The Shift to a Circular Economy

Trends / Sustainability
Rebecca Rom-Frank
Apr 28, 2020
Make, use, dispose. That’s the mantra of a linear economy. But as consumers become more concerned about climate change and financial uncertainty, businesses around the globe are shifting to a circular economy model—make, use, reuse, remake. If recycling is visualized by a loop, the circular economy is an infinity loop.

Businesses with a circular economy strategy don’t just ship waste to a recycling plant—their  strategies are designed to keep resources in use. For example, Nura sells modular headphones as a monthly subscription service, repairs and replacements included. Timberland manufactures car tires that can be recycled into boot soles. Tech platform DePop uses bold colors and minimalist graphics to entice Gen Z users to buy and sell vintage clothing. This is not your parents’ Craigslist ad: trading second‑hand items is contemporary and fresh.
Solar panels and wind farms have long been visual icons for sustainable business, and although we still expect to see them in advertising, the scope of imagery is expanding to include other sectors besides renewable energy. Our customers want to see the small business owner with big ideas about keeping resources in use, and the consumers at home who care about conservation more than ever. The circular economy is not only a business model, it’s a shift in mindset that touches all aspects of life.

In order to capture this mindset, customers at Getty Images are looking for visuals that illustrate new concepts and scenarios. Searches for circular economy concepts went up +201% in the last 12 months. Additionally, searches for “ewaste”—short for “electronic waste”—went up +319%. And searches for “kintsugi”, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery, went up +200%. Our customers are becoming more knowledgable and creative about which activities signify sustainable choices.
Even in these uncertain times, the scope of sustainability imagery will continue to expand.
Still, the “circular economy” might be a new term for some customers—although there is evidence that it’s gaining traction. In a 2018 survey, wholesale banking firm ING found that 62% of executives are planning to adopt a circular economic framework in the near future. In January 2020, the CEO of BlackRock announced that his corporation would only invest in sustainable business going forward, a watershed moment for Wall Street. The financial sector is finally hearing the words that environmental activists have been shouting for decades: a waste‑free economy is not only better for the environment, it’s better for business, too.

Whereas past crises diverted attention away from environmental issues, the COVID‑19 crisis is actually expected to accelerate it, in the long run. Over the next few years, we expect to see more small business owners, and more creative ways of repairing and upcycling personal possessions in commercial imagery. Even in these uncertain times, the scope of sustainability imagery will continue to expand, offering new ways to picture resilience.
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