Circularity in Chicago & Beyond

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Chair of the Month

Michelle Weiss
Michelle Weiss
Michelle Weiss is our Publisher.
Cynthia Milota
Cynthia Milota
Cynthia leads Ware Malcomb’s workplace strategy and change management practice. She partners with clients to formulate their unique objectives: mindful of employee experience and business objectives. Holding roles as end-user, writer, researcher, and adjunct faculty, she currently serves on the IFMA-Workplace Evolutionaries board working with Member On-boarding and Analytics.

With interests ranging from ESG reporting to educating their leadership, attendees gathered after a state-of-the-art recycling tour, to learn more about circularity from three midwest subject matter experts.

Together with IFMA-Chicago and the Workplace Evolutionaries – Chicago Hub, we invited local experts to talk about circularity and how to get started. The evening began with a sold-out behind the scenes tour of THE MART’s Recycling and Composting Center. Assisting tenants with their ESG reporting, partnering with non-profits and diverting waste of all sorts from landfills, THE MART tracks recycled materials, compost, electronics, construction debris, paint, toner cartridges, cooking oil and traditional garbage from building tenants.

One of the first in the city of Chicago to compost, in 2022 alone, THE MART’s showroom, office and retail tenants composted 22 tons of food waste.

The Merchandise Mart’s Recycling and Composting Center.

With interests ranging from ESG reporting to educating their leadership, a diverse group of attendees from companies such as Abbvie, CDW, Kraft Heinz, The School of the Art Institute and more gathered at the Steelcase showroom in THE MART after the recycling tour, to learn more about circularity from three midwest subject matter experts.

Our expert panelists: Maureen Stroud, Founder and CEO of Shinka, Tom Fecarotta, CMO at Rheaply, and Jill Maltby-Abbott, Senior Materials Consultant at BuildingGreen.

Our Moderator and Director of Workplace Strategy at Ware Malcomb, Cynthia Milota kicked off the conversation with a review of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation principals of Circular Economy:

  • Eliminate Waste & Pollution
  • Circulate Products and Materials (at their highest value)
  • Regenerate Nature

These principles are underpinned by a transition to renewable energy and materials, decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources and support a system that is good for business, people, and the environment. (MacArthur, 2023)

How to Get Started

The first panelist was Maureen Stroud, Founder and CEO of Shinka Sustainability Consultants. Part of a global network of Circular Economy consultants, who use value chain mapping and innovation tools to provide frameworks, Maureen began the conversation with a sobering 2022 Circularity Gap Report statistic.

Despite all of our current efforts, only 8.6% of our economy is circular.

Defining the starting point is important, as there are many challenges that can result in a plethora of solutions and options. When there is collective communication and understanding of the value chain and a discussion of the problems and challenges to achieving circularity, a team can generate and share ideas for solutions and define priorities together. Similar to a design charrette, the Circulab toolkits can make this process fun and enlightening and can be completed in a half day or full day session, depending on the scope and complexity.

Tools for Reporting

This image is from the Common Materials Framework, Mindful Materials, which was one of the many go-to resources that Jill shared with us during the discussion.

From BuildingGreen, which champions the changemakers in sustainable design and building, Jill Maltby-Abbott, explored circularity from the scale of a product’s formulation through portfolio level reporting. Currently, there are gaps in reporting for major product categories. Consumer purchasing power is the biggest change-maker to solve gaps regardless of rating system pursuit. BuildingGreen’s role as a dot connector across architecture, engineering, owner, contractor, education, and editorial lenses means consulting strategy is grounded in a genuine understanding around implementation and training.

A Chicago-Born Resource Exchange

Image by Rheaply

Tom Fecarotta, from Rheaply, the B2B inventory management platform, wrapped up the panel. Using technology removes the manual processes associated with trying to operationalize workplace reuse efforts. Organizations that are tasked with large site decommissions of office furniture or materials often have to connect with donation partners, employees, potential buyers, etc. all via separate systems, collecting data in many manual ways. With resource exchange partners, you can make your company’s assets more discoverable, transferable, and valuable within your organization and across a broader network of organizations to improve team efficiency, reduce decommission chaos, and optimize financial and sustainable outcomes.

Sold-out tour of THE MART’s basement where a sophisticated composting and recycling program is well under way.

Our goal was to educate, ignite and inspire through new connections to improve life in Chicago and beyond. We invite you to connect with the panelists and their organizations for more information. Consider joining IFMA-Chicago or Workplace Evolutionaires for additional conversations on circularity and beyond.

Special thanks to our event partners:

Leading the conversation with their latest Sustainability report here.
Thank you to THE MART for all of their support including use of the latest compostable flatware throughout the evening.





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