Unilever and Forum for the Future launched Circular economy business model toolkit

Unilever and Forum for the Future have developed a toolkit that identifies 10 different circular business model archetypes.

Unilever and Forum for the Future launched Circular economy business model toolkit

Date: 25 December 2019

Unilever and Forum for the Future have developed a toolkit that identifies 10 different circular business model archetypes. For each archetype, they selected appropriate examples of business cases, from Nespresso and M&S Schwopping to Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe initiative and Ecover’s Glocal project. For each business case in the toolkit there is more detail on the potential market growth opportunities, the potential to apply the example to brands and the scalability of the case.

The ten different archetypes are:

  1. Closed loop recycling: Using recycled products as raw materials to manufacture new products
  2. Downcycling: Turning materials from one or more used products into a new product with lower quality.
  3. Upcycling: Turning materials from one or more used products into a new product,implying an improvement in quality.
  4. Industrial symbiosis: Sharing services, utilities and by-products among industries to improve resource efficiency.
  5. Collection services: Providing a service to collect old or used products.
  6. Product service system: Offers that put the focuses on offering a solution rather than a product only. This leads to a marketable set of joint products and services that are capable of fulfilling a user’s needs together.
  7. Lock-in: An offer that encourages consumers to carry on using a specific product or service on a regular base.
  8. Local loop: As production processes are re-shored back into the countries where the business has its main markets, the local manufacturing loop becomes closer and benefits clustering of industries.
  9. Modularity: A design that divides a product into smaller parts that can then be independently created, used and replaced.
  10. Personalisation: Company creates data management opportunities that enable product personalisation.

Closed- loop recycling example (downcycling)


Nike’s “Reuse-a-Shoe” programme takes worn out athletic shoes, grinds them down and uses the material to create new places to play. Surfaces made with Nike Grind cover about 632 million square feet, “which is nearly enough to cover the area of Manhattan”. The initiative invites people to apply to get a playground from the recycled material in their area. In addition to playgrounds, Nike Grind is also used to make new products like the zipper pull on the Nike Vapor jacket.

Closed- loop recycling example (upcycling)


HP's cartridge recycling program “Planet Partners” was started in 1991 and has since taken back and reprocessed more than 566 million ink and toner cartridges worldwide. It extends to more than 50 countries and covers 90 percent of cartridges sold. According to HP, thanks to the program, no part of an original HP cartridge is sent to landfill. Everything that comes back is fully recycled or goes to thermal recovery. As a result, the company has pioneered a method of recycling the plastic recovered from its cartridges and reintroducing it into the manufacturing process for new cartridges, creating a closed loop process.

Industrial symbiosis example

Timberland and Omni United

Timberland, the outdoor wear specialist, partnered with tyre manufacturer Omni United, on an innovative collaboration designed to make it easier for the material in old tyres to be repurposed as soles for footwear. Co-branded as Timberland Tires, the partership aims to reduce demand for virgin rubber from the footwear industry. Omni United also has a tyre return process designed to ensure new tyres are returned to recycling facilities. These facilities will turn old tyres into sheet rubber for use by Timberland sole manufacturers. This cross-industry collaboration shows that very different industries can find synergies to drive business and sustainability benefits.

Collection Services example

Beijing Subway Recycling Program

To encourage people to recycle more, the city of Beijing installed 34 “reverse” vending machines in subway stations that see more than 60,000 people pass through daily. When a passerby inserts an empty plastic bottle, the machine’s sensor scans it to assess the value of the plastic and spits out a public transportation credit or extra mobile phone minutes. There is also the option for people such as tourists to insert bottles without collecting rewards. The free rewards system makes recycling more appealing and demonstrates how recycling programs can increase their success by analysing consumer behaviour and defining concrete engagement points

Product-Service-System / Lock-in example

Philips - Pay per Lux

With its ‘Pay per Lux’ service, Philips is shifting from a one-time sale to a lifetime service model. The company offers customers a full long-term lighting service for offices including electricity. The idea is a cradle-to-cradle rental scheme whereby Philips retains responsibility for the performance of the lighting over a 15-year period and customers pay for the energy consumed through a quarterly fee. The solution encompasses a total service and warranty solution that fits within the 15-year timescale of the contract. Any replacements during the life of the contract will make use of the latest LED lighting technologies. This service aims to create energy and carbon savings compared to traditional office lighting installations.

Local Loop example 

Natura Ecoparque 

Natura launched the Ecoparque at the beginning of 2014 and is home to the company's new soap factory. It is intended to attract partners, leverage demand for social biodiversity ingredients and promote local entrepreneurship. Natura aims to have production in a shared industrial area in which companies form a cooperative network that permits them to exchange resources and create sustainable businesses in the Amazon. Ecoparque replaces the old Natura factory in the region and is responsible for the complete soap production process. Previously only the mass was produced in Pará and was sent to São Paulo for processing. With the transfer of production, the region is gaining a higher added value operation and driving the development of the local economy through the generation of jobs and new business opportunities. The unit will allow the company to triple soap production capacity by 2015, boost the use of Amazonian social biodiversity ingredients and reduce costs through having the production process close to the supply chain.

Modularity example

Electrical Toothbrushes

Many electrical toothbrushes come with modular heads these days. The consumer buys an initial full set consisting of a main body and toothbrush head. But instead of buying a completely new toothbrush after the head comes to the end of its lifetime, like with disposable toothbrushes, consumers only replace the head, which they can buy in multipacks. Often the heads have a premium price and are the actual and continuous revenue model behind it.

Customised Production example


Geneu is the world's first DNA personalised, anti-ageing skincare collection. The flagship store in London offers an in-store geneOnyx test which looks at your genetic predisposition to skin ageing and determines whether you are more prone to dark spots, stress or dehydration. It promises that the results will reveal the most effective ingredients for the person's specific skin type. The example shows how new data can influence the demand-supply model and customise the end product.

Unilever has already begun to put the toolkit to good use, says Gavin Warner, Director of Sustainable Business at Unilever: “We have found the Circular Business Model Toolkit immensely helpful as a tool that helps our teams visualise scenarios for better product sustainability, and are certain that they will be a valuable resource for other business leaders and decision makers as well.”

He hopes businesses will be inspired to use the toolkit to think differently about product life-cycles and experiment with more challenging design and material choices. The toolkit is free to use, downloadable and also includes an exercise which can be used in workshop and learning situations.

Source: http://recyclingportal.eu/Archive/21018


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