Accenture publication examines circular economy opportunities

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Consulting firm Accenture Strategy foresees impact of up to $4.5 trillion.

Ireland-based Accenture Strategy has released a 360-page book titled “The Circular Economy Handbook: Realizing the Circular Advantage,” which the firm says “explores the $4.5 trillion economic value that is at stake, and how organizations today can take bigger, bolder, more impactful steps in the circular economy.” The book, co-authored by Peter Lacy, Jessica Long and Wesley Spindler, features forewords by several people associated with the circular economy movement, including William McDonough and Ellen MacArthur. The book’s co-authors contend that “with the circular economy we have an unprecedented opportunity to [create] financial and economic value for business and society. In fact, not only can business step up to [environmental-related] obstacles and help reshape our economic system, our research shows the value at stake is massive: $4.5 trillion of upside, even at conservative estimates.” Recycling, or considering discarded materials as resources rather than waste, is a key component of that added value, say the Accenture researchers. “In essence, companies must reject the ‘take, make, waste’ approach in favor of keeping products and resources in use for as long as possible and, at end of use, cycling (or ‘looping’) their components and materials back into the system in zero-waste value chains,” they write. The book’s chapters examine a variety of sub-topics, including renewable energy, reverse logistics and design-for-recycling, about which the authors write, “Until recently, product designs have typically failed to consider end-of-use scenarios as a key input. Since design sits at the start of a product’s life cycle—and circularity, for many, has focused on end of use—it has been a barrier, preventing the efficient use of products and hindering the recovery of their embedded materials at high quality.” Among recycling-related companies mentioned as “technology amplifiers” is Denver-based AMP Robotics. The equipment company is cited by the authors for “using AI [artificial intelligence] and robotics to fundamentally change the cost of recycling.” According to the authors, “AMP has successfully developed a new kind of sorting technology for recycling facilities: the Cortex robot. It is capable of automating the separation of commodities with practically no retrofit or change to existing operations. Cortex robots are powered by Neuron—AI that perceives material in the dirty, commingled conditions found in facilities today.” As part of their conclusion, the co-authors write, “A shift to the circular economy is a powerful opportunity for business to innovate and create new markets while also reducing harmful environmental impacts and improving socioeconomic outcomes. When adopted strategically, the circular economy can create significant financial and economic value for business and society. This is what we call the circular advantage.” By Brian Taylor – February 5, 2020