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:

Cradle to Cradle

German chemist and visionary Michael Braungart went on to develop, together with American architect Bill McDonough, the Cradle to Cradle™ concept and certification process. This design philosophy considers all material involved in industrial and commercial processes to be nutrients, of which there are two main categories: technical and biological. The Cradle to Cradle framework focuses on design for effectiveness in terms of products with positive impact and reducing the negative impacts of commerce through efficiency.

Cradle to Cradle design perceives the safe and productive processes of nature’s ‘biological metabolism’ as a model for developing a ‘technical metabolism’ flow of industrial materials. Product components can be designed for continuous recovery and reutilisation as biological and technical nutrients within these metabolisms.

  • Eliminate the concept of waste. “Waste equals food.” Design products and materials with life cycles that are safe for human health and the environment and that can be reused perpetually through biological and technical metabolisms. Create and participate in systems to collect and recover the value of these materials following their use.
  • Power with renewable energy. “Use current solar income.” Maximize the use of renewable energy.
  • Respect human & natural systems. “Celebrate diversity.” Manage water use to maximize quality, promote healthy ecosystems and respect local impacts. Guide operations and stakeholder relationships using social responsibility.

Katja Hansen - The Cradle to Cradle concept in detail

Katja Hansen is a pioneering contributor to the scientfic basis for the Cradle to Cradle design paradigm. She is Senior Researcher at The Academic Chair Cradle to Cradle for Innovation and Quality Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. She is also a lead trainer and engineering expert working with EPEA Internationale Umweltforschung on implementing the Cradle to Cradle concept with partner companies, and manages the EU supported C2C Islands project.