Generally speaking, companies have strategies, structures and operations that remain entrenched in the linear economy. But is this still tenable? Here are five business models to help you think circular.
Today, it is no longer enough to invest in sustainable development here and there. Natural resources are becoming depleted and the environmental impact so serious that we can no longer be satisfied with doing things "less badly" than in the past. Companies are now expected to make a positive impact by breaking the link between growth and the use of natural resources.
The head of any company that claims to be responsible will be curious about the opportunities for growth that will present themselves if they do things differently, and wonder about the environmental, social and societal benefits (aside from financial) that they could generate using their own resources, technology and time frames.
To produce a positive impact, companies will need to free themselves from linear thinking before they can embrace the circular economy. They probably also have to reconsider their value chain, though they will not be able to do so overnight. In their quest for inspiration and greater momentum, some have been quick to emulate innovative SMEs.
How can transformation occur, what are the priorities and where do we start?
An analysis of 120 cases carried out by Accenture drew out five business models representing the same number of approaches to the circular economy.
Introducing sustainability in the supply chain
The first potential way to change your business model involves modifying the choice of raw materials used to make the product. This entails looking for alternative, renewable materials by adapting the supply chain upstream in order to achieve the long-term goal of a sustainable product and a process that is ideally waste-free. For example, industrialists can replace plastic, a linear component, with bioplastic or another material that is renewable or can be recycled. Ecover is the best example to cite in this respect: by introducing a sustainable chemical ingredient when it launched the first phosphate-free washing powder in the 1980s, it reduced the demand for toxic and non-recyclable substances. It has since expanded its business to produce a vast range of products.
The same approach can be taken downstream in the production chain. An excellent illustration of this is Sigma: in the knowledge that our homes are generally full of toxic products, Sigma marketed the first paint that purifies the inside air.
Recovering rather than producing
Among those inspired by this second model are certain carpet manufacturers including Desso and Interface, who are switching to 100% recyclable products. The challenge for them is to maintain contact with customers in order to recover their carpets as cheaply as possible when they are no longer needed. For carpets with an aluminium backing (a pure product that is easy to recycle), the companies may even need to make contact 20 to 30 years later and put in place a reverse supply chain.
What are the other challenges for carpet manufacturers who wish to recycle the potential residual value of their products? One is not to destroy the item during recovery. This is why Desso invented Refinity, a technique enabling it to separate the fibres – from the thickest to the finest. At the end of the purification stage, a new carpet can therefore be manufactured from the old one using their Cradle to Cradle® technique. This process significantly reduces the amount of resources used and waste generated. It allows the product to be reconstructed without the need for new ingredients, closing the circle with almost zero waste.
Quentin Denis, from Accenture, says: "This choice to recover waste materials can produce surprising results, such as the metamorphosis of a mining company with processes that were 100% linear into the number one defender of recycling technical materials. This is the way in which Umicore drastically changed its core business to move from extractive mining to what is known as 'urban mining'. DSM is another mining company that has completely transformed itself to become what it describes as a manufacturer of circular products."
What is waste to some can become an ingredient for others. In other words, there is a different way to close the circle in a way that bypasses waste. For Engie, this meant establishing operations in close proximity to ArcelorMittal in Ghent so that it could transform all steam produced – wasted energy in theory – and feed it back into the electricity network. Another example from Switzerland is IBM, which transforms the hot air produced at its centre in Uitikon into hot water for the local public swimming pool. The company says the volume of heat produced can heat the equivalent of one swimming pool or 80 houses.
To sell or lease? When obsolescence becomes taboo
Product-service systems, whereby a company prefers to sell its product as a service, are now in vogue. This third business model can occur alone or in conjunction with other concepts currently also emerging, such as the shared economy or the hub economy. But they can all operate in isolation, and confusion awaits the uninitiated.
An excellent example are the product-service systems operated by Rolls Royce, which has been producing turbines for aeroplanes and leasing them to airlines since the 1960s. How does Rolls Royce benefit? According to Quentin Denis, they "retain the right to carry out maintenance, allowing them to derive an additional source of revenue and improve performance. By leasing products instead of selling them once, they make their revenue more predictable because aeroplanes fly for decades. What really stands out is that this completely changes their focus on quality since they are concerned to ensure long-term performance in order to avoid breakdowns, for example", Denis continues. Which is one way for companies to turn their backs on built-in obsolescence...
The shared economy frequently illustrates that it can boost revenue insofar as it multiplies the number of users who can access an asset that is under-utilised.
The hub economy: fighting against waste
Using an app to share information about a provider's excess capacity or to allow users (private or professional) to publicise an under-utilised product or service is the concept underpinning a further model based on the hub economy.
