How Cleaning Your Closets Can Change Your Culture

For the past few weeks, I’ve been transitioning our children’s playroom to a room for teens. Our family challenge was to try and do it without buying anything new and coming out economically even, spending no more than we were able to generate by selling things stored away in the closets. The result is that I’ve been a very active user of some tools of the circular economy: namely, Goodwill, Craigslist and for the first time, Facebook Marketplace.

If you aren’t familiar with the term circular economy, it’s an economic system that designs out waste and pollution at the start, keeps materials and products in use, and regenerates natural resources. It stands in stark contrast to the traditional industrial model of “take, make, dispose.” Anytime you avoid disposing something that could be re-used or repaired, you are participating in one component of the circular economy.

I’ve become a big fan of Facebook Marketplace because it’s so much easier and often more fun to connect and communicate with the buyer before and after. Our much-loved Melissa and Doug grocery store is now delighting kindergarteners at a charter school. A broken storage cabinet went to a Brazilian carpenter, who proudly sent a photo of the cabinet totally refurbished and beautiful. Seeing what we no longer need really benefit someone else feels good, which provides motivation to find more to pass on. Buying previously-owned versus new feels both economically and environmentally just smarter and better.

As a leader, circularity is going to be a key concept that you will want your team to understand. Companies that employ circular-thinking will be more innovative, more efficient, and more resilient in the future. But how do you create a culture of circularity? In our work at WeSpire, we know that active participation is one of the best ways to understand a new concept. So here are three ideas to bring the “reuse and repair” part of circularity to life. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Set up a simple way for employees to “swap” work and personal items. This is a great way to turn a closets clean-out into a bonding activity!
  2. Conduct a Dumpster Dive to see what items in your waste stream could be reused, repaired or recycled. Burt’s Bees saved $25,000 a year after doing one such event.
  3. If you sell or produce physical products, conduct in-home customer observation sessions to figure out better ways to reuse, repair, compost or recycle your packaging and product. Consider using Yerdle to set up a Recommerce initiative. Check out the new LOOP circular delivery initiative, an in-home refill service for some of people’s favorite brands and products including shampoo, orange juice and ice cream.

These activities are simple, but powerful ways to start to think in a circular way, which if you don’t, your customer may begin to force. At last count, 41,000 people have signed a petition asking Colgate to remove boxes from toothpaste.

But my primary suggestion is to participate yourself. Find something that you might have sitting in your closets that someone else could use. Instead of buying new, take a quick look to see if what you need is available refurbished or previously owned. You may find that thinking in a circular way makes you healthier, wealthier, and wiser. But if nothing else, your closets will be just a little cleaner.

Quote of the Week: “I’m not running for sainthood. I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out.”

Paul Newman

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