14 October 2022

Vodafone & Closing the Loop, an example on how to get started in circularity.

Circularity has become a vital part of strategy for business and governments. However, turning this strategy into action can be a challenge. More so, for the tech industry and especially for commercial departments. Many companies are taking steps towards improving their supply chain or the design of their products, but it’s still quite niche. The collaboration between Vodafone and a circular pioneer is an example of how circularity can become part of a service that adds value to the overall proposition, is it both reliable and easily implementable.

Circularity, an emerging concept
Although the term is still unfamiliar to most of the general public, it’s safe to say ‘circularity’ is top of mind for many institutions. Countries across the globe are setting up circular strategies – from the US to African nations – and the EU has made the term central to its ‘Green Deal’. There aren’t many corporate websites left that do not have a page dedicated to the concept, and despite the importance of doing something that is highly recognized, finding examples of scalable solutions remains difficult.

The industry’s take on circularity
It's no different for the tech industry. For an industry as complex and huge as this one – electronics are everywhere as manufacturers, their components suppliers (and their sub-suppliers) – introducing change in established processes can be a challenge, and while some steps are being taken, scalable actions are yet to be defined. 

Collaborating for (green) benefits
Next to the above-mentioned challenges, the concepts of sustainability and circularity tend to be too abstract to be linked to a company’s core products or services. An important success factor for scaling change is to prove its value not only for the environment but also for the customer.

Circularity should not be treated differently than any other USP. By using existing skills to create appealing propositions– i.e., putting commercial creativity to work for circularity – we can create green results. 

This is happening today as companies start considering waste reduction as a customer service - instead of as a ‘responsibility’ or a ‘compliance need’. Helping customers, creating value for them, bringing innovation; these are concepts that some 80% of any tech company is working on every day.  

So, how can e-waste become an opportunity? 
One concrete example is the collaboration of Vodafone Germany with Dutch ‘social enterprise’ Closing the Loop. 

Vodafone Germany makes use of e-waste compensation as part of its Circular Mobile Strategy. In Circular Mobile, Vodafone puts sustainable lifecycle management at the core of its actions. Allowing the customers to be more sustainable by choosing a more sustainable phone (e.g. via Eco rating), using it as long as possible (e.g. via repair services) and returning it when not used anymore (e.g. via trade-in services). 

E-waste compensation is an addition to that – “One for One” is a promise to its private customers for which they do not need to do anything, while still getting the most of it. For every phone a private customer buys at Vodafone Germany, one end-of-life mobile device is being recycled via Closing the Loop. This is large scale action – more than 1 million phones are brought into proper recycling per year – it is an additional value to the customer, and it is a shift in mindset in the industry.

This collaboration allows for great synergy. A certified and solid but relatively small-scale implementation of circular thinking is combined with a highly recognizable and valued consumer brand. Partnerships like this, are becoming a great example on how to get started on circularity.

Words from Joost de Kluijver, Closing the Loop Founder and CEO;

I believe this collaboration is going to have an impact. It is showing that circularity can develop from an agenda-topic to a commercial opportunity. It shows that out-of-the-box collaboration can propel both circular service providers and tech brands. It shows that there is a way to fund the proper collection of e-waste in the developing world. 
But most of all, it shows that there is a starting point for circularity. Even for (or perhaps especially so) for the tech industry. A safe and engaging starting point that’s easy to explain to customers – and to commercial colleagues. Legislation and customer pressure might be big drivers towards circularity at some point. Until then, I would advise tech brands to team up with young companies that have created commercially attractive parts of the circular puzzle.