Ecova and US Chamber of Commerce Foundation host circular economy business tour

Attendees toured several businesses in the Seattle area where best practices were shared.

December 2, 2015

Ecova, an energy and sustainability management company based in Spokane, Washington, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, based in the nation's capital, partnered to host an inaugural business tour on the circular economy Nov. 9 and 10 in Seattle. The tour was in response to companies actively pursuing innovative approaches that encourage economic growth using yesterday’s waste as tomorrow’s resource.

Presenters shared best practices and—through physical site visits by attendees—showcased  solutions to eradicate waste using proven circular economy principles and programs. The circular economy is a regenerative model that aims to keep components, materials and products at their highest value at all times, creating no waste for the landfill.

“It was so exciting seeing the figurative ‘light bulbs’ go off over everyone’s head and their eagerness to take what they had learned on the tour back to their own companies,” says Jennifer Gerholdt, environment and sustainability director at U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

During this event Republic Services, General Biodiesel, Phillips and PCC Markets/Wiserg were toured.

Below are the best practices shared by tour sites:

  • WISErg is a startup company in Redmond, Washington, that creates organic fertilizers using the community’s own compostable waste. WISErg’s patent pending Harvester collects food scraps and converts them into a nutrient-rich liquid for animal feed, industrial use and composting. The Harvester weighs the food scraps and captures images to generate reports for grocers and commercial kitchens that help them understand what is ending up as waste and take steps to reduce inventory expenses. The tour stopped at PCC Natural Markets in Seattle to see the Harvester in action as it converted the store’s food waste into fertilizer.
  • At Philips’ North America’s Bothel-based health care manufacturing building, attendees were able to observe the service, repair and refurbish center for its ultrasound equipment, as well as the company’s recycling operations. In both health care and lighting, the company has pioneered selling a service rather than a product. For example, medical facilities do not purchase the ultrasound equipment—they purchase the services of the equipment so that, when it breaks, it can be sent back for repair and refurbish. This helps facilities avoid high upfront investments while gaining access to the latest high-tech devices. Lighting is also sold as a service: Philips own the LED equipment that is installed at large facilities, while the companies pay a service fee for the light.
  • Republic Services uses a combination of machines and people to sort residential and commercial recycling. The company's next focus is on organic materials.
  • At the Biodiesel facility, drums were reused from a Rainier, a local Seattle brewery, as clean biodiesel containers. The facility reuses the methanol needed for chemical reactions. Glycerin, a byproduct of the chemical process, is sold to markets for absorption (diapers), soap and other industries.

The tour agenda included companies that are leaders in the circular economy or that wanted to learn more about best practices. Featured presenters included Stuffstr, Interface, Alaska Airlines, HP, Accenture, SunPower and Repurposed Materials.

Below are highlights from presentations:

  • A recent report from Accenture indicates that the circular economy is a $4.5 trillion opportunity over 15 years.
  • Interface harvests fishing nets abandoned in the ocean off the coast of the Philippines that cause major environmental impact. The discarded waste nylon is repurposed into carpet and new jobs are created/ocean is cleaned up.
  • SunPower uses a five-step process for product development—inspiration, products, materials, process and integrate. And at the end of the day, the company creates things that last.