The role of retail in the circular economy

25. March 2020, Editorial

The idea of the circular economy has been around for a while now. Conserving resources, eco-friendly business practices and a conscious approach to waste management are all increasingly part of everyday – and corporate – life. The concept has the full backing of the EU Commission and is already being celebrated as the business model of the future. But what is behind it all and just how sustainable is this approach?


Earth Overshoot Day
protecting the environment

Circular economy does the rounds

Don’t worry, we’re not about to give you a lecture on economics.
But the topic of the circular economy affects us all. We are increasingly seeing that society is focusing more and more closely on mindfulness (meditation), protecting the environment (Fridays for Future) and minimalism (Mari Kondo). And all of this leads neatly to the idea of the circular economy.

At its heart, the idea is about a regenerating, global supply and retail chain that functions without allowing untrammelled consumption of finite resources to continue. This fits in with the zeitgeist, because humanity is using up far more resources than it has at its disposal. Each year the Global Footprint Network calculates Earth Overshoot Day. This day is coming earlier all the time as humanity continues to consume more natural resources each year than the planet can sustain. For Austria, Earth Overshoot Day is set to arrive on 8 April,
after which point we go “overdrawn”.

Clearly this cannot go on for long without consequence, so other approaches, such as the circular economy, matter. Looking at the bigger picture of the circular economy, Austria performs s urprisingly poorly: just 9% of materials consumed in the Austrian economy have been used before. There is still a long way to go before Austria can claim to have a circular economy. But what can be done? Is this all just another flash in the pan that people are seizing on for greenwashing purposes? How can this concept target the value chain to start making our everyday lives less resource-intensive?


Over the last few years our behaviour as consumers has changed a lot.
Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important and sought-after aspect of our everyday lives. And this is where retail can make a difference. The idea of a circular economy is particularly interesting when it comes to food, where experts have been paying increasing attention to concepts designed to cut packaging and avoid waste.

One popular approach that can be integrated into everyday life is known as the 3 Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle.

By following this simple formula, consumer goods and foodstuffs can easily be saved from going to waste. We are already putting a number of concepts into practice that are covered by the idea of the circular economy without even realising it.

Recycling has really taken hold in recent years as a key environmental measure and is now as much a part of our lives as saying grace before a meal once was. Germany leads the way in Europe with 66% of household  refuse recycled, and Austria is hot on its heels with 58% Last year the Germans introduced a new packaging law mandating even greater rates of recycling. So there is a lot going on. And the idea of packaging-free shopping is striking a welcome chord with consumers. A representative survey conducted by PwC in Germany discovered that the majority of consumers felt that the sustainability of packaging was important.

It is not just question of recycling though, as people’s thoughts also turn to the best way to give objects a new lease of life. Smaller measures can support the circular economy, allowing us all to do our bit. The music industry provides one such example: since the advent of Spotify, Deezer and other services, CDs have started to become obsolete, which is helping to cut the amount of packaging by default.

The much-vaunted sharing economy, which is reaching all parts of the society we live in, fits in with this sense of circularity too. By sharing services and products, their useful lives can be increased. The concept of collective consumption, which Generation Y in particular are the standard bearers for, with things like carsharing and second-hand stores, shows us all the way forward. Many of the products that we use in our everyday lives have much too short a useful life, with consumers more than happy to replace them with newer models.  Smartphones and cars are a case in point. The latter have a useful life that averages just eight years, and in many cases they are scrapped before their time. On average, five-seater cars are only used by one-and-a-half people. This is where companies like Uber come into the equation, partially solving this issue with their ride sharing and driver services.


So you can see that integrating the circular economy into our everyday lives is relatively easy, without us even realising that we are doing our bit.

The future is circular

The advantages of all of this are not just environmental – business also stands to benefit from the circular economy.
The measures that have been implemented to cut packaging waste in the long term and lessen the impact on the environment have already resulted in lower costs for consumers as the amount of material used falls accordingly. The concept of the circular economy also holds promise for the service sector, as it can foster local job growth. The European Commission is estimating that successful implementation of the circular economy throughout the EU by 2030 will deliver savings in the region of EUR 600m and create around two million new jobs.


The idea behind the circular economy is more than just a trend. Through the various measures that are already anchored in our day-to-day lives alone, the concept has the power to bring about a paradigm shift that brings major economic, social and environmental opportunities in its wake.

Similar Articles

Podcast hype

Flash in the pan or media-landscape revolution?


CITY23 -

The new soundtrack for Vienna

Urban, young and at least one song ahead of its time.


Where your personal wellbeing takes centre stage!

A podcast that address a wide range of of health questions produced by RADIO MAX


Like a phoenix from the ashes: the shopping centre of the future