When people talk about the circular economy, they focus on eliminating waste by reimagining the product lifecycle – from design to end of life. And yes, that’s one aspect. But circular approaches are also about tapping into new sources of value, turning waste into wealth in ways that were impossible before the advent of digital technology. The result: companies can literally pull money out of thin air. If that sounds like a lot of hot air, it’s not. Finding the companies at the vanguard of this burgeoning economy is one of the aims of The Circulars, an initiative run by the World Economic Forum and the Forum of Young Global Leaders in collaboration with Accenture Strategy. Here are five companies of note from awards past and present that are breaking new ground by adopting innovative circular business models.

1. Lanzatech: Sky high profit

Turning carbon dioxide into fuel | Year: 2016 | Status: Winner | Category: Entrepreneur

LanzaTech is a clean-tech company that’s revolutionizing the way the world thinks about carbon waste. The company’s view: treat carbon as an opportunity instead of a liability. LanzaTech’s proprietary microbes capture and recycle waste gases before they are emitted as greenhouse gases, reducing harmful nitrous and sulphur oxides by over 85%. Essentially, they’re turning air into something of value. The company estimates it can apply its process to 65% of the world’s steel mills, with the potential to make 30 billion gallons of ethanol, or 19% of today’s current jet fuel demand.

2. Patagonia: ‘Worn again, and again’

Embedding the circular economy | Year: 2017 | Status: Finalist | Category: Multinational

Patagonia’s mission is to build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. It is alongside this mission that the principles of the circular economy have been embedded into its business strategy. Patagonia has worked to provide a higher quality product to help customers reclaim the act of ownership by making parts accessible and repair easy, as well as shifting a focus towards celebrating the effort of trying to fix something. In doing so, Patagonia has been able to extend the usable life of its products and simultaneously to shift the consumer perception of product ownership and on consumption: in FY16 over 35,000 people visited its Worn Wear tour stops in the US and Europe combined! In this way, Patagonia has used a circular model to improve quality, increase customer interaction and improve its business offering.

3. Stuffstr: ‘No unused stuff’

Unlocking value in all your unused stuff | Year: 2016 | Status: Runner-Up | Category: Digital Disruptor

Stuffstr’s vision statement is “no unused stuff” and to deliver this, the company has developed an award-winning service and business model designed to accelerate the global shift to a circular economy. How? Through a mobile app aimed at making it easy for consumers, retailers and manufacturers to make sustainable choices. Application users simply upload their purchase histories from top national retailers and Stuffstr helps them engage with their items in new, innovative ways. Ultimately, this allows them to resell, repair, rent, donate, or recycle their items with just a few simple taps. Stuffstr is also laying the digital infrastructure for a full range of circular programmes, including product take-back and buyback, product leasing, and product-as-a-service initiatives.

4. Hello Tractor: Tractors on demand

Tractors at your service | Year: 2017 | Status: Finalist | Category: Digital Disruptor

Hello Tractor is an award-winning agricultural technology company focused on improving food and income security for smallholder farmers relying on expensive and often unavailable manual labour. Hello Tractor engineered a low-cost “smart tractor” technology that pairs the tractor owner with labour-constrained farmers willing to pay for tractor services on a need-to-have basis. Farmers simply send a text message requesting a specific tractor service and the Hello Tractor software pairs that request with the nearest smart tractor owner in the market with the applicable tractor attachment. In this way, Hello Tractor is able to provide tractors as a service to drive agricultural productivity and economic development in the developing world. Hello Tractor supports all of its Smart Tractor owners with on-site maintenance and repair to complete the model.

5. Peerby: Peer-2-peer sharing

Sharing everyday products to reduce waste | Year: 2017 | Status: Finalist | Category: Digital Disruptor

In the products we buy, especially those products we don’t use that often, there is wasted capacity. Peerby enables people to rent and borrow the things they need from others in their local area. From drills to soldering irons to suitcases, unused assets are everywhere and Peerby, in creating a liquid marketplace for such assets, has become a world leader in sharing a wide range of consumer goods. Currently, Peerby has a billion dollars’ worth of products available on the platform and a quarter million signups from people ready to use underutilized assets to drive a less wasteful and more circular economy. Their members see the benefits: each user saves an average of $100 when they borrow or rent, while owners can make up to $500 per month sharing their products. The Peerby platform can therefore reduce the impact of consumer products by millions of tons of waste, carbon and greenhouse gas emission, and vastly reduces the need to consume virgin natural resources to produce new products every year. Beyond its circular impact, Peerby generates millions of dollars of social capital by connecting people in neighbourhoods.

The Circulars, which is now running into its third year, leverages its extensive global database of circular organizations to drive businesses towards more circular and value-focused business models. In this way, the awards hope to further accelerate the implementation and adoption of the circular economy by ever more organizations across an increasingly diverse set of geographies.

Find out more about The Circulars.

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