The circular economy breaks the link between economic activity and the unfettered use of the earth’s scarce resources. The old industrial linear economy uses raw materials to make products that are discarded, sometimes even before the end of their useful life. So, how does circularity work?

Fast fashion and concrete and cement offer two exceptional windows on how circularity works. Fast Fashion with a speedier turnaround of new styles, an increased number of collections offered per year, and – often – lower prices have caused increases in clothing creation.

However, a new textile economy is redesigning fashion’s future. It is a future that aims to design out negative impacts, and capture a USD 500B economic opportunity, by rethinking how clothes are designed in one country, manufactured in another, and sold worldwide.

Swelled by “Street Style”, the clothing industry is one of the most wasteful sectors, with more than seventy-five per cent of garments ending up burned or buried in landfills.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in its report “A New Textile Economy”, noted that clothing production doubled from 2000 to 2015 while there was a 40 per cent drop in the amount of time clothing was worn.

Scotch and Soda, and Decathlon are among a host of brands that send garments for repairs. Presently, they turn around about 400 repairs per week. The strategic goal is to achieve a target of about 200,000 repairs per year by 2026.

Repairs are central to circularity. Citizens now expect brands to show how they contribute to sustainable development.  For fashion, the yardsticks are: Sharing materials and products; Reusing; and Repairing.

The textile industry is a major contributor to the issue of plastic entering the ocean. Around half a million tonnes of plastic microfibers shed during the washing of plastic-based textiles end up in the sea annually.

Fabric and fibres are kept at a premium during use, and re-enter the economy after use inside a sustainable textiles economy. Such an economy relies on four motivations:

  1. Substances of Concern

Substances that are of concern to health or the environment are designed out, and pollutants like plastic microfibers are not released into the environment and seas.

This requires the alignment of industry efforts to coordinate innovation to create safe material cycles. This means greater transparency along the value chain, a robust evidence base, and shared standards to accelerate the phase-out of substances of concern.

  1. Brand Commitment to Quality

Driving high usage rates requires a commitment to design garments that last longer.

  1. Value Capture

Building an industry to capture some of the value in more than USD 100 billion worth of materials lost from the system annually, as well as to shrink the negative effects of their disposal.

  1. Renewable Inputs

Virgin material input may be required where no recycled materials are available. But such inputs should increasingly come from renewable resources. This implies the use of renewable inputs for plastic-based fibres and regenerative agriculture to yield all renewable resources.

Concrete and cement and the economy around the built environment are major contributors to CO2 emissions. Global demand for cement has nearly tripled over the past 20 years. As citizens embrace net-zero emissions strategies, a significant amount of value is at stake in cement.

A challenge for the built environment is the fact that it is responsible for more than 30% of the extraction of earth’s natural resources, and 25% of solid waste generated in the world.

Construction firms have already started to explore circular technologies like green fuels, carbon curing, recarbonation, and carbon capture and storage. Scanning the horizon of the construction sector it is evident that these technologies will be much more than niche solutions for decarbonizing the built environment.

For cement and concrete the touchstones are:  Recycling raw materials and aggregates from other industries; Reuse and Recycling the use of construction and demolition waste; and Repurpose, Refurbish, and Repair.

These processes show how circularity can work jointly with reducing carbon emissions in cement production since circular technologies follow a parallel model of three crucial decarbonisation strategies: redesign, reduce, and repurpose.

A Mc Kinsey study published on 6th March, 2023 titled, “The circular cement value chain” highlights that these cutting edge technologies can address over eighty per cent of total cement and concrete emissions by 2050.

In fact, the financial attractiveness of circular technologies in cement, suggests that there is vast potential for carbon dioxide abatement through circularity over the next two decades.

It is estimated that roughly two billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions could be mitigated through the application of these technologies by 2050.

Ultimately, circularity needs policy, legislation, and a venture capital accelerator. Policy outlines how citizens would like to see a space defined. Policy is aspirational. Good policy bolsters foundations and provides a framework for a circular economy.

But without legislation, some companies will not make the transition to circularity organically. For this reason, cities that are talent attractors support early-stage start-ups with initiatives and scaled-up financing to encourage them to make a bigger splash in the circular future. By scaffolding circularity, a zone of proximal development is created that allows circular solutions to proliferate in these cities.