Establishing the circular economy on the agenda of decision makers

With the circular economy becoming more than just a buzzword, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has played an integral role in raising more awareness about the circular economy concept and the need to implement it in order to ensure sustainability. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation shares the journey on becoming one of the leading voices of the circular economy.

When the Ellen MacArthur Foundation was created in 2010, the ideas behind a circular economy were not necessarily new – we were drawing on major schools of thought related to the circular economy that had emerged as early as the 1970s.[1] Since its creation, the Foundation has emerged as a global thought leader, establishing circular economy on the agenda of decision makers across business, government and academia.

Our efforts over the last five years have revolved around developing insights and analysis around the circular economy by adopting a multi-stakeholder approach where we work with businesses and governments in the areas of education, training and communications. The level of interest that the circular economy concept has generated over the last five years is reflected in the many organisations now engaged in this transition. We have seen a significant rise in awareness and adoption of circular economy principles: the strength and growth of our CE100 network made up of businesses, universities, innovators, governments, cities and affiliate organisations, as well as the permeation of concepts into major policy organisations (such as the European Commission’s recent circular economy package) are just some examples that indicate how well the circular economy has been received by businesses and policymakers.

Our approach to encouraging industries and countries to adopt the circular economy is reflected in our major areas of work. Firstly, we have developed a strong evidence base, quantifying the economic potential of the circular model, as well as identifying approaches to capture this value. Our insight and analysis feed into a growing body of economic reports highlighting the rationale for an accelerated transition towards the circular economy, and exploring the potential benefits across different stakeholders and sectors. We also strongly believe in the power of collaboration: the Foundation’s CE100 network encourages businesses, governments, cities and universities to embark on a circular economy journey by adopting circular economy principles themselves while working together towards a broader systemic shift. We also enable these organisations and individuals through training programmes, and encourage research into the space through our education programmes.

As the circular economy model and concept gets adopted more broadly – across industries and regions – there is always a risk of the key messages and principles getting diluted or misinterpreted. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation focuses intensively on our communications efforts, in order to make sure that people understand that a circular economy is not simply “recycling plus”. In addition, it’s imperative that we continuously explore new angles of the circular economy message, across different audiences. Currently, for example, we are particularly focused on exploring the circular economy model and messaging in emerging economies.

As a foundation we have seen the need for public-private partnerships as key to the transition to a circular economy. We’ve seen examples of this, some of which are highlighted through case studies on our website. One example in particular that exemplifies public-private partnerships is the Textiles Recycling Valley initiative in Northern France. This initiative puts interdisciplinary collaboration at the forefront of a drive to dramatically increase collection and reuse of textiles in the region. Core partners of the project each bring different skills or knowledge in convening relevant stakeholders, textile innovation, reverse logistics, materials reuse and economics.

While there isn’t an “ideal” way to implement the circular economy, the most successful examples we’ve seen are always the result of extensive multi-stakeholder collaboration and those that take a systemic view rather than focusing on their company or sector’s challenges.

To read up more on the work that that the Ellen MacArthur Foundation does visit:

[1] Examples include the functional service economy (performance economy) of Walter Stahel, the “cradle to cradle” design philosophy of William McDonough and Michael Braungart, biomimicry as articulated by Janine Benyus, the industrial ecology of Reid Lifset and Thomas Graedel, natural capitalism by Amory and Hunter Lovins and Paul Hawken, and the blue economy systems approach described by Gunter Pauli.