The circular economy brings opportunities for brands


Just before the first lockdown in March 2020, I left my retail comfort zone and crossed the threshold of Patagonia on Dublin’s Exchequer Street. For some clearly misguided reason, I’d always associated Patagonia with the type of people who book their hikes to Machu Picchu or the Camino with Trailfinders on nearby Dawson Street. Or hippie dippy guys whose big ambition was to live off the grid for a year or two on a remote island off the west coast of Ireland.

take it all back and apologize

Patagonia is, of course, a pioneer in sustainability, and its brand is built on a strong commitment to doing what’s right for the planet and the communities that feed it. Unsurprisingly, it has built a loyal following of millions of customers around the world.

When it comes to recycling, it has been billed as the world’s most circular brand with recycled materials used in more than 99 percent of its product range. This unofficial distinction was bolstered by its commitment to repairing products, renting them out, selling second-hand products and offering trade-ins through its Worn Wear platform.

Patagonia is also a beacon of hope for other companies involved not only in fashion but in a range of sectors dipping their toes into what is known as the circular economy.

In short, the ultimate goal of the circular economy is to decouple environmental pressures from economic growth. It also involves a production and consumption model, which generally involves some form of sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, or recycling existing materials and products so they last as long as possible.

Ready or not, the circular economy is also firmly part of the Irish government’s sustainability agenda. Government-backed bodies such as Irish Manufacturing Research (IMR) and the public-private partnership Circuléire are already working with companies to develop business models and practices for the circular economy. Legislation to underpin the government’s strategy is also making its way through Dáil Éireann.

To marketers, the concept of circular economy might seem like the antithesis of the consumer-centric marketing we’re all used to. While this isn’t going away anytime soon, brands that embrace more responsible consumption and sustainability attitudes are likely to outperform those that don’t over time.

However, Patagonia is by no means the only brand committed to the circular economy.

Ikea, for example, has developed a circular hub that allows customers to trade in their old furniture, while another clothing brand, Mudd Jeans, allows customers to rent jeans on a monthly basis. Want the latest refurbished iPhone? Go to a platform like Refurbed or Swappie.

Adopting the circular economy will not be easy, and there will be challenges and many lessons for brands to learn along the way.

“Big, established brands have a lot to undo and unlearn to achieve a more circular, regenerative way of designing and evolving their brand,” says Jane McDaid, founder and head of creative innovation at Dublin-based agency Thinkhouse.

“You have to work out the negative effects of the products and services that harm human health and natural systems. Within this shift lies a great opportunity – not just to make a more positive impact, but to move from a “product” company to a “product and service” company. Apple’s recent introduction of self-service repairs, Ikea’s Buy Back Friday and Patagonia’s Worn Wear service are examples of this,” she adds.

But there’s also growing evidence that consumers prefer brands that do something good for the planet. For example, according to the latest consumer research by Kantar, 84 percent of Irish adults believe companies should do more to be sustainable, while 24 percent say they prefer to buy from brands that are committed to sustainability. Another 23 percent state that they would be willing to spend more on sustainable products.

Brands beware. The circular economy brings opportunities for brands

Fry Electronics Team

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