What are the skills needed to drive the circular economy?

As more companies – big and small start to embrace concepts of the circular economy, business titles are changing. It is no longer just the sustainability experts that are focused on circularity, it’s seeping into all areas of business, and this is a very good thing. As climate targets start to become more focused on specific industries, companies are realising that they need skills to accelerate the switch to the circular economy. So what do these skills look like and how are they changing business operations?


Circular Economy Champions


Companies such as Google, Amazon and Tesla are way ahead of the rest and we can certainly learn from their example. Google has several regional circular economy leaders who are responsible for overseeing and implementing companywide strategy. It’s a role that requires good people skills as it interfaces with multiple departments and people on all levels. Aside from a solid understanding of circular economy principles it is also a role that looks at challenges from an innovation perspective. If the desired outcomes aren’t being achieved, what can the company do differently to find a better solution? Essentially, it’s creating a circular economy champions within the company that starts at a leadership lever and filters down throughout the organisation. By constantly reviewing all aspects of the business and determining how finite resources can be reused or reduced it’s moving the company closer to achieving circularity


Strategy and Implementation


Creating true circular economies is complex and requires a holistic approach and starting at a strategic level is key.  It is not just affected by internal operations, everything from supply chain to product or service delivery is a factor. This means that buyers and warehousing staff need to have the same strategic understanding of what the company is trying to achieve. Internally there needs to be a strong alignment of strategy and collaboration when it comes to implementation. Strategy leaders may need to engage with engineering and operations teams, as well as product design and marketing. The benefit of this is that as circular economy strategy is shared and implemented it has the impact of changing mindsets throughout the organisation. This means that people in production or engineering than then also add circularity to their work title.


Circular economy obstacles and skills needed to overcome them


One of the biggest challenges of implementing circular economy strategies is the fact that it requires change, and in most cases this change is a significant shift. Therefore one of the most critical skills in circularity leaders is the ability to disseminate information to employees on all levels, engage with them on a personal level and get them to buy into the ideas being presented. Some may even say that there is a sales element to it, because essentially it’s selling a new concept. Some of the most successful circularity leaders talk about it as a journey that you take people on and this is a good analogy because it describes the importance of a mindset shift. People need to understand the benefits, not just for the company, but also for themselves and the environment as a whole.  


Another key element of making the shift to circularity is strong leadership. Being bold in terms of innovation, inviting ideas and conversations around how things can be improved. Sometimes this may require taking decisive action, such as changing suppliers or the product design. Circularity won’t succeed with a half-hearted effort. There are too many things that can negate the gains. So it comes back to communication, being able to engage people, stimulate innovation and tie that into the overall strategy. In the future hopefully most employees will be able to tag circularity to their job title, but for now it’s the innovators, strategists, communicators, collaborators and strong leaders that will be driving the change.