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Catalysing the transition to the circular economy



Dame Ellen MacArthur

The transition to a circular, restorative and regenerative economy is underway. Yet for it to quickly reach scale, new models of collaboration and multi-stakeholder platforms have to be put in place. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s CE100 Annual Summit aims to provide the latest knowledge exchange and company showcases to inspire, build capacity and foster new initiatives.

The current linear ‘take - make - dispose’ model generates waste, by-products that simply do not fit anywhere, as the vast majority of objects have not been designed from the outset to re-enter a cycle. Sensitive to commodities market fluctuations, the corporate world is obviously very aware of that, and is keen to explore new ways to keep thriving without having to rely solely on the consumption of finite resources.


Having proved the potential of a circular model by quantifying net material savings in our economic reports, we have been witnessing an important wave of interest from industry. At the heart of the issue lies a potential systemic shift towards a circular model in which materials, technical as well as biological, continuously flow: metals and polymers are kept in loops and re-employed whilst being kept at the highest level of quality, organic elements return to the soil safely and help build natural capital.


This of course presupposes careful design - for ease of disassembly, for instance, the elimination of toxicity… not to mention re-invented logistics, IT-enabled asset tracking, business models relying on the provision of a service rather than the transfer of product ownership, to name but a few elements.


All these notions are explored within the CE100 group, which was created at the instigation of our Global Partners, and the third edition of our Annual Summit reflects the evolution of a framework which gets more refined as it gets applied in a growing variety of sectors. By bringing together thought leaders, pioneering practitioners and representatives from government and cities, the event takes stock of the progress accomplished and helps members look forward in order to stay ahead of the curve.


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By identifying levers and barriers, creating synergies and learning how to work together, members effectively apply, in a pre-competitive environment, what New Scientist editor Roger Highfield refers to as the “snuggle for existence” – a creative cooperation on which most long-lasting and resilient systems are built and rely.


And thinking in terms of system is one of the most important building blocks when it comes to laying out the vision of a circular economy, as optimising products or services in isolation only leads to fragmentation and creates silos. Interesting short-term gains certainly can be obtained that way, but in order to move away from value creation mechanisms mostly based on depletive processes, we need all economic actors to consider how they interact with each other and to rethink the complete value chain - from material chemistry to end of useful life management, from producer/user relations to accounting strategies. The staggering range of topics covered is only gradually coming into focus, as we have so much to learn still - but being able to gather world-leading experts and counting on the drive of committed partners, we can help keep this crucial economic transition gather momentum.


Dame Ellen MacArthur

Dame Ellen MacArthur

Founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, founder of the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust, member of the Club of Rome

Ellen MacArthur made yachting history in 2005, when she became the fastest solo sailor to circumnavigate the globe, and remains the UK’s most successful offshore racer ever, having won the Ostar, the Route du Rhum and finished second in the Vendée Globe at just 24 years of age.

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