Trailblazing brands making the circular business model a reality


October 17, 2023

A look at the brands and manufacturers leading the transition to a circular business model.

Understanding the full potential of product data in shaping a sustainable future is more crucial than ever. A circular model, where every product’s end is a new beginning, is not just an ideal—it’s an achievable reality. This vision is vividly captured in our ebook, The Circular Product Journey: Powering a Sustainable, Data-Driven Future with the inriver PIM.

Within it, inriver’s leading thinkers alongside innovative clients showcase practical examples of how Product Information Management (PIM) and product data governance are already driving sustainable practices across various industries. The ability to track and manage product information across every stage of a product’s lifecycle—starting from its initial design, through manufacturing and distribution, and extending to its arrival in customer hands and beyond—is revolutionizing how businesses approach sustainability.

This comprehensive management of product data not only enhances the visibility and control over each product’s journey but also enables brands to repurpose, reuse, and recycle components, thus integrating them back into the production cycle. These practices are critical for businesses committed to reducing their environmental footprint while maximizing the value of their products.

Are your products ready to go circular?

Read the latest inriver ebook “The Circular Product Journey” to find out.

The Pathways to Circularity

Circularity is not a one-size-fits-all concept. It encompasses diverse strategies tailored to leverage the unique strengths and opportunities of each business. Let’s explore three transformative strategies that are shaping the future of circular business models:

  1. Retaining Product Ownership: This strategy revolutionizes the traditional buy-and-own model by having businesses retain ownership of their products, thereby ensuring their return and reuse. Companies like Xerox have pioneered this model, leasing products to customers and reclaiming them for refurbishment or recycling, thus maintaining control over the product life cycle.
  2. Product Life Extension: Durability is at the heart of this strategy. By designing products that last longer and can be easily repaired or upgraded, businesses can significantly reduce waste and encourage a culture of longevity. Patagonia’s dedication to creating durable outdoor clothing, that can be repaired and resold, exemplifies this approach.
  3. Design for Recycling: This forward-thinking strategy involves redesigning products and processes to ensure materials can be recovered and recycled at the end of the product’s life. Adidas, in collaboration with Parley for the Oceans, has set a benchmark by using recycled ocean plastic to manufacture shoes and apparel, thereby closing the loop in their product cycle.

Proudly sharing the circular progress of inriver customers 

Rome was not built in a day, nor is a circular economy built overnight. However, there are achievable steps that inriver clients and the most admired brands across the globe are taking to have the right technology and processes in place to track product data in a way that empowers true circular decision-making. Below are some stories to inspire the next wave of business leaders to move towards a circular and sustainable world.

AkzoNobel, a prominent paint and coatings brand, has emerged as a trailblazer in establishing a robust data infrastructure tailored to meet stringent local regulatory requirements throughout their material sourcing phase. This initiative is a key part of their business strategy to integrate circular principles into their operations. Coop, a retail cooperative that operates grocery stores, uses the inriver PIM solution to provide consumers with valuable insights into the carbon footprint associated with each of their products, aligning with their commitment to environmental transparency and circular practices.

Global wind turbine manufacturer Vestas focuses on optimizing the after-sales phase by utilizing PIM to efficiently transport specific materials needed to maintain their machinery. Lighting manufacturer SATCO | NUVO employs PIM to manage regulatory demands, ensuring compliance and product quality. Lastly, Lantmännen emphasizes a data-driven product journey within their circular business model. The brand uses inriver PIM to fulfill its brand promise of sustainability from “field to fork,” as articulated by Håkan Jägbrink. These diverse companies exemplify how inriver’s PIM solution supports circular decision-making by addressing unique sustainability and regulatory challenges in their respective industries, showcasing a commitment to developing circular products.

Circular moves on a global scale: 7 brands to watch 

It’s inspiring to observe the initiatives undertaken by some of the world’s leading consumer brands towards embracing a circular economy. By now you have seen inriver’s passion for sustainability, circularity, and the role technology plays in making these concepts a reality. EngagementsIn speaking with customers, partners, policymakers, and other business leaders often reference these real-world examples of how brands are rising to the challenge of incorporating circular principles into their business strategy and fostering business model innovation.

