

Localise your supply chain

With our export and tourism focus, Hawke’s Bay businesses recognise better than most that we live in a global economy. However, keeping your supply chain as local as possible is one way to build resilience. Using local suppliers as much as possible bolsters the local economy, builds secure partnerships which can also drive innovation, help design waste out of businesses, and reduce carbon emissions.


By reviewing your procurement through a different lens, can you increase your support of local, sustainable businesses or practices? Consider those companies which provide end-of-life solutions for their products (helping you to reduce your waste bill), companies which manage their carbon, or those which offer sharing or leasing options over ownership.

The power of the collective

No single company has the power to change the system on its own. In the food and beverage sector, producers are labouring under strong consumer demand for more sustainable packaging, a struggling recycling system and a lack of scale to develop effective solutions. Whether collaboration is with competing brands or others who use similar packaging for a different product type, working together is critical to future success.

In the Ministry of Transport Future Freight Scenarios Study, Freighthub estimated on average nine out of every 20 trucks are running empty in New Zealand – surely an opportunity for local collaboration to create efficiencies and new opportunities while reducing emissions.

Offer a service rather than a product

Of the six actions, the last may sound the most unusual but is key to efficient resource use in a circular economy.

Consider how many products are already offered as a service – fleet vehicles, laundromats, lawn mowers, construction equipment, accommodation, the list goes on. If you need to pivot your business or are looking to broaden your service offering, consider how you might offer your product as a service. Benefits can be lower upfront costs for customers, consistent cashflow for the business, less waste from low usage of capital items, and a partnership approach.

Dominic works on sustainable solutions at 3R Group. 3R design, implement and manage product stewardship schemes for individual businesses or industry-wide groups. 

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