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Circular Economy Goes Mainstream
November 10, 2020
| Priscilla Torres

North America will face new regulations as the circular economy goes mainstream. Three women are bridging the gap between the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Carrie Mae George – Everledger’s VP & Head of Sustainability & Impact

Carrie Mae George is an expert on bringing sustainability actions, public and governmental policy, & overall corporate social responsibility to corporations around the world. 

With 15 years of diverse involvements including a fellowship in the U.S. Department of State, collaborations with a host of enterprises and government and non-profit organizations where she mapped out supply chains and developed social and environmental programs for positive impact in 30 countries — Carrie’s accomplishments include the design and launch of Apple’s first Responsible Sourcing of materials Code and Standards. Carrie and her team have received awards from reputable environmental protection organizations such as Greenpeace and Global Witness.

As the VP & Head of Sustainability & Impact at Everledger, Carrie steers the sustainability applications across all of their verticals, “from diamonds and gems to batteries and wine.” 

With a focus on assessing how and where efficiency can be augmented, narrowing administrative hindrances, and improving supply chain data to surpass basic compliances. Everledger is an independent technology company that helps businesses optimize and convene asset information utilizing an ensemble of proven technology, inclusive of blockchain, AI, and loT. 

These tools provide greater transparency, clarity, and confidence in the marketplace by digitally streamlining compliance processes that help track the lifecycle of any component efficiently and accurately. 

On a global scale Everledger is supporting the livelihoods of small-scale artisanal miners and producers with emerging technologies and partnerships set up to support flexible, resilient, and sustainable communities across the globe — empowering them with tools to help them manage and pilot legitimate supply chains while being financially rewarded. 

Tracking technologies are capable of facilitating the optimization of assets by enabling an efficient and evolving life cycle for all of its components. The benefit of tracking multiple elements of a device can provide insights to help organizations strategically plan for the next phase of a product and prolong its lifetime.

The key technologies Carrie feels are helping companies efficiently track the lifecycle of products from concept to consumer “includes machine vision for image recognition of the product and combining old identification numbers, bar codes with new tracking techniques using NFC or QR codes.” 

These are the tools that provide increased levels of transparency and accountability across the supply chain, tailored to help facilitate a successful product evolution aimed at getting the most out of a product. According to a report from the World Economic Forum only 20% of global e-waste gets recycled, with the outstanding 80% either getting incinerated or sent to landfills. 

In return, leaving a path of toxic waste and disregard for valuable minerals and metals whose life can be prolonged by being reintroduced into the supply chain, while diminishing the demand for virgin materials. 

Recent findings from a Fairphone case study used to test the effectiveness of tracking assets and their role within the value chain confirmed that take back programs can successfully prolong the commercial validity of products, and with it provides opportunities and benefits for companies. The study was conducted by the Community of Practice (CoP) that includes; Circle Economy, Fairphone, and stakeholders like Everledger. 

OEMs can strategically use reward programs to improve recycling and tracking capabilities. “It is necessary to combine technologies to ensure the efficient reuse of materials. For example, Everledger has developed the Reward to Recycle feature in order to embed and expand product return, collection and recycling in normal retailer-consumer behavior”. 

Tracking technologies can support enterprises with infrastructures that facilitate better understanding of their assets and enable efficient optimization. “Providing periodic reminders of when and where to get maintenance on their product and ultimately where to recycle it when it has reached its end of life help consumers support these systems.” 

With the rising warnings of natural resource scarcities and uncertain future, recycling can ensure organizations and government branches will be equipped with available supplies of critical natural resources. A strategy that is mutually beneficial for businesses’ financial resilience and environment conservation.

The future product chain supply seems optimistic and full of revolutionary changes designed to speed up the transition from a linear model to a successful, scalable, circular version that can adapt to all market segments.

Deborah Dull – GE Digital’s Principal Manufacturing Product Manager

Deborah Dull’s multifaceted trajectory is rooted in the mission of making the supply chain better and circular. Using shared and applied technologies aimed at accelerating the transition. “We are the guardian angels of inventory and in a circular economy, everything is inventory that needs to be tracked, managed, cared for, allocated, etc.”
GE Digital’s mission is to provide simplicity, speed, and scale to their customers’ digital transformation with software that helps them operate better, analyze, and optimize their business. 

Being a leading company driven by people, process, and proven technology — GE Digital was built purposely for the future and is focused on transforming how the industry solves its toughest challenges around industrial data. GE Digital is a subsidiary of the Seattle based American multinational conglomerate corporation General Electric. 

