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Closing the Loop

Pragmatic circular procurement in the world of electronics

Mobile phones and laptops are beacons of change in the developing world, bringing huge opportunities for financial and personal growth as the world’s leading tech companies compete for the brand loyalty of billions. But – and it’s a big but – the disposal of this game-changing electronic equipment leads to major environmental challenges. Joost de Kluijver and his company Closing the Loop offer a unique solution that does not focus on the problem, but delivers on the growing demand for sustainable purchasing of electronics.

Closing the Loop

"People think we’re crazy paying for scrap but I’m convinced that the iconic status of the mobile phone can help it become the first waste-free product and create a more positive image for sustainability and circularity as a whole.”

Joost de Kluijver, Founder Closing the Loop

After working in the phone world in both a commercial (as a consultant) and charitable (NGO) capacity, Joost de Kluijver established Closing the Loop in 2012 as a social enterprise gateway between the two worlds.

“Over five billion people use a phone and the sector accounts for 4.5% of global GDP. Having sold phones and worked in their lifecycle extension, I’m all too aware that they offer enormous progress while simultaneously generating lots of waste. Of the two billion phones produced every year only a small fraction is recycled. And of those, only a tiny number are recycled responsibly so that the components or raw materials can be reused.

“I decided to try and do something about this in a way no-one else had tried, safe in the knowledge that no-one could therefore be better than me!”  

Responsible recycling

Closing the Loop (CTL) started with phones and has expanded to a service for tablets and laptops plus custom solutions for other electronic equipment. Its proposition addresses two major issues connected to IT hardware: the lack of services for sustainable procurement and the pollution caused by e-scrap in the emerging world. The company offers users, buyers, and sellers of devices an easy way to make new gadgets waste-free. This is done by collecting end-of-life equipment in developing countries and recycling it responsibly. The collected waste 'compensates' for new gadgets added to the market.

“Waste collection and shipping is a complex concept and very expensive to do properly. Closing the Loop is the first company to do it fully legal,” Joost explains. “CTL collects the waste so that companies in Europe can deliver on their sustainable procurement goals in a pragmatic and appealing way. Put simply, for one new device bought by a client company, we save another that would otherwise be left in an e-waste dump.”

Thinking ahead
Tapping into needs

Tapping into needs

CTL has established collection networks with local partners who it trains, equips and funds. In countries like Ghana and Rwanda where proper recycling is impossible, waste is shipped to the nearest country that has the right facilities. “There are major challenges in setting up IT collection systems in Africa, which is perhaps why we’re the only company in the world doing this. People see electronics as waste that cannot be recycled and overcoming such scepticism is part of the job. Moreover, the ecosystem for proper collection is missing, with no legislation, infrastructure or NGOs advocating the cause – all the elements that support a streamlined collection process in Europe.

“The key thing we’ve learned to date is that you cannot change the mindset of the whole world. Many well-intentioned organisations take a somewhat utopian approach by first creating awareness of the need for circularity before acting. I think the path to success is to tap into existing needs. There is no real ‘need’ for e-waste collection currently in Africa and you can’t sell impact to people who are not looking to make one.

“We therefore address instead the needs of European organisations for pragmatic green solutions, marketing/PR purposes and employer branding that helps staff feel proud of their employer’s sustainability record. Many companies and public entities have abstract visions on sustainability and circularity and we offer concrete answers that they can act on today to deliver on their targets. The service delivers a positive environmental impact, a great story, measurable results, employee engagement and stakeholder happiness.”

Thinking ahead

CTL is clearly tapping into the zeitgeist of an IT industry seeing rising demands from customers to engage in more sustainable procurement. “We are a commercial company selling a commercial service to very commercial companies such as T-Mobile and Samsung. Our proposition allows their customers to buy great gadgets and know they are being green via a tangible approach which is commercially attractive and also solid.”

As the global flagbearers of tech advancement, Joost says phones and laptops are a superb starting point for circularity. “If we can make devices that people use 500 times a day more sustainable in a way that is appealing and understandable to individuals, they can also be a means to communicate the overall circular message by explaining about the precious metals within that can be reused. CTL customers implement this idea on their device as it allows them to share a story which connects to people’s everyday lives, starting with employees. When people see equipment in a different light now, they will treat it differently later.”  

Thinking ahead

"I think that the whole approach to sustainability and circularity needs to be changed in a similar vein."

Joost de Kluijver, Founder Closing the Loop

Realistic starting point

Joost is keen to point out that the CTL solution isn’t the solution, just a positive starting point. “Some NGOs find our approach hard to support as they like to promote the end solution. But we have to get moving first and are currently so far off that the end goal can appear totally unrealistic. CTL offers an achievable step that feels comfortable for people to take as a consumer or even just a human being.

“I think that the whole approach to sustainability and circularity needs to be changed in a similar vein. The focus with regards to sustainability in the tech sector is almost entirely fixated on problems like material scarcity and child labour. These challenges are very real but the danger is that we frame the whole issue of circularity in such a negative way that it fails to engage the 95% of people who don’t have the subject on their radar currently.”

Enter Strategy&

PwC became a Closing the Loop customer in early 2020, engaging in a range of conversations about how the partnership could contribute to achieving various Sustainable Development Goals. “It was a logical extension for Strategy& to then start supporting us from a business angle,” says Joost. “They are helping ensure that the CTL proposition is understood by our customers, and exploring the best approaches we should take to different end-user groups – individuals, companies and the tech sector in general.

“Together we are developing a more effective marketing strategy. Strategy& people know the industry and recognise that it is missing out on the potential impact of circularity. Being able to see things from a client’s perspective and understanding what we do is a very productive combination to bring to the table.”

Talha Zafar, former Senior Associate at Strategy&, agrees. “Closing the Loop is working on one of the most pressing global sustainability issues of today. Aside from the fact the firm is very inspirational, I have really enjoyed working closely with Joost. His entrepreneurial spirit is contagious, and I’m delighted that we have been able to inspire the CTL team to take a renewed approach to their clients.”

Contact us

Marcel Otten

Marcel Otten

Partner, Strategy& Netherlands

Contact us

Marcel Otten

Marcel Otten

Partner, Strategy& Netherlands

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