Circular Supply Chain: Creating Sustainable and Efficient Operations

In recent years, there has been an increased focus on sustainability and environmental impact in supply chain operations. One concept that gained significant attention is the circular supply chain, which focuses on reducing waste and optimizing resource utilization, such as reuse and recycling. This approach leads to more efficient and sustainable operations, benefiting both the environment and the bottom line.

What is a Circular Supply Chain?

A circular supply chain is a system where products, components, and materials are used and reused in a closed-loop approach. This model aims to reduce waste and increase resource efficiency by extending the lifespan of products, reducing the need for raw materials, and minimizing the environmental impact. An example is a company that takes back used products, refurbishes them and resells them rather than disposing of them and sourcing new materials.

Circular vs. Closed Loop Supply Chain

While "circular" and "closed loop" are often used interchangeably, there is a subtle difference between the two concepts. A closed-loop supply chain focuses on minimizing waste and recycling materials within the chain. In contrast, circular extends beyond the chain to encompass the entire product lifecycle, from design to end-of-life disposal.


linear supply chain

The opposite of a circular supply chain is a linear supply chain. The raw materials are sourced, produced, used, and discarded. While most companies currently operate their supply chain as a linear flow of goods, recycling companies and second-hand dealers and shops take their linear products and try to reuse them. It is crucial to learn that having a linear organization doesn't mean that your product is also used linearly.

Creating a Circular Supply Chain

Creating it requires a holistic approach that involves all stakeholders, including suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and customers. The process involves four key steps:

  1. Design for Sustainability: The first step is to design products with sustainability in mind, considering the entire product lifecycle and its environmental impact.

  2. Optimize Resource Utilization: The next step is to optimize resource utilization by reducing waste and maximizing renewable sources.

  3. Implement Reverse Logistics: The third step is reverse logistics, where products are collected and returned to the supply chain for refurbishment, remanufacturing, or recycling.

  4. Foster Collaboration: Finally, creating a circular supply chain requires suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and customers to collaborate and ensure everyone works towards a common goal.

benefits to implementing a circular supply chain

There are numerous benefits, including the following:

  1. Reduced waste and minimize the environmental impact of supply chain operations.

  2. Optimize resource utilization and reduce the need for raw materials by reusing materials and products.

  3. Save costs by reducing waste and improving efficiency, ultimately benefiting the bottom line.

  4. Increased Customer Loyalty: Customers are increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of the products they purchase. Implementing a circular supply chain can help build customer loyalty by demonstrating a commitment to sustainability.

Circular Supply Chain Examples

Several companies have successfully implemented circular supply chain models, including:

  1. Patagonia has implemented a circular supply chain for its clothing products, offering customers a repair and reuse program and recycling used materials to create new products.

  2. Former Philips company Signify has implemented a circular supply chain for its lighting products, collecting and recycling used products to create new products. They also started selling light as a service. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol doesn't own any lamps. They pay to Signify to bring light to their airport.

  3. Beer brewers have been using a closed-loop supply chain for years. People don't own the bottles or crates; the beer is bought, used, returned to the shop, shipped back, cleaned, and refilled.

The Importance of Supply Chain Sustainability

Supply chain sustainability is becoming increasingly important in today's business world. It involves balancing economic, environmental, and social factors to create sustainable and resilient supply chain operations. The three elements of supply chain sustainability are:

A circular supply chain- can be described as a system in which waste and emissions are minimized by keeping materials and products in use as long as possible. Rather than using a linear model where resources are extracted, processed, used, and discarded, circular supply chains are designed to create a closed loop where materials are constantly reused and repurposed. This model allows companies to reduce their carbon footprint and their reliance on non-renewable resources, making them more sustainable in the long term.

To create -a circular supply chain-, companies must focus on sustainability in -supply chain management-. This means considering the environmental and social impact of every stage of the -supply chain, from procurement and production to transportation and distribution. It also means working with -suppliers- to ensure that they are adopting sustainable -practices- and collaborating with other -companies- in the -field- to create a more sustainable -supply chain- as a whole.

Developments in Europe, Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism

One recent development in the world of sustainability and -supply chain operations- is the introduction of the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) by the European Union. The CBAM is designed to reduce the risk of carbon leakage, which occurs when companies move their operations to countries with lower environmental standards to avoid regulations and costs related to their carbon footprint. By imposing a tax on carbon-intensive imports, the CBAM aims to encourage companies to adopt more sustainable practices and reduce their carbon emissions, even if they operate outside the EU.

Developments in the united states

The focus on sustainable supply chains has grown recently in and around the United States. Many corporations commit to reducing carbon emissions and achieving a more sustainable future. Some companies are focusing on -inventory management- to reduce waste and avoid excess production, while others are investing in -renewable energy- to power their operations. By focusing on sustainability throughout their supply chain, these companies are working towards a more sustainable future and reducing their environmental impact.