  1. Patagonia’s “Worn Wear” Program: The outdoor apparel brand collects and analyzes product data to promote clothing reuse and repair. Their “Worn Wear” online platform lets customers buy, sell, and trade used Patagonia products, extending garment lifecycles and reducing waste. 
  1. IKEA’s Furniture Take-Back Program: The furniture giant utilizes product data to identify end-of-life furniture. Through their take-back program, customers can return old furniture for refurbishing, recycling, or resale, reducing the environmental impact of disposal. 
  1. Adidas’s “Futurecraft Loop” Sneakers: The footwear trailblazer introduced “Futurecraft Loop” sneakers, fully recyclable with customer data on worn-out pairs. These sneakers are melted down to create new ones, reducing waste and reliance on virgin materials. 
  1. H&M’s Garment Collecting Initiative: H&M gathers product data to improve design and production based on returns and unsold items. They also offer a garment collection initiative where customers drop off old clothing at stores for recycling, though challenges like smart-tag misuse highlight the need for better data governance. 
  1. Levi’s Water<Less™ Technology: Levi’s uses data to reduce water usage in denim production via Water<Less™ technology, highlighting the importance of considering multiple product attributes, especially with the impending European Union’s Digital Product Passport (DPP) rollout. 
  1. Coca-Cola’s Sustainable Packaging: Coca-Cola employs data to track the environmental impact of packaging. They strive to use more recycled materials in PET plastic bottles, introduce plant-based bottles, and improve recycling infrastructure, in line with potential European DPP requirements. 
  1. Nestlé’s Sustainable Cocoa Sourcing: Nestlé uses data to ensure sustainable cocoa sourcing, working with cocoa farmers to reduce deforestation and improve livelihoods in cocoa-producing communities, emphasizing the multifaceted nature of product attributes. 

Operationalizing Circular Business Models

The transition to a circular economy requires more than just adopting new business models; it necessitates a paradigm shift in how businesses view value creation and consumer relationships. Implementing product-service systems, focusing on long-life designs, and encouraging sufficiency are key strategies that help reduce consumption and waste while fostering a sustainable business culture.

The Role of Industrial Symbiosis in Circular Economy

Industrial symbiosis exemplifies the potential for businesses to enhance resource efficiency through collaboration. By utilizing the by-products of one process as the raw materials for another, companies can create a more sustainable ecosystem that benefits all participants.

Tools for Transition

Adopting circular business models is a complex but rewarding journey. To aid in this transition, numerous tools and resources are available. From stakeholder mapping to building effective partnerships and accessing circular design guides, these resources provide valuable insights and practical steps for businesses ready to embrace circularity.

It starts with data, intention, and a little courage 

As you’ve seen through the examples in this post, there is no one-size-fits-all or perfect “step one” to build a circular business model that is resilient to the many changes our world faces. What’s important is that we all start somewhere. At inriver, we continually expand and innovate our product to be the technology answer to how product data can inform circular decision-making. The brands highlighted today have made the conscious choice to invest in sustainable practices, technology, and processes. If you speak with any of these business leaders, they will share that the decision to dive in and pursue a data-driven sustainable strategy requires a small dose of courage. But that’s no reason not to start.  

want to see the inriver PIM in action?

Schedule a personalized, guided demo with an inriver expert today to see how the inriver PIM can get more value from your product information.

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frequently asked questions

how does PIM facilitate a circular economy?

PIM plays a crucial role in circular business models by managing the lifecycle of product data, which supports decisions around recycling, repurposing, and using sustainable materials, reducing waste and promoting sustainability.

what are the key challenges in transitioning to a circular business model?

Key challenges include the initial investment required for technology and process changes, developing a sustainable supply chain, and changing consumer perceptions to value reused or recycled products.

what’s the first step towards a circular business model?

Beginning with a commitment to product data management and sustainability, leveraging technology like PIM, and embracing innovation are key steps toward building a circular business model.

how do circular business models impact product pricing?

While transitioning to circular models may initially increase costs due to investment in sustainable practices, it can lead to long-term savings and potentially lower product prices through efficient resource use and waste reduction.