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Foundation promotes circular economy around the world

29/04/2013

A foundation established by former round-the-world yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur is aiming to deepen the understanding of major corporations about the concept of the circular economy, and thereby to change their behaviour.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation hopes to involve “100 companies in 1000 days of innovation” related to the circular economy, according to the foundation's Andrew Morlet. In February 2013, the foundation launched the “Circular Economy 100” programme, which Morlet heads.

The foundation defines the circular economy as a resource-efficient system that is “life-imitating” - inputs and outputs are used in a circular way so that outputs ultimately become inputs again. A “perfect” circular economy relies on a number of principles, according to the foundation: that “waste is food”, meaning that it is always recycled or reused; that energy must come from renewable sources; that “prices must tell the truth” and reflect real costs, including environmental costs; and that systems thinking must prevail, so that resources, including waste, are used at the most appropriate point of the system.

The Circular Economy 100 is encouraging companies to innovate to apply these principles to their operations. Morlet says that the programme will bring companies together in a variety of networking forums so that executives can discuss the issues. There will be workshops, eLearning for company managers and collaborative projects to identify common sectoral issues. There will also be a high-level conference, which the foundation wants to establish as the world's leading event on the circular economy.

The aim is “building capability and capacity” in companies, Morlet says. He hopes that the Circular Economy 100 can create a “tremendous network effect” to promote a “global understanding of best practice, and deal with common challenges and barriers” to the circular economy.

So far, 30 companies have committed to the programme. The Circular Economy 100 will run for three years - thus the aim for “1000 days of innovation”. Morlet says the programme should quickly reach its planned scale. “We have had a very strong response, and we're very confident we will get to 100 companies,” he says. Participants include Coca-Cola, Ikea and Renault. The initiative will also be open to start-ups and innovative small companies. Turntoo, the Dutch company that promotes the circular economy, is a participant, for example.

The goal is to trigger “circular initiatives that will result in an aggregated economic benefit of $10 billion for the businesses involved,” the foundation says. So far, projects on materials recovery have identified potential savings that could be worth more than $1 billion, the foundation claims.

Ellen MacArthur, who has spoken at the European Commission at the launch of the European Resource Efficiency Platform, was inspired to work on the circular economy by her experiences at sea - she has set records for global circumnavigation. She has said that having to live on limited resources while at sea with no support taught her to understand that resources are finite and must be managed as such.

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