Sustainable business strategies

Companies can adopt several types of strategies to meet their sustainability goals. One example is a closed-loop supply chain, where materials and products are reused or repurposed at the end of their life cycle. Another is a reverse logistics supply chain, which involves collecting and reusing products and materials after consumers have used them. A third type is a collaborative supply chain, which involves -a collaboration with- other companies in the -field- to reduce waste and emissions throughout the entire supply chain.

Companies must focus on several key characteristics to create a successful circular supply chain. These include sustainable -practices and- processes at every stage of the -supply chain-, a focus on reducing waste and emissions, and a commitment to -social and environmental- responsibility. Companies must also engage in ongoing -assessment- of their impact on the environment and work towards continuous improvement in their sustainability practices.

The shift towards more sustainable -supply chain- practices is essential to creating a more sustainable future for all. By adopting circular supply chain models and focusing on sustainability throughout their operations, companies can reduce their environmental impact, meet their sustainability goals, and create a better world for future generations.

Another important aspect is measuring results. By knowing the current performance of their operations, companies can determine where to put priorities and find their path to a sustainable supply chain. This can be done using the SCOR model.

sustainable supply

Sustainability has become an increasingly important aspect of supply chain management practice. Many companies have recently reduced their environmental impact and adopted more sustainable practices in their daily operations. This includes everything from renewable energy and reducing waste to collaborating with suppliers to ensure they are also focusing on sustainability. By adopting more sustainable supply chain practices, companies can reduce their environmental impact and improve their reputation among customers and stakeholders.

store, stacks, shelves


Procurement is a key area where companies can significantly impact their net supply chain sustainability. Companies can reduce their environmental impact by working with suppliers prioritizing sustainability in their operations, and promoting sustainable practices throughout their supply chain. This can include everything from sourcing materials from sustainable sources to working with suppliers to implementing their own circular supply chain practices. Additionally, companies can use sustainability criteria as part of their supplier selection process to ensure they work with suppliers who share their commitment to sustainability.


Another critical area of supply chain sustainability is production. By adopting more sustainable production practices, companies can reduce their environmental impact and improve the overall sustainability of their supply chain. This can include everything from using renewable energy in manufacturing and even facilities to implementing waste reduction initiatives and recycling programs. Additionally, companies can explore alternative production methods, such as 3D printing, which can reduce material waste and energy consumption.


Many corporations have taken significant steps toward improving the sustainability of their supply chains. For example, Walmart has committed to sourcing 100% of its energy from renewable sources. It has implemented several initiatives to reduce waste and improve sustainability throughout its supply chain. Similarly, companies like Unilever and Nestle have made sustainability a core part of their business strategies and have implemented a range of initiatives to improve the sustainability of their supply chains.


Suppliers play a critical role in the sustainability of a company's supply chain. Companies can promote sustainable practices throughout their supply chain and reduce their environmental impact by working with suppliers to prioritize sustainability. Additionally, companies can work with suppliers to implement circular supply chain practices, such as using recycled materials and reducing waste. This can not only improve the sustainability of the supply chain but also create new business opportunities and improve relationships with suppliers.


Effective supply chain sustainability management is essential for companies looking to improve the sustainability of their supply chain. This includes everything from setting sustainability goals and targets to tracking and reporting progress. Companies can use sustainability assessments and audits to identify areas for improvement and prioritize sustainability initiatives. Additionally, collaboration with suppliers and other stakeholders can help ensure sustainability is a shared priority throughout the supply chain.

In conclusion, circular supply chains are vital to supply chain sustainability. By adopting circular supply chain practices, companies can reduce waste and improve the sustainability of their supply chain operations. This can positively impact the environment, create new business opportunities, and improve relationships with customers and stakeholders. By focusing on procurement, production, and supplier management, companies can take concrete steps toward improving the sustainability of their supply chain and creating a more sustainable future for all.

Supply chain collaboration

In addition to inventory management, supply chain collaboration is another crucial aspect of circular supply chains. Collaboration with suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders is essential for identifying opportunities for closed-loop processes, reducing waste, and improving sustainability. By collaborating with suppliers, companies can work to develop sustainable sourcing practices, such as using renewable materials and minimizing waste in production. Collaboration with customers can lead to more efficient product use and end-of-life options, such as take-back programs or refurbishment.

Moreover, adopting circular supply chain practices can positively impact social and environmental issues beyond waste reduction and resource conservation. For example, circular supply chains can help reduce the use of fossil fuels and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions and support the development of renewable energy sources. By minimizing waste and pollution, circular supply chains can also positively impact local ecosystems and human health.

In conclusion, in recent years, circular supply chains have become an increasingly important concept in supply chain management. By adopting circular supply chain practices, companies can reduce waste and resource consumption, minimize environmental impact, and improve sustainability while promoting economic growth. The transition to circular supply chains requires collaboration across the supply chain and a focus on practices such as inventory management, product design, and end-of-life management. While this transition may require investment in new technology and processes, the benefits of a circular supply chain can be significant and long-lasting for both companies and society.

