Skip to main content
Vertical Earth Lake surrounded by alpine forest. Eco image with cloud reflection resembling the planet

The Global Circularity Gap

The global economy has fallen to be 7.2% circular.

Circularity poses opportunity to relieve planetary pressures progress to climate goals, and create thriving societies.

THE GLOBAL STATUS 

Global virgin material extraction is outpacing population growth. In fact, it is growing at nearly twice the rate, and as our population reaches unprecedented levels, we already exceeding the point where the planet simply can’t keep up with demand.

Relieving this overshoot of planetary boundaries requires a critical rebalance of global supply and demand. Although still a largely untapped opportunity, many leaders have identified circular practices as a powerful contributor to the solution. The potential? Embedding circularity can reduce virgin material extraction by up to 30%, bringing us back into a more sustainable balance, and importantly, as this is done through more effective use of resources, rather than just less use, our population will be left in a position where needs are still fulfilled.

To achieve this, we need more organisations to embrace the challenge of circular innovation. As with any transformation there is potential for market differentiation, product innovation, supply chain efficiency and cost efficiencies. However, this also requires a fundamental transformation of economic activities, only achievable with collaboration across private sector, public sector and society. The biggest opportunity for the private sector to lead change is within:

  • food systems,
  • mobility and transportation,
  • manufacturing and retail,
  • real estate and construction.

How can you play a role in this revolution? 

THE OPPORTUNITY

We can transform how materials satisfy our needs by using less, using longer, using again, and using regenerative resources.Find out how to accelerate circularity in four high impact value chains below.

Food systems

The systemic and economic effects within food systems could be one of the most powerful impacts of circular solutions. In some countries agriculture alone employs 60% of the workforce, so local pressures are often hard felt.The biggest area to address is waste, both of food itself and wider production inputs, such as energy, water and land, that are wasted throughout value chain from production to consumption. Solutions range from:

  • the scientific, such as robotic plant care to optimise fertilisers and water use,
  • to the more simple, such as cold storage-as-a-service to preserve product quality.

Across all solutions, farmers must be empowered as environmental custodians; the specialists that advise how best to balance our give-take relationship with the land prevent and restore biodiversity loss. There is a similar role for communities with urban farming which has added circularity benefits of less transportation and reduced vulnerability to supply chain risk.

Improving education about food and food production is another essential step to circularity gains, enabling more agility in satisfying people’s daily nutritional needs. This must be driven by changes to government guidance on dietary recommendations, as well as regulations on information disclosures. Providing standardized information via clear labelling on e.g., food origin, greenhouse gas emissions and water usage, can empower consumers to make more sustainable choices. This must be developed in collaboration with producers and retailers.

For example, the current trend towards plant-based diets alone is not necessarily the most sustainable option. Knowing more about the sources and impacts of various foods on human health and the environment, ensures that more of what is produced ends up being consumed and less goes to waste. 

Manufacturing and Retail

Recent geopolitical events have prompted many organisations to think more locally in order to increase supply chain resilience, retain control of material and component sourcing. In some countries for example Vietnam, local eco industrial parks have drastically reduced emissions, lowered freshwater use, and a reduced waste, while offering opportunity for synergy and resource sharing across sectors.

The focus of circularity must be adjusting existing or creating new business models and products that provide concrete solutions to sustainability problems. We can take many lessons from capital goods where circularity is much more mature and models like leasing or products-as-a-service are commonplace. This requires ground-up collaboration across organisations and suppliers; integration across the supply chain based on increased transparency, specialist control, and less stock movement.

We are already seeing this in B2C environments too, for example automotive, where the added benefit to the consumer is no capital investment or responsibility for upkeep of cars. But, incentivisation of the private sector is essential to move innovation at the pace of change needed and create a level playing field.

Much of the change required comes from looking at the whole ecosystem and innovating to create new ways, new products, and new services that satisfy consumer need while increasing the value derived from the material inputs. One of our biggest challenges is that consumers intrinsically still like to own things. So how do we maintain the same level of perceived value? In the above automotive example, short term leasing can add to the flexibility and variety demanded by consumers, while minimising the unused time of capital resources. Other examples supported by the public sector include initiatives to boost repairability for electronics, in the same way modular design can benefit construction.

True pricing is the final pillar, not only ensuring the material cost beyond GDP is acknowledged, but to properly empower consumers in their decision making, externalities need to be reflected in the price. Clear and universal labelling rests on public governance, but is also enabled by more advanced and real time tracking of supply chains. This requires robust technology for data management across the various players in the supply chain. 

Real Estate and Construction

Reshaping our urban environments towards greater local self-sufficiency, designed with circularity in mind, can reduce waste created by long supply chains, while also improving living standards.

The foundations: We need buildings and infrastructure with extended, useful live cycles. Increased modularity enables multi-purposing, more efficient repair and more agility to climate change.

At design: the blueprint for the long-term local community engagement should precede the city and building blueprints, to ensure social needs are incorporated from the start.

When building; we need to look at better using, and reusing what is already existing, for example repurposing both buildings and building materials. Secondly, building with (part) regenerative materials next to recycled materials will push circularity.

Competition to find the most effective solutions can be promoted by organisations as essential component of tenders. Regulators can enable this innovation by acknowledging broader sustainable practices within building regulations.

To achieve this, collaboration across private and public sectors is most vital, especially during planning and financing. Our next-generation towns and cities depend on fostering pilot innovations that pave the way for scaled up versions, once the proof of concept and viability has been established. This step requires funding with a high tolerance of risk and potential early failure, with a view to learning for the future.

Mobility and Transportation

A combination of all the above is seen across circularity opportunities in mobility and transportation. Shared rentals can accelerate our shift to low emission or electric vehicles via choice architecture, limiting supply of high emission vehicles. And for instance, smart city planning with increased focus on pedestrians, cyclists and public transport, can stimulate car-free travel. This should be increasingly incentivised by both private and public sector to encourage the necessary behavioural change while we are transitioning to this new way of living.

Regarding goods transportation, we are seeing an increase in fleet electrification, and modularity of transport to create more efficient last mile solutions.

While the private sector can play a role transforming their own of fleet management, the public sector also has responsibility to ensure the adequate infrastructure across regions to enable effective deployment, for example with development of effective networks of charging points or regional public transportation hubs.

Getting the order of events right

Evolving into a more circular society may seem daunting, however there are three things that businesses and governments can start doing today:

  • What is your level or commitment to circularity, and how does it interplay with your current business strategy? Focusing on this now gives you the time to work through it, instead of being confronted with it later.
  • What does your value chain look like and how will you work in coalitions and alliances? Where do you need help from, and where can synergies be created across your ecosystem to experiment and drive change.
  • Get your enablers in place. Data transparency, measurability, reporting control is fundamental to identify opportunity and progress. 
Circular economy

We are excited to have collaborated on the ‘Global Circularity Gap Report 2023’ with Circle Economy. Circle Economy is a global impact organisation focused on empowering decision-makers from industry and government to develop and implement circular economy strategies and business models. The Circularity Gap Reporting initiative monitors circularity for nations and regions, and has been producing Global Circularity Gap Reports since 2018. Learn more.

Did you find this useful?

Thanks for your feedback

If you would like to help improve Deloitte.com further, please complete a 3-minute survey