No time to waste: why we’re embracing a circular business model

It isn’t a new concept, but in the wake of our current climate crisis, the idea of circular business is gaining more and more traction in the economic world. But what does it actually entail? In light of Koskela’s commitment to be fully circular by 2027, we take a deep dive into what circularity actually is, and why we believe it’s the only way forward.

It’s time we faced some hard truths: we need to change our reckless cycle of overconsumption and waste now before we cause further irreversible damage to the earth. 

As furniture designers, Koskela has always been acutely aware of balancing the need for our products with our responsibility to the planet, the climate and our community. Since we started the company over 20 years ago, we’ve focused on good design, well-made products and local manufacturing over cost-cutting in an effort to minimise our environmental impact. We’re also Australia’s first furniture B Corp

After working with consultants to measure our carbon footprint over three years, we saw that if we had a great year in terms of revenue, our carbon footprint would increase in step. Transitioning to a circular model  – one that cuts down on the need to draw down on new, finite resources – is the only viable way for us to break this cycle and reconcile our ambition for company growth with our embedded sustainability values. So, that’s exactly what we’re doing.  

Our Circularity Action Plan outlines our ambition to become a fully circular business by 2027.

Wait a minute, what is circularity?

Circularity is a system of closed loops where products and materials are kept in circulation through processes like maintenance, reuse, refurbishment, remanufacture, recycling, and composting. 

Circularity offers a sustainable alternative to the traditional ‘take-make-waste’ linear economy in which we currently operate, where products are designed to be used and then discarded. According to the ABS, in 2018–2019 alone, Australia generated 76 million tonnes of waste, and this amount is increasing over time. You’ve almost certainly heard of ‘fast fashion’, but ‘fast furniture’ is also a huge source of waste. In fact, as we explore in our Circularity Action Plan, the amount of furniture thrown out annually by Australian households is more than four times the weight of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

This linear model means we’re constantly drawing on the Earth’s dwindling material reserves to make new things. “We’re simply running out of resources,” says Ian Wong, President of Circular Economy Victoria. “If everyone on Earth lived like an Australian, we would need 4.5 Earths. However, as Australians, we are very lucky to have a standard of living that everyone on Earth should be able to access from an equity standpoint. The question is, how do we fix it so everyone has a high standard of living, but we don’t use too many resources?”

That’s where the concept of a ‘circular economy’ comes in, creating a new way forward for society and businesses to operate and thrive within the planet’s boundaries. “Circularity tries to create more for everyone by using less of the Earth,” Ian says. “And the way you do that is by not throwing things away.”

While the concept may seem ‘new’, in reality it’s actually more of a return to the ‘old’ way of doing things. “As we see the idea of a circular economy climbing up the political agenda, we must acknowledge that circularity has been a way of life for millennia for Indigenous peoples worldwide,” writes Alana Craigen, an NDC Coordinator at the UNDP. 

As well as the benefits for the planet, circularity could also benefit the economy – to the tune of $1.9 trillion over the next two decades, according to one PwC report.

We’re simply running out of resources.. If everyone on Earth lived like an Australian, we would need 4.5 Earths - Ian Wong, President of Circular Economy Victoria

How Koskela is committing to circularity

For Koskela, our aim is simple: we want to make sure no product we put on the market ever ends up in landfill. 

To do this, we’re untangling every aspect of our business and looking at how we can improve it.

Everything we make will be repairable, reusable or – as a last resort – recyclable. We commit to product stewardship – in other words, maintaining responsibility for our products after they leave our hands and ensuring they live a long, cherished and useful life. We believe this is the number one way we can not only minimise our environmental impact, but truly have a positive impact on the planet.

At Koskela, we’ve developed three pillars of action, guided by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation

  • ELIMINATE waste and pollution caused by production and distribution. This includes at the design stage, the production stage, the product’s end-of-life as well as eliminating waste from our day-to-day business; for example using Woolpack and coconut husk as alternative materials, encouraging our suppliers to use renewable energy in their production facilities or always designing to maximise sheet yield. 
  • CIRCULATE products at their highest value for as long as possible. We reject trends and instead aim to create beautiful, classic pieces destined to become future heirlooms. We maximise repairability. One example is recently redesigning our sofas to have removable covers so they are really easy to repair and looking their best. We’re also keeping our products in circulation for as long as possible via our Repair & Renew program, and soon we’ll be launching Koskela ReHome, where we buy back our much-loved pieces, refurbish them, and sell them on at a lower price point for a second (or third, or fourth) life. We’re also trialling a ‘furniture as a service’ model for our Learn and Work clients.
  • REGENERATE nature. We’re striving to eliminate our use of virgin materials and, where we can, replace them with materials already in circulation or that incorporate waste products.  

Why circularity and not sustainability or carbon neutrality?

The move towards a circular economy is gaining popularity as people realise measures like recycling and carbon offsetting aren’t enough and, in the worst case, become a way for companies to distract from real action. 

“Businesses can no longer rest on phoney, offset-based certifications that tell them how ‘green’ they are,” says Koskela co-founder, Sasha Titchkosky. “‘Carbon neutral’ is a false economy… you can’t just tree-plant your way out of your carbon footprint.” Because of this, we’re no longer claiming to be carbon neutral, and are instead focusing on eliminating our emissions completely. 

We know that compared to purchasing offsets or basic recycling, going circular is not the ‘easy road’. With complex supply chains, ensuring circularity is a pretty painstaking process. But it’s a challenge we embrace fearlessly, having always championed change within the furniture and design industry. 

“Design is at the forefront of the transition to circularity,” says Sasha. “And not just product design, but the design of new systems and business models that are restorative and regenerative to nature,” says Sasha. “We’re so excited about working towards a circular future, and we look forward to taking you on the journey with us.”

Design is at the forefront of the transition to circularity, and not just product design, but the design of new systems and business models that are restorative and regenerative to nature - Sasha Titchkosky, Koskela Co-Founder