A circular economy business will, generally speaking, take something that is considered a waste product and turn it into a viable new product. Instead of traditional linear business models that put stuff in landfills, circular economy businesses aim to keep stuff out. This regenerative concept is familiar to many nowadays with businesses that recycle, upcycle, repurpose, or give new life to household goods or clothing. However, circular economy business models are found in all sorts of industries.
Exploring circular economy businesses inevitably leads to finding interesting and inspiring folks up to good projects in their local communities. For instance, in Cleveland, Ohio, Rust Belt Riders collects organic food waste from local individuals, restaurants, schools, and other institutions throughout Cuyahoga County, composts it, and turns it into high quality soil, which is then sold as Tilth Soil. This circular economy business began 2012 and is now a worker-owned cooperative providing jobs to 30 locals and growing.
Shifting to a completely different industry, Industrial Commons in western North Carolina, is an umbrella of multiple circular economy, worker-owned businesses and projects, that operate within the textile industry. Within this network is Material Return, which works with local manufacturers and national brands to transform textile waste into new products. Also, within this network are designers and pattern-makers, sewers, printers, and fabric finishers. Good Books, which is a work-owned book-keeping cooperative that is minority and women-led, provides transparent, bilingual (Spanish & English) book-keeping services to businesses within this circular economy and beyond.
In both Ohio and North Carolina, these circular economy businesses are committed to empowering workers and supporting local communities by providing secure, meaningful jobs and training, as well as ensuring economic, environmental, and social sustainability in their work. And that’s just two businesses in the US, wait until we talk another time about projects throughout the world. Very exciting initiatives are upon us. I whole-heartedly believe this is the way of the future. We simply must operate with more sustainable business models that are good for people and the planet.