Contributed by Maxim Mulyadi (EO Indonesia East), the founder of Circularity Coach International, who is on a mission to help entrepreneurs achieve remarkable profit while balancing their purpose and the planet. He is also the co-founder and owner of Pelangi Water, a CPG/beverage brand in Indonesia.
Some say that economic growth and environmental protection are on opposing sides. In many ways, I once felt the same way—until I realized how far from the truth that was.
My journey to prioritizing the environment was an organic (no pun intended!) progression: growing up in Indonesia, I experienced first-hand the complex relationships between consumers, businesses, governments, and the planet. When I became a father, the gravity of the situation hit me hard. I knew what kind of world I wanted my daughter to grow up in—and it was different from how the world looked to me at the time.
I began to notice what was happening around the world. Things looked bleak, but there were glimmers of hope. At the macro level, the GDP per capita of countries like Denmark, the United Kingdom and Italy have grown all while their CO2 emissions keep decreasing. Developing countries like India and China have slowed or leveled off coal consumption as renewable energy sources become cheaper.
I thought: If governments are able to make transformative shifts in their commitments, why haven’t small and medium-sized businesses—entrepreneurs like myself—done the same?
I saw an opportunity for people, planet and profit to coexist in harmony. All it would take is a shift in mindset stemming from an entirely new philosophy around how we lead our businesses. Entrepreneurs, after all, are the changemakers of the world. I knew that if Circularity could become a reality, it would start with entrepreneurs.
Above all, Circularity is a philosophy: It’s a mindset, a way of thinking, and an approach to business that is applicable to every industry, regardless of size. It is about performing actions that harmoniously impact the 3 P’s: people, profit, planet. Specifically, it means:
- Using companies as a positive force for the environment
- Creating a company culture that values the growth, vulnerability and compassion innate in all people
- Seeing people as more than just resources, and seeing work as a part of people’s journey to expand their souls
Elements of Circularity philosophy have been in existence. With my first company, Pelangi Water, a bottled water brand and manufacturing facility, I began to integrate elements of the “circular economy” from a materials management perspective.
However, I quickly realized that Circularity is much more than a business practice for manufacturers. Circularity could be applied to any business, including service businesses, of any size anywhere in the world. Circularity is a flexible model, and it could change the world as we know it.
Circularity: Leadership and Company Culture
As entrepreneurs, we are on a permanent quest to find ways of ensuring that high-performing talent sees our company as the most attractive place to work. Yet, after coaching many entrepreneurs, I’ve learned one truth: Our companies can never attract the best talent to help grow our businesses if we aren’t building an amazing home for them.
When it comes to building a culture of Circularity, the starting point is found within. As leaders, we must be able to self-evaluate and think critically about ourselves before we can evaluate others.
It’s not always easy to do. When I was much younger, I remember that I had no ability to self-evaluate nor set clear objectives for the future.
Once you look within, the beauty of Circularity offers a way to value the things around you, starting with the people in your company. Once your purpose is clear, you are then prepared to trigger the circular effect of helping teams around you expand their soul. Their soul expansion fuels your soul expansion; as a result, together we are best equipped to align purpose with profit and planet.
You want your business to be a place where the entire team can express themselves and reach their full potential, where they feel safe from fear of retribution, and where they can thrive in their most authentic selfhood. The more your culture becomes one where every single person is working toward something bigger than themselves, the more joyous energy contributes to innovative thinking and productivity.
The circular effect impacts us as entrepreneurs and leaders, too. The more you care about people’s well-being, the more attuned to your own well-being and abilities you become, and the more you are able to contribute to your mission of harmonizing profit with the planet.
Reframing failure, waste and entrepreneurship
One of the key principles of Circularity is reframing the way you experience and manage waste. Historically, that has only been applied to material waste, but Circularity can inform you on how to shift perspectives around things you “discard” as a leader.
Society tells us that “waste” is bad. From wasted opportunities to wasted potential to wasted time and to the waste of business resources, we are told that anything wasted is akin to failure.
In reality, “waste” is a human invention. Nature does not understand or leverage waste; everything discarded is returned back to the earth.
Growing up in Indonesia, I’ve always felt a tension between the most beautiful natural world you can imagine and the human-generated “waste” that infiltrates the natural world.
But examining nature made me realize that waste is always part of a larger circular pattern. In nature, waste means food. Nature does not eliminate waste; nature channels it.
A Circularity mindset helps you reframe the “waste” that entrepreneurs often fixate on. Instead of automatically feeling that negative emotions must be dispelled and forgotten, Circularity reminds us that negative emotions can be channeled for positive impact—recycled to fuel your growth.
Similarly, Circularity reframes how we view failure. Entrepreneurs (myself included) are notorious for prioritizing successes. Yet failure, much like waste, is a key component to the cyclical process of success; it cannot be discarded, ignored or suppressed. It is precisely out of failure that success is often born—how many stories have you heard about entrepreneurs, scientists or explorers who failed numerous times before they finally succeeded? Success and failure are part of the same circular spectrum. The careful management of both, for me, exemplifies the truest spirit of entrepreneurship.
My perspective has changed dramatically since my childhood in Indonesia. I once felt cynical about the ability to strike a perfect balance between business growth and the world we live in. Today, I know that balance can be achieved with the right mindset. Growth is not an enemy to the planet. Profit, people and planet can be allies that contribute to each other’s development for the benefit of all.
My plea to you: Become a Circularity Entrepreneur like me. Together, we can build profitable businesses while leaving the world a better place for our children.
Not sure where to start? The journey to achieving a Circularity mindset begins within. The rest will follow—naturally.