What is
the circular economy?

Where we have come from The Industrial Revolution laid the foundation for how the economy of today operates.

Where we have come from

A transformation in our ability to make things permanently changed society.

We’ve been at a turning point before. In 1684 Thomas Savery invented the steam engine and it changed everything. This invention kick-started the industrial revolution, which permanently transformed our ability to make things. Raw materials and energy were seemingly infinite, and labour was readily available. For the first time in history, goods were mass produced.

How this looks today

We turn resources into an extraordinary number of products.

Since the industrial revolution, the rapid pace of technological progress has continued. The resulting innovations mean that many now have access to products from all over the world at affordable prices. These products have brought many of us levels of material comfort unimaginable to previous generations.

How this looks today We now have the knowledge and tools to build an economy that is fit for the 21st Century.
Our way of doing things is reaching its limits Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned.

Our way of doing things is reaching its limits

The current system is no longer working for businesses, people or the environment.

We take resources from the ground to make products, which we use, and, when we no longer want them, throw them away. Take-make-waste. We call this a linear economy.

TAKE

TAKE

Resources are taken from the ground

MAKE

MAKE

To make products which are used

WASTE

WASTE

When the products are no longer needed or wanted they are discarded

We are disrupting the system

The linear economy has to change.

We must transform all the elements of the take-make-waste system: how we manage resources, how we make and use products, and what we do with the materials afterwards. Only then can we create a thriving economy that can benefit everyone within the limits of our planet.

We are disrupting the system The next generation of pioneers are disrupting the current system from within.

The following three principles are the foundations of a new system:

PRINCIPLE /1

Design out waste and pollution

Did you know that waste and pollution are largely a result of the way we design things?

Waste and pollution are not accidents, but the consequences of decisions made at the design stage, where around 80% of environmental impacts are determined. By changing our mindset to view waste as a design flaw and harnessing new materials and technologies, we can ensure that waste and pollution are not created in the first place.

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  • Meet the new polystyrene

  • The sweet taste of resource from waste

  • Regenerative agriculture

PRINCIPLE /2

Keep products and materials in use

What if we could build an economy that uses things, rather than uses them up?

We can’t keep wasting resources. Products and materials must be kept in the economy. We can design some products and components so they can be reused, repaired, and remanufactured. But making things last forever is not the only solution. When it comes to products like food or packaging, we should be able to get the materials back so they don’t end up in landfill.

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  • Free repairs for life

  • A circular music experience

  • Light as a service

PRINCIPLE /3

Regenerate natural systems

What if we could not only protect, but actively improve the environment?

In nature, there is no concept of waste. Everything is food for something else - a leaf that falls from a tree feeds the forest. Instead of simply trying to do less harm, we should aim to do good. By returning valuable nutrients to the soil and other ecosystems, we can enhance our natural resources.

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  • Closing the nutrient loop

  • Building natural capital

  • A farm powered by symbiosis

The benefits of a new system

USD 700 million annual material cost savings in the fast-moving consumer goods industry
48% reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030
USD 550 billion reduction in health care costs associated with the food sector.
€3,000 increase in disposable income per annum for EU households
CNY 70 trillion savings for businesses and households in China by 2040
47% reduction in traffic congestion in China’s cities
The circular economy vision and approach gives endless possibilities to create a thriving economy. It’s called the circular economy

It’s called the circular economy

It’s a new way to design, make, and use things within planetary boundaries.

Shifting the system involves everyone and everything: businesses, governments, and individuals; our cities, our products, and our jobs. By designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems we can reinvent everything.

So, what can I do?

With new ways of thinking we can redesign the system. Continue learning about the circular economy and the role that you can play in accelerating the shift.

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CASE STUDIES

Find out how organisations around the world are going circular.