In the loop: why Ikea, Lego and Patagonia are buying into the circular economy

Brands that don’t buy into the circular economy will soon be out of the loop. From Lego to Patagonia, Ikea to Chivas Brothers, The Drum talks to brands that reckon there is a lot to be gained from making your product more durable and easier to repair.

Consumerism is a dirty word – and it’s brands that face the blame for an Earth overflowing with non-compostable waste. But, thanks to eco-conscious consumers and government legislations, they are slowly, but surely, cleaning the word up.

”We’ve shifted away from corporate social responsibility (CSR), which was about defending value by pointing at some good stuff over there,” explains Chris Norman, founder and chief exec of The Good Agency. Established in 1995, Norman was talking about the merits of sustainability before it was trendy.

”Now everyone wants to hit net zero,” he explains. But as he points out, reaching a carbon neutral threshold is just not enough to offset the environmental mess we presently find ourselves within. ”It’s not solving the problem – it doesn’t take back some of the bad that we’ve done, which we need to do,” he stresses. ”And the circular economy is exactly that space. Even though it is a zero-sum game, it’s actually very progressive.”

The concept of the circular economy is regenerative by design. But as Ikea’s UK’s country sustainability manager Hege Sæbjørnsen admits, it’s also one for the long-term. ”It’s often quite abstract, quite technical and manufacturing-focused,” she says. ”Essentially, it’s a way to tackle excessive consumption but it also makes sure that materials and products are kept alive for as long as possible.”

With aims to become 100% circular as a business by 2030, Ikea’s example proves that even big brands can buy into the model. It recently announced it was testing out a ’Buy Back’ scheme that would see it allow customers to trade in their old items in return for vouchers to spend in-store. Beyond that, it has opened a pilot second-hand store in Sweden.

To be 100% circular by 2030, Ikea needs to ensure 100% of the materials used to make its 12,000-strong product catalogue are made from recycled and recyclable materials. ”It’s also critical to highlight that it’s about design for circularity. We’ve devised nine circular design principles which mean our products will be designed from the beginning to be repurposed, repaired, assembled and disassembled.”

Sæbjørnsen suggests that the behaviours supporting the circular economy were encouraged by many businesses prior to the advent of e-commerce retail – a act that should help persuade relucant brands now.

”We’ve all got used to super fast delivery and really low prices,” says Sæbjørnsen. ”We’re addicted to convenience. And so, if we want consumers to go to the effort of fixing something, it needs to be easy, accessible, and ideally affordable.”

The poster child of the B Corp revolution, Patagonia is a brand that isn’t afraid of putting its money where its mouth is. Through its ’Worn Wear’ programmes, it takes back 100% of gear that is returned. In 2018 alone it recycled 6,797lb of clothing.

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