The power of Provenance in the circular economy

Photo Credit: Nudie Jeans

The is a growing attitude among a new generation of consumers and business that says we need to change our consumption habits. Demand for better, responsible manufacturing is growing as the irreversible damage being done to the planet calls for fast acting change. A circular economy offers many fixes to these problems and benefits not only manufacturers, but also workers and consumers. Provenance’s technology can help it become a reality.

Why a circular economy now?

According to OSCEDays, “One way to illustrate the circular economy is to think of cycles in the natural world. A simple representation might be a seed, which grows in nutritious topsoil, becoming a strong adult tree – its body will eventually decompose to become part of the nutrient source for more trees to grow. But this paints too tidy a picture – living organisms have developed a vibrant, diverse ecosystem over billions of years, and it doesn’t work in tidy closed loops. There are thousands of processes occurring in this simple picture – life cycles of bacteria, insects, and fungi, weather patterns, fruiting and pollination, competition with other organisms – the tree is constantly interacting with these systems and processes, all with their own inputs and outputs, and it’s the combination of all of them which produces a sustainable ecosystem”.

By 2030 our planet will be supporting 9 billion people, leaving our consumption practices with no choice but to change. As estimated by the World Economic Forum, our current manufacturing approach of “take-make-dispose” causes an irrecoverable loss of about 80% of the $3.2 trillion material value created  each year.

At the risk of depleting many of the planet’s resources and further harming the environment, a re-imagination of how we produce and use materials is more vital than ever.

Early investigations of the feasibility and necessary policy changes were already conducted in 1976 in a report titled “The Potential for Substituting Energy by Manpower” by Walter Stahel for the European Commission. Becoming aware of the finiteness of our planet when circumnavigating the globe, sailor Dame Ellen MacArthur went on to create a foundation to accelerate the transition to an economy that is circular and restorative by intention and design. In this model, business growth is coupled with environmental and social health to not only stimulate economies, but also bring about job creation, higher standards and better policies.

How can Provenance help?

Provenance uses revolutionary blockchain technology to securely and effectively trace whole supply chains from raw material to end consumer.  Chain of custody can be logged on the blockchain to prevent fraud, prove origins and trace ownership. We enable businesses to keep track of material value along a supply chain, but also far into a finished product and material’s future.

In a circular economy, business models often come as product-service systems – users pay for a service or a combination of a product and a service instead of becoming a full owner. This aligns incentives and increases resource efficiency. Take for instance, Nudie Jeans, a denim producer founded on the idea that jeans cannot only be repaired, but that they can easily be reused and recycled. After buying a pair of Nudie Jeans, you are entitled and encouraged to use free repairs at any of their shops which instantly increases their lifecycle.

With over 80 billion garments produced each year through the ever-polluting fashion industry, a shift in mindset like this is absolutely vital.

Nudie Jeans also encourage their customers to think of ways to reuse jeans once they are beyond repair and ways to recycle the denim to create new products.  In other use cases, spare parts need to be tracked or specific material grades guaranteed to ensure the possibility of remanufacturing maintaining excellent quality. In any case, making such offers work heavily builds on digital technologies for the tracking of temporary possession, wear–and–tear or service records.

Looking towards new models for business from recycling of goods to leasing models , the opportunity relies on the tracking of the attributes of material things not only during their creation but also their usage – the blockchain combined with Provenance provides the perfect platform.

As we look to the future, if we are to avoid the past and ongoing waste caused by our throwaway culture, circular thinking must become the way we look at manufacturing. This paradigm shift is already coming but it will be the blockchain that truly sparks the revolution.

Provenance and its tools help pave the way for a circular economy. Keen to learn more? Here are some of our favourite circular economy initiatives: OSCEdays, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and WRAP.