Lyft, a resource for sharing lifts in motor cars, was born from the observation that 80% of seats in urban vehicles are empty. Thus the app allows a user who needs transport to identify the vehicle of another user exactly when it is needed. The journey is paid for via the app and costs 20 to 30% less than a taxi, including the commission of 20% paid to Lyft.
The bicycle delivery service Deliveroo is another example. It allows restaurant kitchens to exploit their surplus capacity and to add a new facet to their business – home delivery. This then provides an additional source of revenue despite limited human resources in their restaurants. This idea can also be found in the logistics sector in relation to online hubs set up in order to share lorry capacity and prevent vehicles from returning empty.
Quentin Denis is in favour of the concept, providing its stated aim is to achieve a positive impact for all actors involved: "These hubs operate via a network effect", he says. "This is achieved when there is significant volume, both in terms of offer – service providers, owners of Airbnb properties or Uber drivers, for example – and demand from holidaymakers or passengers. This network effect gives the players a strong competitive advantage that they can potentially abuse to change the rules of the game overnight, increase commission or reduce earnings, for example."
Products with longer lifespans
Components lost to the linear process once worn out can become useful again: this is the principle that motivates the final model. By improving a product, repairing it or making it again we can give it a new life, and the product can then go on to be resold or even personalised. And it is the challenge posed by obsolescence that Google is tackling by reinventing mobile phones that no longer meet the needs of users. By breaking them down into units it can choose to repair only what is broken and reduce costs, for example, and/or upgrade only the functions that are needed. The device lasts longer, and extending its use in this way can also lead to additional revenue. And as the need for resources diminishes, waste and cost amounts reproduce the same sort of curve.
Are you ready to embrace circular thinking? Throw off your shackles and go for it wholeheartedly – but be aware that quick wins closely connected to the product are also a responsible step forward before transformation is possible.
How can the blue economy make a difference?
What if the future of sustainable business is at the bottom of the ocean for once? Marine biodiversity contains resources that can meet the environmental challenges of many sectors. Perhaps yours, too. Find out more during an online event about the promising blue economy on 11 March 2021.
Blue is the new green
71% of our planet consists of water. Seas and oceans play a crucial role in our climate, and coastal areas can capture up to five times more CO2 than tropical forests. The blue economy wants to benefit from all these advantages to improve both the environment and our well-being,
With local being the keyword. And that's where the difference lies with the green economy, which also focuses on the environment and health, but not always in such a sustainable and smart way. Eating organically grown quinoa from Ecuador, for example, is healthy and eco-friendly, but transporting it here is expensive and creates high amounts of pollution.
What does the underwater world have to offer that can be reused, recycled or converted into new sustainable products? A lot, it turns out, as the unique properties of organisms such as algae, starfish, jellyfish or sea cucumbers can be transformed into sustainable products with high added value. This is a process that requires creativity and innovation, and is already with us today.
For your sector, too
The blue economy is expanding rapidly and could bring about a revolution in a wide range of sectors such as healthcare, food, the plastics industry, cosmetics, energy and even aerospace. It is fully capable of helping companies transform their traditional activities into a sustainable model. And in Belgium's ports, the country already has a huge advantage and excellent access to coastal and offshore areas.
Another scoop of microalgae?
Microalgae, for example, offer a lot of promise, as they can renew themselves and thrive both in the desert and in the ocean. They contain many healthy components, such as proteins, that can be used to develop food products.
When discussing the oceans, the plastic problem is never far away. Human beings are producing more and more plastic as the world's population grows, yet the problem with the existing plastic is that it's nigh on impossible to recycle as its components are hard to separate. By making a completely different type of plastic from biomass, its recycling is already considered at the design stage. A large amount of biomass remains unused in the oceans, and using smart, natural polymers could revolutionise plastic production, for example. These polymers are capable of self-renewal and can adapt to their environment.
Who will pay for it?
Great ideas, you think, but who will pay for them? The financial sector certainly wants to play a role in this revolution and is prepared to take risks and invest in new technologies, production systems and R&D.
This commitment was formalised in various ways during the climate week in New York at the end of September 2020. BNP Paribas signed the Principles for Responsible Banking (PRB) and joined the UNEP FI's Collective Commitment to Climate Action, a partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme and the financial sector. In terms of the maritime sector, the Bank committed to working with customers to preserve and sustain the oceans. Read more about this commitment here (only available in French).
Would you like to find out whether the blue economy could make a difference to your sector?
Sign up here for a free online event on this subject on 11 March 2021 (in English only), organised by BNP Paribas Fortis Transport, Logistics and Ports Chair.
What is the future for mobility post-coronavirus?
The health and economic crisis has affected all aspects of every sector. Among them, mobility, for both private individuals and for companies.
Mobility is evolving every day. And it has been driven further as a result of the coronavirus crisis. Many people have been locked down and working from home has been widespread in many parts of the world.
