This past week, Plant Chicago welcomed sixteen local small businesses to their first Circular Economy (CE) Leaders Network meeting. First of its kind, the program assists entrepreneurs in Chicago’s South Side who seek to implement sustainable practices into their existing business model.
Businesses start off by receiving The Circular Economy Toolkit for Small Business and setting a primary goal that they would like to achieve by the end of this year. The toolkit defines Circular Economy and addresses the importance of saving costs and potential revenue opportunities that result from taking steps toward sustainability. Goals vary from sourcing local ingredients, reducing plastic use and converting to compostable solutions, or eliminating waste altogether!
The toolkit works to help businesses brainstorm possible steps and solutions as owners transition to CE practices. The following breakdown details the material and topics of interest that the CE toolkit explores:
It is often said that it takes a village to raise a child. The same can also be said about nurturing a small business. That is to say that people are often the greatest assets within small business and are significant players for owners to consider when they structure and invest into CE business goals.
This sections asks business owners to identify who those people are within their network (employees, customers, stakeholders, partners) and to assess their individual needs and relationships to the business. Understanding their perspectives will aid business owners to sustain transparency between themselves and their network of people, and retain accountability as the business improves CE practices.
While is is important to think about the individuals who come into contact with the small business on a daily basis, great opportunities would be amiss if one neglected to consider the role that “networks,” that is effective partnerships, have on the success of business.
In this section, owners are pushed to develop existing networks, considering the alternative ways to connect with people with whom they already work, and continue discovering other CE allies, those who they may have not perceived as part of their typical network (e.g. stakeholders, neighborhood organizations, suppliers, aldermen, etc.)
Materials and energy are necessary to operate any business and are, therefore, especially important to negotiate when applying CE practices. Questions are posed to business owners regarding the span of distance, amount of energy, time, and resources that it takes employees to travel to and from work, for ingredients to make it from farm to plate, and, thereafter, for waste to travel from bin to dump site.
This section suggests general CE topics of interest for food businesses to consult when thinking about minimizing materials and energy. CE requires businesses to evaluate the material inputs, energy and water inputs, business space and facilities, mechanical equipment use, and material byproducts and waste that result from daily business operation.
Follow-up interviews will be conducted with individual owners to address concerns like availability to knowledge, and accessibility to resources and community support. Interviews will provide the Plant Chicago team with a better idea concerning overall business goals and how they fit within a Circular Economy context. The Plant Chicago team will then help by performing waste and packaging audits, collecting data from business owners about the improvements made since CE goal implementation and the financial effects from incurring newly sustainable practices.
In the coming months, businesses will be able to measure the environmental impact that their CE business choices have on the their local economy as well as their carbon footprint within the city. Stay tuned to see how these small business owners welcome change and evolve to become Circular Economy Leaders within their South Side communities!