Insights / Circularity
”Companies need to understand that becoming more sustainable does not mean making sacrifices”
On what it takes to make the lifestyle sectors more circular
22 Feb 2023

Who are you?

— I’m co-founder of Solaris, a supply chain platform helping companies to become more circular. We make it easier and more efficient for them to maximize the value of their own waste, as well as introduce new recycled materials to their own production. Within a network of more than 200 collaboration partners, we convert a variety of waste streams — from organic, plastic, and textile — into new high-quality material solutions.

You’ve only been running for like 1.5 years and you work with several of the leading companies across various industries. What do they say to you when you reach out to them?

— We’re quite a fresh company, yes, but we are working with quite an urgent problem and this is a problem that is common in most industries. Most companies are dealing with a big waste problem and they’re now really feeling the pressure from both the market and their own customers, but also from legislation which requires them to take more responsibility for their waste. So, they now really have to come up with solutions to deal with it. And many of them don’t have the experience, network, or knowledge. So instead of doing everything themselves, they can come to us and get introduced to our knowledge and resources. They can basically start the process tomorrow since we can offer what we call ’turnkey’ solutions which make it super easy for companies to start maximizing the value of the waste streams right away. That’s why I think we have been so lucky to work with bigger companies. And also, unfortunately not many companies are offering these kinds of solutions.

Solaris. Photography: Felix Dallago

Given the times we’re in, and where many saw the pandemic as a potential turning point, you could have expected many more circular solutions and material innovations from the design industry. What’s the reason why we don’t see it?

— The first thing is that a big ship is very hard to turn around. A lot of the companies has been established in the 60s and 70s. They’ve been doing this for 50 years, they’ve been doing the same things, and they’ve been successful. Old habits are hard to break. But also, on the other side, every company exists to make money, which is really their main purpose — no matter what they say. And if they see that they actually have to invest money and maybe sacrifice something to become more circular — or, that’s at least what they think — then they’re a bit afraid to do so. So, that’s something that we try to communicate; you actually get a lot of very unique benefits from becoming circular. You’re adding a lot of new values both in the material and in your marketing and communication — and you’re able to gain a much bigger customer group. I think this will take a bit of time — and I really don’t think that the companies will make the change unless they feel the pressure to actually do it. That’s why these next few years will be very interesting, as we move towards 2030 — a lot of companies have set a big goal of becoming circular.

It’s so much that will happen in 2030, we’ve heard…

— Yes they’ve put so, so, so many promises — and it’s only in seven years. So, I think that’s why a lot of companies really start to feel the urgency now but I also feel that companies don’t want to make the change unless they have a very, very strong external pressure to do it. So we see some hints here and there but again, it’s a slow process.

So, more specifically, what’s required in order to see more circularity in the design industry?

— Designers play a very important role within the entire circular economy. This is where we are able to reduce waste, extend product lifetime, and make it easier to refurbish or recycle at end of life. First and foremost I think it is important to design the entire lifecycle of the product, not just the point it leaves the factory. By being aware of what materials you use, how the product is recycled, and even how easy it is to replace parts and repair. That said, the world of circularity is a bit of a jungle. It is not always clear what materials are actually sustainable, what materials will extend their lifetime, and what can easily be recycled.

”It is usually the large companies with a ’start-up mindset’ who become the most successful”

And what would you like to see from companies and organisations here?

— More curiosity, but also effort. As I said, I think companies need to understand that becoming more sustainable does not mean making sacrifices. To go from linear to circular opens up so many doors for product development, business models, and reaching new customers. However, many companies have been doing the linear approach since their birth, and a change of thinking can be intimidating. In order to stay relevant, you have to adapt, be curious, and open-minded. No matter how big the company is. Interestingly enough, it is usually the large companies with a ’start-up mindset’ that become the most successful. Some of the companies we are working with are leading in their market, but they keep on searching for new and innovative circular solutions together with us. Circularity is the future, and companies need to evolve accordingly.

During Stockholm Furniture Fair, you presented a special exhibition. Tell us more! 

— It’s called Closing the Loop and showcased several circular solutions and what’s possible to achieve with a variety of waste streams. That included different processes where we took, for example, coffee waste and converted it into different kinds of materials like building materials and injection moulding materials. For the textile industry, we took mixed fibres and converted them into different solutions. For plastics, we showcased some large-scale 3D printing, which we really think can be the future of on-demand manufacturing, says Stensrud. He continues:

— One very, very interesting project that was showcased can also serve as a good example of what is possible with upcycling. Evian had waste piling up from discarded PET bottles which did not meet their own recycling standards, so they came and asked us to do something new with it — in particular something where you can introduce as much value to the waste as possible. We then had Balmain — a premium brand in need of a new sustainable material solution. Our objective was to maximize the value of these bottles by making them into a high-end fabric for Balmain. We developed the entire upcycling process within our own network. This allowed us to create a very special ’liquid fabric’ solution, meeting the high standards of the luxury market. Even the most premium brands can benefit from these solutions. In the exhibition, we showcased the whole process from bottles to the actual final material. Hanging in the middle was the very unique couture dress that they showcased at Paris Fashion Week last year. Most of our projects do follow a similar pattern. We take something of almost no value, and we upcycle it into high value. From coffee grounds to tabletops, mixed textile to eyewear. Anything is possible.

Is a circular supply chain more complex than working in a conventional way, or is it easier?

— A supply chain is never easy or simple but I think the benefit here is that we have created a very strong connection between every supplier in the supply chain. We also have the opportunity to provide local supply chains. We can produce several of the solutions showcased in the exhibition very locally. Take the coffee waste solution, which can be produced in most of the countries in Europe, meaning that we can simplify both logistics and transportation, cutting both the cost and the environmental footprint. In that way, you can make the supply chain more efficient and simple than the bigger, complex supply chains which many are dealing with today, says Stensrud. He adds:

— In the past, words like sustainability, circularity, and recycling meant high cost, low quality, and a list of compromises. Today we have been able to reach a point where these ’keywords’ mean improvements in design, quality, and user experience. Many of the solutions we are developing today turn out to outperform many virgin material solutions on the market. Also, collaboration is key, and the main reason why we at our company can do what we do. Close collaboration with designers, engineers, brands, and manufacturers lets us share expertise and resources, and create innovative solutions we did not think were possible. The circular economy is the future, and it is for everyone.

Closing the Loop.
Eirik Stensrud at Stockholm Furniture Fair.