product management in the circular economy

Four Challenges Facing Product Managers Tackling CE100 Initiatives

August 11th, 2016

Increasing after-life use of products is increasingly a priority for product and packaging managers seeking to apply the principals of the Circular Economy and concepts embodied in the New Plastics Economy in order to promote resource conservation and optimize existing resource value.  

Over the past two years, Antea Group has had the opportunity to work directly with a number of our clients and with the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council  to explore and develop solutions to enable after-life use of products and packaging.

Our personal experience and insights on the challenges and key success factors related to sustainable, circular solutions were reinforced at a recent GEMI conference, where we presented our insights and listened to others tell their stories on the challenges of keeping their circular solutions in place.

What Are the Challenges in Circular Product Design?

We’ve narrowed in on four main challenges that need to be overcome to create a successful circular solution, which we believe apply across all industries, and not just healthcare plastics:

  1. Working to optimize existing recycling systems can be very frustrating due to the number of stakeholders, each with their own business models, that need to be engaged. This is further complicated by ever changing market and business dynamics inherent to the stakeholders across the complete value chain.
  2. Introduction of new product and packaging schemes are occurring faster and faster, and yet remain disconnected from end-of-life uses. Lack of product and packaging material standards and current coordination across supply chain participants represents a serious challenge in all sectors.
  3. Developing circular solutions is hard work--the devil is in the details. Companies focus on short term results, which often restrict their ability to invest in the long haul. This reduces organizational stamina, which is needed to endure the many bumps in the road yet to come.
  4. It’s vital to understand the economics involved from each stakeholder’s perspective in the supply chain. I have seen firsthand that when the economics work the environmental and social benefits last.

What are Some Possible Solutions?

In the face of these four challenges, there are things you can do proactively to minimize their impact and/or eliminate their occurrence altogether. As you look to enable after-life use of your products and packaging consider the following:

  1. Move from an attitude of recycling system optimization to systematic supply chain development. Consider what might be possible, and what would be optimal. Might it be advantageous for the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and the after-life user to directly engage and consider solutions that incentivize all parties involved?
  2. Create a non-competitive forum to convene all the stakeholders needed to build and operate the circular solution. Example groups that Antea Group is involved in include the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable and HPRC.
  3. Consider the economics.Know the “the tipping” points for all stakeholders engaged in the new economy you are developing.
  4. Feed the fever, starve the cold.Look for champions, companies and individuals that are committed for the long-haul, those willing to make the investment required to withstand and overcome the many bumps in the road as you work to establish and maintain the new supply chain.

Knowledge is Power

Working towards a circular economy is highly complex, but by knowing what challenges you might face and how to approach them, product managers can be prepared and have a much greater chance of success.

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