Schools of Thought

The circular economy concept has deep-rooted origins and cannot be traced back to one single date or author. Its practical applications to modern economic systems and industrial processes, however, have gained momentum since the late 1970s, led by a small number of academics, thought-leaders and businesses.

The generic concept has been refined and developed by the following schools of thought:


Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, defines her approach as ‘a new discipline that studies nature’s best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems’. Studying a leaf to invent a better solar cell is an example. She thinks of it as ‘innovation inspired by nature’. Biomimicry relies on three key principles:

  • Nature as model: Study nature’s models and emulate these forms, process, systems, and strategies to solve human problems.
  • Nature as measure: Use an ecological standard to judge the sustainability of our innovations.
  • Nature as mentor: View and value nature not based on what we can extract from the natural world, but what we can learn from it.

In the video below, Janine Benyus explains the concept and highlights examples of biomimetic innovation.

Janine Benyus at the Circular Economy 100 Annual Summit