Collaboration with your suppliers

Partnering with suppliers is also a crucial part of circular supply chains. Companies must work closely with their suppliers to ensure that the materials used are sustainably sourced and can be recycled or reused. An excellent example is the electronics industry, where manufacturers have begun to work with suppliers to develop closed-loop systems to recover and reuse materials.

A circular supply chain is a more sustainable and efficient model for businesses looking to reduce their environmental impact and create long-term value. Companies can create closed-loop systems that benefit their bottom line and the planet by reducing waste, increasing resource efficiency, and collaborating with suppliers. The principles of circular supply chains align with those of supply chain sustainability, which includes environmental, social, and economic considerations. In the next section, we will explore the concept of supply chain sustainability and how it relates to circular supply chains.

Getting started with circular supply chain management

The circular supply chain model focuses on keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible, reducing waste and the need for new inputs. In a circular supply chain, products are designed for durability, disassembly, and recycling, allowing for the recovery and reuse of valuable materials. The ultimate goal of a circular supply chain is to create a closed-loop system, where materials are continually cycled through the supply chain, and waste is minimized.

One example of the inclusion of a circular supply chain can be seen in the textile industry. Instead of following a traditional linear model, where raw materials are turned into a used product and discarded, some companies adopt a circular model. They are designing clothing made from recycled materials, using renewable energy in production, and implementing take-back programs to recover and recycle old clothing. This approach reduces waste and environmental impact and can be a cost-effective solution for companies, as recycled materials can be less expensive than new materials.

Another example is the company Smurfit-Kappa. They own plantations that create new wood fibers for their paper-based packaging products. This packaging is used and discharged at your local supermarket with contracts to sell that used paper packaging back to Smurfit-Kappa. They then recycle this product to be re-used in new packaging.

Circular vs Closed-Loop

Circular supply chains often contrast with closed-loop supply chains, which focus on keeping products and materials within a single company or a supply chain network. In a closed-loop supply chain, products are designed for reuse, repair, and refurbishment to minimize waste and maximize the value of materials. Closed-loop supply chains can be particularly effective in industries with high-value, complex products that require many resources.

So, how can companies create a circular supply chain? The first step is to assess the current supply chain and identify areas where waste can be reduced, and resources can be reused. This procurement may involve redesigning products, improving inventory management, or sourcing materials from sustainable suppliers. Companies should also consider implementing take-back programs, where products can be recovered and refurbished or recycled.

Regarding circular supply chains, several vital characteristics set them apart from traditional linear supply chains. First and foremost, circular supply chains prioritize the recovery and reuse of materials, aiming to achieve a closed-loop system. They also focus on reducing waste and environmental impact while creating economic value for companies. Collaboration with other companies and stakeholders is crucial to creating a successful circular supply chain.

Tripple bottom line

Sustainability is critical to supply chain management, balancing economic, social, and environmental concerns to create a more sustainable future. Supply chain sustainability can be broken down into environmental, social, and economic elements. Environmental sustainability involves reducing the impact of the supply chain on the united environment, while social sustainability ensures that supply chain practices are ethical and respect human rights. Economic sustainability ensures that the supply chain is financially viable in the long term.

Circular supply chains are an increasingly important aspect of the director of supply chain management as companies look for ways to reduce waste, environmental impact, and costs. By adopting circular supply chain models and focusing on sustainability, companies can create a more resilient and responsible supply chain that benefits both the environment and the bottom line.

Get started using circular supply chains.

Now that you've learned about the importance of circular supply chains and how they can benefit your business, it's time to take action. Here are a few steps you can take to get started:

  1. Evaluate your current supply chain: Assess your existing supply chain to identify areas where you can improve efficiency, reduce waste, and increase sustainability.

  2. Set goals: Once you've identified areas for improvement, set specific, measurable goals for your circular supply chain. These could include reducing waste by a certain percentage, increasing the use of renewable energy, or reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

  3. Collaborate with suppliers: Work with your suppliers to develop a circular supply chain that benefits everyone involved. This could include sharing data, setting up new processes, or creating new products designed for circularity.

  4. Invest in technology: Consider investing in technology that can help you track and manage your supply chain more effectively. This could include blockchain, artificial intelligence, or the Internet of Things.

  5. Train your employees: Make sure your employees are trained in circular supply chain practices and understand the importance of sustainability. This will help ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals.

  6. Enroll in a course: If you want to learn more about circular supply chains and how to implement them in your business, consider enrolling in one of our classes. Visie Partners offers a comprehensive two-day workshop on supply chain sustainability that will get you started.

Remember, implementing a circular supply chain cannot be done overnight. Creating a sustainable, circular supply chain takes time, effort, and collaboration. But the benefits are worth it – not only for your business but also for the environment. So take the first step today and start building a circular supply chain that will benefit your business for years.
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