The freedom to explore the world for passion and work, combined with her drive to learn about and break bread with global communities makes Deborah a circular nomad. 

“Everyone engages in an economy of some sort; often frontier markets are showcasing circular and sharing economies while more mature markets are hooked on the linear economy.” 

Deborah is the founder of ‘The Circular Supply Chain Network,’ a growing community of supply chain practitioners and thought leaders with circularity as their common goal. 

Recently acting as the Health Supply Chains Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Deborah successfully used technology to integrate supply chains in emerging markets into industry 4.0 – the ongoing automation of conventional manufacturing and industrial approach through the implementation of smart technology. 

Companies looking to embark on the circularity transformation can promote seamless transitioning by aligning their circularity goals with existing goals, be they market share, revenue, or brand related. 

She advises that companies must be clear of their needs and how circularity can be a strategy to help them reach their overall objectives. 

“I see a lot about technical solutions and start-ups. However, we really need to look at our processes and our measurements before we apply technology.”

The supply chain can help accelerate the transition to a circular economy in small and global organizations by simply following the model of reuse, reduce, and recycle. The intention is to use materials and assets over and over again. 

A healthy supply chain will be the key source to help organizations identify, keep track of their inventories, and provide them with the insight to make decisions that will prevent or help them repurpose waste. An efficient supply chain should be able to facilitate resources and point of references from where to source or how to transform materials into new alternatives within the local market. 

“Ultimately, if all supply chains only used secondary (or regenerative) materials/ resources – we’d be in a circular economy. It’s more complicated than that – but in many ways, it’s this simple.”

The three pillars of the circular economy are set around designing waste out, circulating materials and resources, and regenerating natural systems. Principles that mirror the Lean Kaizen approach of a continuous work in progress status with ongoing improvements meant to narrow down the product’s components to only its essentials.

For the business model to be successful, supply chains must be prepared and capable to provide services at scale using new solutions. “The underlying premise behind the circular economy is that businesses that are strategically anchored in these three principles will be profitable. Then we start getting into where technology can help: how do we predict waste across a regional economy? If we’re meant to use this waste as inputs, we need to know a lot about it: the location, quality, quantity, etc. We need to prepare to accept dynamic materials into our supply chains!”

Even circular and sustainably focused companies are not exempt from the unbalanced gender representation in leadership. The lack of female representation on corporate boards is perplexing given all the proven statistics showing how board diversity is linked to a 35.1% higher return on equity and a 34% higher total average return to shareholders than companies with less female leadership. 

“It makes financial sense to include more women – in any leadership role. Without it, we are constraining our own financial success. Especially these days, organizations are looking for ways to survive. Nearly everyone has had to change their business model or operating strategy. 

Now, as organizations are disrupted, it is a great time to make additional change – towards circularity, and towards diversity – as these changes will make organizations stronger and more financially viable.” 

Deborah’s advice to female leaders determined to introduce sustainable practices into their organization is “to find male allies. I find it’s often most efficient to have POWER speak truth to power. And “lead with financials. Circular initiatives should make you more money (if not, they aren’t truly circular initiatives- they are CSR). More women in leadership will make you more money.”

Some of the new developments and ideas Deborah is excited to explore lies in the future of food. “by 2050, 80% of the world’s population will live in cities. As we think about the future of the supply chains that support the foundation of society (food is a big one!) – this shift in food systems will have an impact on us and a very exciting one.”

Margaret Durenberger – Twin Cities Subsection of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration (SME) board’s Vice-Chair

Margaret Durenberger is a geologist and ‘pro-mining Global-environmentalist’ with over 20 years of experience and a personal mission of making the mining industry sustainable and ethical. 

SME Twin Cities Subsection works to increase awareness of responsible mining, support the academic development of the next generation of industry professionals, and strengthen the advancement of the industry.

Margaret is an expert in mine data, quality control, and quality assurance of base and precious metal mineral exploration — passionately advocating for collaborative dialogues geared towards the advancement of responsible minerals mining and environmental protection. 

Her expertise in mineral exploration, geochemical, geotechnical disciplines, and associated environmental issues spans the globe, from Australia to America — making her a valuable member to help cultivate and spearhead solutions in the metals and mining sector involving land conservation, waste management, recycling, and mining practices that consider the people and the environment‘s wellbeing. 

The urgency for climate action has been rapidly increasing and echoed throughout the world by scientists and environmental officials. The Living Planet report estimates that humans are consuming 30% beyond the planetary boundaries earth can replenish each year leading to deforestation, soil degradation, water, and air pollution, and other environmental, social, and economic disruptions. 

