Retailers Find Innovation Key to Circular Economy

On June 17, RILA partnered with the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) to host a joint meeting of their Sustainability Committees at Target’s Headquarters in Minneapolis, MN. With 23 retail attendees, the meeting allowed retail peers to benchmark their sustainability practices and highlight new programs focused on circularity.

Following the RILA-RCC meeting, RILA and our members stayed in town to attend GreenBiz’s inaugural Circularity 19 conference, which brings together a diverse community of executives from various business functions under the shared goal of growing and advancing the circular economy. The event focused on how to design out waste and pollution while facilitating a discussion forum around messaging and supporting the acceleration of the circular economy.
The retail industry has an important role to play in creating a more circular economy, and RILA members were well represented; 3M, Apple, Best Buy, Ikea, Nordstrom, REI, Target, and Walmart all spoke about their programs during the week. Major themes of the event coalesced around achieving zero waste in operations; emerging trends in products and packaging; designing for more circular systems; and creating internal strategies to secure buy-in and funding. Interwoven were external strategies to engage customers in new business models and innovative new technologies for recycling and reuse.

Circularity 19’s program not only showcased what leading retail companies are doing, but also highlighted how cities like Charlotte are creating more circular-supportive infrastructure, how thought leaders like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation are providing thought leadership, and how emerging ideas from startups and students are exploring what’s possible through innovation.

Startups were showcased on the mainstage at Circularity 19 during the Accelerate fast-pitch competition and the presentation of the Ray of Hope Prize. Accelerate featured innovative startups focused on advancing a circular economy through technology or a product/service business idea, while the Ray of Hope prize was created by the Ray C. Anderson Foundation’s and the Biomimicry Institute’s Biomimicry Launchpad to help teams bring their early-stage, nature-inspired solutions to market. The winning teams from each group all took home cash prizes to help continue to grow their business or idea.

These activities mirror the value the retail industry finds in startup engagement more broadly, including through RILA’s RTech Startup Network which just launched last week. Startups looking to bring their solutions to the retail industry can apply to RILA’s RTech Startup Network, a new home to early-stage companies developing cutting-edge solutions to the retail industry’s most stubborn problems. RILA is establishing a single access point for retailers who are hungry for new technology and startups whose innovative solutions can have a real impact on the retail industry.

Many of the Ray of Hope and Accelerate finalists at Circularity 19 were student teams or had strong ties to universities. Last year, McGill University and RILA launched a complementary student circular economy case competition, the Global Retail Challenge, that attracted 25 university teams from around the world. The GRC, with a virtual curriculum uniquely structured around Design Thinking principles, guides students exploring global circular economy challenges while learning how the retail industry is actively tackling the same issues.

Interested organizations are invited to join students and retailers as GRC sponsors, and retailers have special opportunities to serve as mentors and judges. For 2019, we’re expanding to more countries, with student teams from seven countries globally already pre-registered.

Circularity 19 illustrated that tackling the circular economy is bigger than any one organization, and that collaboration will be an essential theme for years to come. RILA looks forward to working with our sustainability communities to drive innovation and further explore new opportunities presented by the circular economy.

Interested in learning more about RILA’s sustainability, startup, or case competition activities? Reach out to Katie Nicholos.

Stay in the know

Subscribe to our newsletter