How your business can go circular: lessons from food & agro-industries

Here’s the bottom line: we need large-scale, urgent action to tackle the climate crisis. What this means for us at Remagine is fundamentally changing the way businesses, well, do business. In this piece, we’re highlighting sustainable business model innovation based on circular economy principles by sharing insights from circularity in food.

the vicious circle of our land use

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report on Climate Change and Land revealed food production, agriculture, forestry, and other human activities related to land use account for about one third (21-37%) of anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions between 2007-2016. The effects of climate change leave our food systems increasingly vulnerable, as rising global mean surface temperature affect processes involved in desertification (water scarcity), land degradation (soil erosion, vegetation loss, wildfire, permafrost thaw), and food security (crop yield and food supply instabilities). 



This could leave us trapped in a vicious circle of needing more land and resources to meet growing demand for food. To combat this, it is largely recognised that the industry needs to:

French company PROTEME developed a sustainable, eco-responsible, and 100% edible food coating solution that extends the shelf life of fruits and vegetables by several weeks. Their innovative solution is mainly intended for farmers, market gardeners, arborists, and agricultural cooperatives 

planting the seeds for circular economy

Why circularity? It is no secret that our planet can no longer sustain linear models of consumption that have depleted resources, exploited labour, and have generated substantial waste over the decades. It’s time for businesses to abandon traditional ‘take-make-waste’ (i.e., linear; cradle-to-grave) models and find new ways to improve their supply chains and resource performance. Accordingly, businesses today are embracing a circular economy, which involves including regenerative and restorative intention and design. And here’s the kicker: circular design and processes could very well mean savings on costs associated with your production, while also fostering the potential for trailblazing innovation. So, a circular economy approach can be a win-win-win for your profit, the planet, and the people who inhabit it.

As described by The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s must-read report, the principles of circular economy are to:

MUSHLABS

uses mushroom mycelium (think the roots of mushrooms) as a raw ingredient for meat alternative products. They use circular processes by feeding the mycelium with sidestreams (high-potential waste and by-products) of agro- and food industries for the mycelial cells to ferment and multiply before serving as the main raw ingredient to all their products.

The rotten side of food industry waste

Concerns with the food industry don’t stop at land and distribution either, as much of the food we produce is left uneaten. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimated that around one third of the world’s food was lost or wasted every year, where food loss refers to the decrease in the quantity or quality of food as food is discarded, incinerated, or otherwise disposed of. Seeds, water, energy, land, fertilizer, hours of labour, and financial capital are needlessly wasted while producing GHG emissions at every step, only for food in the landfill to release harmful methane. In fact, food waste alone is responsible for roughly 8 percent of global emissions.



Project Drawdawn goes into greater detail about how this happens. In lower income countries, wastage is generally unintentional and occurs earlier in the supply chain as food rots on the farm or during storage and distribution. In higher income countries, willful food waste occurs predominantly later in the supply chain as consumers and retailers reject foods (i.e., “ugly” foods) or simply order, buy, and serve too much. Improving infrastructure earlier in the supply chain and interventions at the retailer and consumer level can make all the difference in limiting climate effects while addressing rising demands for food.

There are a number of design approaches

that help improve product and operational outcomes using circular economy principles. These sources of value creation are depicted below, as described by the report:

Power of the inner circle:

Optimising products such that fewer changes are needed for its reuse, refurbishment, and remanufacturing. This leads to a faster return to use and savings on material, labour, energy, and other associated costs as a result.

Power of circling longer:

Maximising the number of consecutive cycles and/or the time in each cycle of a product or components for reuse, remanufacturing. or recycling.

Power of cascaded use:

Diversifying reuse across the value chain. For example, food waste along the value chain is avoided by being used to create products, such as unsellable apples into apple sauce and as nutrients or energy 
(e.g., biogas) sources.

Power of pure circles:

Uncontaminated material streams increase collection and redistribution efficiency while maintaining quality. This extends product longevity and increases material productivity.

Ultimately, circular economy principles require going beyond an eco-efficiency mindset, which focuses on minimising and delaying cradle-to-grave material flows, to one of eco-effectiveness. Eco-effectiveness is concerned with transforming products and material flows to create cycles where materials can be used over and over again at a high level of quality. And, as we’ve shown, this can be good for business. 



We hope learning about circular economy approaches, its benefits for your business, and some circular examples in action have left you feeling inspired! If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out more examples of sustainable agro- and food companies throughout the “food chain”.

ALPAKAS

offers a food delivery alternative that offers quality products, is free of single-use plastics, and is delivered sustainably. Their products are mainly transferred in jars, thus ensuring certain components in their value chain are circling longer, before being delivered in paper bags with their e-cargo bikes that are exclusively charged with green electricity.