Indigenous communities amongst impoverished communities in rural and urban areas throughout the world are the most vulnerable to these adversaries. The World Resources Institute states that over 20% of the Amazon’s indigenous lands are endangered including the pollution of at least 30 Amazonian rivers due to overlapping and erosion caused by illegal and legal mining.

This is seemingly an unavoidable symptom of corruption where “international pressure needs to be increased. These are issues that affect the entire world, but minerals are distributed locally, and as a consequence, the country that has those minerals are in control.” 

If the consumption rate of natural resources continues its current pattern, the pool of earth’s resources will be soon depleted. It’s expected that a decade from now an equivalent of two planet earth will be needed to sustain the growing population.

In 2018 The United States ‘Department of the Interior’ released a list of 35 minerals essential to the nation’s economic and national security. The list includes aluminum, utilized in nearly all segments of the economy, Antimony used for batteries and flame retardants, & Helium used for MRIs, lifting agents, and research.

Reducing dependency on foreign at-risk mineral suppliers from countries with “weak governance and questionable reliability.” is a top priority for government officials. 

Margaret suggests “A vigorous program of Recycling and search for elements to substitute for those in short supply should be an essential element of the National Strategy.” 

The mining industry is receptive to the idea of recycling and adopting other environmental focused practices in the sector. A reduction of imports can be achieved with recycling, but the efforts have been stalled due to the pandemic.

The transition to natural renewable energy is inevitable for a successful shift to a circular and sustainable model. “Today, companies must now consider the ‘triple bottom line’: social acceptance, community investment, then profit.”

The switch to renewable energy is happening at Minnesota Power, one of Minnesota’s largest power companies has successfully implemented a renewable energy program spearheaded by Margaret. It is operating at around 35-40% rapidly reaching their 50% milestone. 

Aside from the environmental factor, the cost savings from transitioning are significantly outperforming taconite, which requires “20% of all the electrical power used in Minnesota” just to get it pulverized. 

Technological advances in the industry are seen as a hope for some and fear for others. “There is always resistance to innovation. It’s a fundamental part of society – wherever you change a technology, there are always winners and losers.” But the industry is receptive to evolving with the help of sustainable methods and automation. 

Known for its ‘Fast Follower’ approach to technology and innovations, the mining industry has been invested in implementing autonomous vehicles. These allow mining operations to be conducted without the need of standard driver-operated vehicles. Increasing human safety and mining efficiency. 

Drones are another complementary component becoming staple devices for mining sites. According to Margaret, other fields of study with great potential needing “significant R & D ” include Geothermal Energy.
A renewable, low emissions resource capable of supplying reliable power due to the vast amount of thermal energy stored in the nucleus of the Earth. “Some mines are moving towards mineral extraction directly via borehole”, the teleoperation method of extracting mineral resources conducted via terrain surfaces, open pits, underground mines, or through pre-drilled boreholes. 

“Technology of drilling deep holes is vital to mining. Minerals are distributed in the lithosphere –which extends more than 20 miles down – under land and water (70% underwater) – but we currently only mine, at the most, a couple of miles.” 

Geothermal practice dates back to over 10,000 years when ancient civilizations relied on it for hot spring baths. The integration of geothermal can help lower energy consumption, avoid mineral corrosion caused by high temperature water with dissolving minerals and propel energy alternatives — able to sustain a healthy economy and national security protection.

The CCS method of capturing and storing carbon underground is a process the mining industry can achieve. A benefit of CCS is that it allows for the continued use of oil and gas minus its carbon dioxide emissions. It also prevents carbon emissions from releasing into the atmosphere — a step towards slowing down global warming. 

But quantitative results can only be achieved with the financial support of the government, in a similar way the wind and solar energy sectors gained traction and momentum after receiving support from the government. 

Margaret’s advice to female leaders looking to rally support around sustainability and circular initiatives within their organization is to “always, follow the money. More than ever, banking and investment companies must put pressure on boards to increase their diversity. The funders drive the policy. There are legislative and budget committees. The power is always in the budget committee.”


Priscilla Torres
Priscilla Torres
Fashion Designer/ Circular Economy Advocate Priscilla is a multi-skilled Fashion Designer and a circular economy advocate with 10+ years of cross-functional experience in apparel design, product life cycle management, merchandising, and marketing. Influenced by artisanal heritage, nature, contemporary and historical references.