Why data and measurement are key to a circular economy transition

By James Woolven, Editor, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

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Picture by Jon Flobrant

Measuring financial results, customer retention, productivity, and inventory are all commonplace, but these measurements alone are no longer enough to tell a business whether it will stand the test of time. To be successful, it is becoming increasingly clear that businesses need to consider their social and environmental impact — or else be caught out by changing legislation or left behind by customers. What once could be simply written off as a ‘negative externality’ now has financial implications and has to be central to business strategies. …


What is circular design and why is it at the heart of a regenerative future?

By Simon Widmer, Design Network and Creative Lead, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

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Photo by Anna Sushok on Unsplash

Look around you. Almost everything you see has been designed by someone. Your chair. The building you are in. Your clothes. And not just physical things, but also all of the services you use and the experiences that make up day to day life. How you order and get your food. The mobility and communication systems that connect you with your loved ones.

There are many definitions of and perspectives on design. Many agree that designing is about creating with intent, about addressing needs, and about moving towards preferred situations. The Montreal Design Declaration, which represents over 700 professional associations, design schools and stakeholders, defines design as “the application of intent: the process through which we create the material, spatial, visual and experiential environments”. …


Why renewable energy and efficiency alone won’t cut it

By James Woolven, Editor, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

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Photo by Shyam on Unsplash

In the five years since the Paris Agreement was adopted, commitments have been made to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy. But this is only part of the equation. To achieve net-zero by 2050, we need to address the way we make and use products, materials, and food. We need a circular economy.

Five years ago, the world’s nations gathered in Le Bourget, near Paris, to discuss, draft, and adopt what has since become known as the Paris Agreement. The document, which has been signed by 196 countries to date, became the first global consensus on the need to address the devastating impacts of climate change. It commits its signatories to containing global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, a feat that requires tremendous collaboration.

So where are we now, five years down the line?

Some 192 countries around the world, the emitters of 96% of the global greenhouse gas emissions, have submitted plans (called nationally determined contributions or NDCs) to reduce their emissions. Meanwhile, as the evidence of the cost of inaction mounts, local governments, businesses, and the financial sector are also mobilising. In less than a year, and despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of net-zero pledges from cities, regions, and companies roughly doubled to more than 2,500 by October 2020. …


By Tansy Robertson-Fall, Senior Editor, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

As the renewable energy sector grows, high-capacity long-life battery storage is fundamental to its success. How these batteries are designed and made will define their environmental impact for generations to come. Creating a circular economy for batteries is crucial to prevent one of the solutions to the current environmental crisis becoming the cause of another.

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Photo by Lukas Bato on Unsplash

The renewable energy sector is growing at an exponential rate. In 2020, for the first time, renewables have generated more electricity in the UK than fossil fuels and according to the International Energy Agency solar energy is now the “cheapest electricity in history”. Yet while the capacity of the renewable energy sector is strengthening, renewables still only account for 11% of the world’s primary energy. …


It’s about finding solutions through upstream innovation

By James Woolven, Editor, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

The problem of plastic pollution is well documented. If you type it into Google, you get about 180 million results in less than a second. This article is not about plastic pollution. It is about solutions.

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Photo by Harrison Broadbent on Unsplash

It is obvious now that we are not going to recycle our way out of this problem and we cannot pull plastic out of the ocean at the rate we are putting it in. Burying it in the ground is not a long-term solution and burning it is just plain wasteful — not to mention highly polluting. So, we need to look at this problem in a different way. …


Addressing climate change and biodiversity loss while

By Tansy Robertson-Fall, Senior Editor, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Climate, biodiversity, human health. These pressing global challenges are all connected by one vital sector of the economy: food. More than a third of the world’s land is currently dedicated to food production. How we manage that land impacts levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, whether plants, insects, and animals can thrive, and if people have access to a nutritious diet.

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Photo by Nitin Bhosale on Unsplash

While the current food system has supported a fast-growing population and fuelled economic development, productivity gains have come at a cost. Deforestation for agricultural land as well as livestock and soil management have amounted to the food industry being responsible for almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Meanwhile, mismanagement of fertilisers has caused eutrophication of waterways and chemical pesticide use has degraded the natural resources on which the food system depends. …


Two sides of the same coin

By Janez Potočnik

The author was European Commissioner for Environment from 2009 until 2014, and during his tenure initiated the European Resource Efficiency Platform, which resulted in the adoption of the first European Circular Economy Package. A former Minister for European Affairs of Slovenia, Potočnik is today co-chair of the International Resource Panel (IRP), and Partner at SYSTEMIQ, he serves as a special advisor on sustainability to European Commissioner for the Environment & Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius.

There is almost complete consensus that we want an economy which better serves people’s needs, creates better resilience and, in so doing, secures European competitiveness. As we frame discussions and negotiations — most immediately around recovery funds — it is important to understand why the Green Deal and recovery go together. In particular, this means understanding why smarter resource management is the key to securing Europe’s competitiveness, and how we can build a globally competitive position through the decisions we make now. …


Engaging more people in the circular economy discourse

By Tansy Robertson-Fall, Senior Editor, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

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Photo by Hao Zhang on Unsplash

“Art helps us identify with one another and expands our notion of we — from the local to the global” — Olafur Eliasson

In 2015, while the members of the United Nations gathered in Paris to discuss climate change, artist Olafur Eliasson and geologist Minik Rosing placed 12 glacial icebergs from Greenland’s Nuuk Fjord in Place du Panthéon square. As commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions took shape and the Paris Agreement formed, the citizens of the city walked amongst the melting Ice Watch installation “witness[ing] the ecological changes our world is undergoing”. …


Solutions to design out waste and pollution

By Tansy Robertson-Fall, Senior Editor, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Marie Kondo tells us that ‘the best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.’ But with more than two billion tonnes of waste being sent to landfill by households annually, how we dispose of the things we once loved is of utmost importance.

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Photo by Park Troopers on Unsplash

Toys are prime examples of items that are designed to ‘spark joy’ but often end up as waste when a child’s play interests change. The value of the global toy market exceeded USD 90 billion in 2019 but with 80% of all toys ending up in landfill, incinerators, or the ocean much of this value is lost when toys are thrown away. In France alone, more than 40 million toys end up as waste each year, and in the UK almost a third of parents have admitted to throwing away toys in good working order because their children have finished playing with them. …


Changing our view of the world for a more prosperous future

By Harrison Wavell, Schools & Colleges Programme Manager, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Put simply, the circular economy is a way of designing, making, and using things within the limits of the planet. And yet for anyone truly engaged in the topic there is something intriguing about it, a sense that, behind this simple idea, there is a far richer story.

For the sake of simplicity, we can split this story into three parts: the pre-science worldview, the scientific worldview of the enlightenment, and the emerging worldview of the digital age.

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Photo by Jason Wong on Unsplash

Pre-science worldview

In the pre-science worldview, our understanding of the universe came about primarily through observation of our natural surroundings coupled with intuition and religious precepts. We had no reliable frameworks or theories for guidance. The constants that guided life were the divine entities embodied in the sun, moon, stars, and seasons. Religion not science explained how the world worked: in essence, that humanity was at the mercy of the Gods whose heavenly will was reflected on Earth. …

About

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

We work to build a framework for a circular economy that is restorative and regenerative by design. Follow @circulatenews for latest insights.

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