Since its inception in 2010, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has seen the necessity to catalyse circular economy thinking not only in Higher Education but also in the world of business and industry. So on day three of the Schmidt-MacArthur Summer School, the Fellows and Mentors attended the inaugural Circular Economy 100 Annual Summit, an event intended to take stock of progress within business in the transition to a circular economy.
Jamie Butterworth opened the Summit, and introduced Carlos Tavares, COO of Founding Partner Renault. Mr Tavares shared the history and experience of his company in moving towards a circular economy, placing Renault’s activity within the context of both global price fluctuations and a wider strategy to offer mobility rather than car ownership alone. The presentation closed with the announcement that Renault would be renewing their partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for a further three years, in order to build on the progress towards circularity.
In a session on New Access Models, the audience heard from a range of speakers. Ruben van Doorn of Turntoo provided the viewpoint from a company built on the concept of access over ownership, whilst Rachel Botsman rounded out the session with further case studies and surprising statistics on the mega-trend of the sharing economy.
Design was another focus on the agenda, with Jeremy Faludi of Autodesk suggesting some practical considerations for designing not only products but the systems in which they fit. An academic perspective came from Professor Peter Childs of Imperial College London, who commented that by thinking through the circular economy framework, he had “discovered something more powerful than traditional life cycle tools".
Ecovative’s Eben Bayer arrived just in time from the United States to share the successes and failures that he found in establishing his mycelium packaging company Ecovative. Further analysis of materials design and choice in a circular economy was provided by Professor James Clark, who highlighted a range of opportunities in which resource flows could be valorised.
As well as keeping the end goal in sight, a key aim of the Summit was to take stock of the progress being made by companies moving towards a circular economy. This came from four speakers including James Walker of B&Q, Neil Harris of Cisco, Mike Biddle of MBA Polymers, and Robert Metzke of Philips; recently announced as a new Global Partner of the Foundation.
Following the close of the first ever Circular Economy 100 Summit, the Fellows, Mentors and the rest of the day’s attendees were joined by a further 200 people for the Schmidt-MacArthur Lecture – the Summer School’s apex of discussion and activity around the circular economy. Wendy Schmidt, President of the Schmidt Family Foundation, gave a short opening address recalling the development of the collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, after which she handed over to her husband, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. Eric touched on a broad range of topics throughout his talk, with the central fulcrum of his argument being how innovation and the internet can support and enable re-organisation of energy, resources & business. In the Q&A that followed, the audience was keen to hear how we can provide people with the skills and knowledge they need to accelerate the transition to a circular economy.
To listen to a podcast of Eric Schmidt’s keynote speech, with introduction with Foundation CEO Jamie Butterworth and information on the Fellowship from Wendy Schmidt, click here
The evening culminated in a lively panel debate between six experts and thought-leaders, all of whom had also contributed throughout the day. McKinsey’s Jeremy Oppenheim made a robust economic case for a circular economy, which was complimented by impassioned responses from William McDonough and Michael Braungart, authors of the hugely influential best-seller Cradle to Cradle. The views of both these speakers highlighted the need for defining clear business values, whilst pointing out paradoxes in traditional ‘do less’ efforts employed by many companies and governments around the world. Walter Stahel, Founder and Director of the Product Life Institute and member of the Club of Rome, added vast knowledge of the performance economy in a segment that combined case examples with the discussion of broader economic change, such as shifting taxation away from labour. Biomimicry pioneer Janine Benyus added another angle to the panel focusing on what system and product design can learn from biology, specifically with regards to additive manufacturing; ‘growing’ products rather than extracting them from another material.
Ellen MacArthur reflected on the panel discussion and the rest of the day in her closing remarks, which focused on the process of learning that she underwent in setting up the Foundation and getting to this point, and the continued importance of learning and collaboration in expanding and adding detail in our ‘mapping’ of a circular economy.
“We are launching a conversation today and it’s one that the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Schmidt Family Foundation hope will have resonance for years to come and have very many practical and meaningful applications.”
- Wendy Schmidt, President of The Schmidt-Family Foundation.