Much has been written and discussed about sustainability and a circular economy. As an environment, health, and safety (EHS) professional, you may think that the concepts are too broad to grapple with and that the responsibility for such policies and programs lies on the C-suite level. However, we will look at ways EHS managers can influence the direction their facilities move toward sustainability and a circular economy through their responsibilities concerning procurement and supply chain management.
A Little Background
Very basically, the idea of a circular economy is very similar to sustainability. Instead of using resources, making something, and then disposing of waste, in a circular economy you would do such things as repair, reuse, and recycle. Ideally, you would “design waste out” through material selection, manufacturing long-lasting products, and finding uses for byproducts and waste. Let’s look at a few case studies where supply chain management plays a key role in company efforts toward a circular economy.
We think of Timberland® when we want to buy hiking boots. But did you know that the company is also in the tire market?
Timberland has partnered with the tire manufacturer and distributor Omni United, which is based in Singapore, to make Timberland Tires. The tires are made of a formulated rubber compound that makes them easier to recycle. Omni has collaborated with the U.S. tire collector and recycler Liberty Tire Recycling. It is an industry-first tire return/chain of custody process that ensure the tires go directly to dedicated North American recycling facilities to begin their path toward a second life as part of a Timberland product.
When the tread wears out, the Timberland Tires are reclaimed, separated, and recycled into Timberland footwear rather than being exported or landfilled.
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As an additional benefit, the Timberland Tires project won the 2016 WGSN Futures Award in the category of Sustainable Design. It was also the finalist for other sustainability and recycling awards.
Hanging in There
Braiform, based in London, is one of the world’s largest garment hanger manufacturers. Around the turn of the century, Braiform sold off all production facilities and committed to a dedicated reuse supply chain.
Note. The Braiform case study and many others regarding the circular economy can be found at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
After contracting with a new partner, Braiform developed a new garment hanger that starts with supplying virgin product made from a polymer Braiform knows is pure. Manufacturers buy these hangers and use them before shipping their products. The garments are distributed and during purchase, and the retailer collects the hangers and sends them back to distribution centers with deliveries. The hangers then return to one of three main reuse centers in England and the United States, where they are sorted, repackaged, and distributed back to garment-producing regions.
Those hangers that cannot be reused are shredded and used to make new products. Since Braiform knows that the polymer is pure, it can sell this material to a compounder, and the polymer returns to virgin production. In a recent year, 30 million hangers were made from the company’s own wastestream.
Braiform claims many benefits of this shift. Among them is that moving to reuse has meant that Braiform is largely removed from fluctuating oil prices, enabling the company to remain competitive and improve client relationships. Also, employing a circular economy model, Braiform is less reactive to the fashion seasons, with the workforce remaining stable and consistent throughout the year.
Braiform also works with SEDEX, a collaborative platform for sharing responsible sourcing data on supply chains.
Even in the absence of policies and programs directed by upper management, EHS managers can be in the forefront of developing a circular economy at their facilities by focusing on procurement and supply chain management.