The coronavirus crisis has changed concerns about transport
We are no longer moving around in the same way. And concerns are no longer the same. According to a BCG Consulting report, social distancing and vehicle cleanliness are the most important aspects for 41% and 39% of respondents, respectively, when choosing a mode of transport. There is also pre- and post-Covid mobility, with respondents being more likely to choose walking, their own bicycle or scooter, or their car than before the crisis.
Sustainable and alternative mobility in the years to come
Mobility has not necessarily waited for the coronavirus crisis in order to evolve. And, according to the same report, the share of more environmentally-friendly vehicles will continue to increase. By 2035, more than 35% of new vehicles will be electric cars, becoming the predominant form of motorised transport worldwide. Autonomous cars will also become more common, with 10% of vehicles being level 4 vehicles (able to travel without a driver, for example), and 65% level 2 or higher.
Customised mobility for employees, right now
The future of mobility is also relevant now, especially for businesses and the self-employed. The need for alternative modes of transport does not only concern private individuals, but also employees. There is no longer a single mode of transport for all situations, but a range of means depending on the need at a given moment. Electric cars, hybrid vehicles, electric bicycles, a public transport season ticket, car sharing, leasing, etc. These modes can take different forms and be combined in a mobility card, for example. There are benefits for the employees and managers of a company but also for the company itself through cost reduction, optimisation and fleet management.
Find out more about our tailor-made mobility solutions
The road to alternative mobility
Nowadays, responsible fleet management is built around sustainability. We're here to help you identify and realise your Corporate Social Responsibility ambitions.
Together we can cut your company's carbon footprint, improve employee mobility, and make sure these steps become a central pillar of your company's added value. In short, our aim is to have an alternative mobility policy.
We can help you make the switch to alternative mobility and new technologies to reduce your carbon footprint. Our SMaRT approach ensures your fleet has the best energy mix to match your strategy and driver profiles.
Alternative mobility needs new technologies to go hand in hand with new infrastructure. That's why we offer not only electric cars, but also the right charging solutions, too. As part of our integrated service provision we can determine how many charging points you need, install them, and manage how they are used both at the workplace and at the driver's home.
Modern mobility management is about more than just cars or vans. You need a 360-degree approach. We'll work with you to determine your mobility strategy and needs. Greener cars are just one of the options available. We have a number of mobility management solutions (such as the Mobility Card) and alternative mobility solutions (such as bicycle leasing) to inspire your organisation to offer a more flexible range.
Focus on employees
When you put your employees at the heart of your organisation, you're in a better position to find skilled employees, satisfy them, and retain them. Go a step further than just an alternative mobility solution: focus on their safety and let them play an active role in achieving your sustainability goals. Trust us to improve their safety and integrate new technologies.
Operational leasing is offered by Arval Belgium SA/NV, with the intervention of BNP Paribas Fortis SA/NV – Montagne du Parc/Warandeberg 3, B-1000 Brussels, Brussels Register of Companies VAT BE0403.199.702.
Promotion only available from Thursday 21 January up to and including Wednesday 31 March 2021 and is only available to professional clients (self-employed, liberal professionals and SMEs) of BNP Paribas Fortis and Fintro.
The information provided here does not constitute an offer. An offer is made only after your file has been accepted and is always subject to Arval Belgium SA/NV's General Terms and Conditions.
Mobility, more than just four wheels
BNP Paribas Fortis offers complete mobility solutions. Sometimes a four-wheeled fleet is not enough for your mobility needs.
As a reliable partner, we can help you with every step – or pedal – of your mobility trajectory.
Mobility analysis and advice
Our mobility managers can work together with your relationship manager to develop a future-focused mobility strategy.
We start by listening to you: we want to understand your needs and concerns when it comes to mobility. This is our starting point for creating the best mobility solution for you and your company. We will build on this foundation with our expertise, while also taking Belgium's specific legal and fiscal ecosystem into account.
New mobility solutions
As well asfull-service leasing,we also offer our core product giving you access to our full mobility range, a wide range of basic services and added-value services such ascar parts,carpool management,bicycle leasingandmobility cards. All of our mobility services and their associated services such as parking, electric charging, fuel, tolls and car washing are within reach.
Managing your mobility budget
We'll help you and offer advice about implementing the federal mobility budget[VBK1] in your company. If that's too limited to meet your specific needs and aims, we can develop a personalised mobility budget solution to manage your mobility costs in line with the legal framework, just as we've done for a number of clients previously.
We've already implemented some tailored cost-neutral solutions, allowing our clients to combine lease cars with lease bicycles or other mobility solutions. This means the company can meet its goals while also making good on its promises and obligations.
Those ambitions might range from an ambitious CO2 agenda to a competitive offer to attract talent or a solution to solve your lack of car parking spaces.