In this article we explain the problems associated with the linear economy and discuss the benefits of moving to a circular economy for the outdoor industry.
The Linear Economy Explained
The linear economy is a TAKE – MAKE – USE- DISPOSE model.
You might not have heard of it before but we have all unwittingly played a part in it. If you have ever bought an item of outdoor clothing, worn it and then when it looks worn and/or part of it breaks, binned it, you’re a participant. This isn’t a reflection on you, but rather the consumerist model that companies began to use after the first World War, and is now used by most companies to grow their businesses.
Let’s dive deeper into the linear model using the example of a waterproof jacket.
The outdoor industry makes the majority of its clothing and equipment from petroleum (like polyester and nylon). They make a minority of items from natural fibres like wool, cotton, bamboo or wood. Whether oil based or natural, a lot of materials go into making our kit.
Waterproof jackets are made of nylon. Nylon comes from a family of materials called polyamides. This involves taking coal and petroleum from the earth and reacting the carbon-based chemicals within it in a high-pressure, heated environment.
Manufacturing your waterproof jacket will have involved multiple resources including water, energy / fuel, and labour. Once made, the manufacturer has to package and transport it, (often from Asia) to its retail location.
Ok, wearing your jacket doesn’t have a specific cost to it provided (and this is key), that you maintain it and wear it for as long as possible. In the linear economy this simply isn’t happening. Since the upsurge in fast fashion, we are accustomed to wearing our clothes an average of 7 times before discarding them. In our experience people replace their ski jacket surprisingly regularly despite only wearing it for a week or two.
Let’s say you do make it last and wear your jacket for a couple of years. After that time the waterproofing isn’t as effective as it was. It might have a hole in the sleeve where you caught it on a thorny bush. You think never mind, it was probably time for a new jacket anyway, so you bin the old one and buy a replacement.
This way of doing things is unsustainable. Our planet has finite resources and we’re using more of these resources each year than the earth can provide. You can read more about this on the overshoot day website. If we carry on as we are, we are headed for a disaster – for climate, nature, resources and our futures. Even the best waterproof jacket in the world won’t protect us from that one.
The good news is that there is another way…
A Circular Economy For the Outdoor Industry
The circular economy is a regenerative model in which outdoor wear and equipment are kept in use and circulation, in ways that retain their value. Once they reach the end of their useful life, they are recovered for recycling or composting.
There are three elements that help create a circular economy for clothing and equipment: materials, design and community. Let’s take the example of our waterproof jacket again.
First, let’s consider where the materials to manufacture come from. Do we have to use virgin/raw materials to make the jacket? Or, can we recycle previously used materials (like plastics) or use renewable materials (like by-products from agriculture) to make garments and equipment?
In the circular economy, the manufacturer would design your waterproof jacket to last a long time. This means they would make it hard wearing and guarantee a certain quality in the stitching, seams and components. They would also design it to be easy to repair, to re-waterproof, recycle or up-cycle.
Outdoor clothing and equipment has a lot of inherent value. Community has an important role to play in keeping this kit in circulation. This is where the Re-Action Collective comes in (more about that in a minute).
Within a community, people have the skills to repair your jacket. There may then be a second hand market for your jacket. There may also be the opportunity to rent it or lend it to someone. If your jacket really no longer keeps you dry outdoors, someone within your community could break the jacket down into its various elements. They could then use the zips, poppers, pockets, drawstrings, toggles, and the fabric to mend and patch other items of outdoor wear, giving them another life.
The community’s role has other benefits for people and planet. By keeping outdoor wear and sports equipment in the community, and keeping it in use for longer, there is less need to manufacture, transport and market new goods. This saves raw materials and water as well as tonnes of CO2 emissions each year. All of this reduces the pressure on our planetary resources.
If you run an outdoor business, you might worry that this would reduce the number of jobs in this sector. Actually, the truth is the opposite. Whilst the circular economy requires less materials and energy, it needs more people to make it run effectively. It requires experts in raw materials, agriculture, design, as well as retailers, repairers and marketers.
Another upside of the circular economy is community connection. It encourages people to shop locally and connect with local people and services to find solutions to their needs. This is arguably more enjoyable and fulfilling than clicking a button to buy something new online.
Re-Action works with outdoor shops, clubs and other organisations to help them engage their communities around repair, reuse, repurposing and rental. We are creating a global community of these organisations, enabling and empowering them to learn from each other and implement best practice into their communities. The organisations gain from greater visibility, the opportunity to add more services to their offering and increase footfall/engagement and the chance to add value and purpose to their activities.
Secondly, we want to champion and empower outdoor enthusiasts. Through the Re-Action network people will have a place where they can meet like minded people and get access to workshops, repair services and more affordable, pre-loved clothing and equipment. We believe this will lead to people who love outdoor sports learning repair and craft skills, prolonging the life of their kit and buying ‘new’ kit more mindfully. This represents a triple win: for the shops and clubs, for outdoor enthusiasts and for the planet too.
So now you know, what will you do the next time you need to replace an item of outdoor wear or equipment?