Whether you’re in the beauty and cosmetic industry like L’Oreal or the food and beverage industry like Coco-Cola you should know about the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and more importantly the empowering woman that is Dame Ellen MacArthur herself.
Ellen MacArthur didn’t start as a sustainability expert but still managed to build a leading global organization dedicated to accelerating the transition to a circular economy.
With sustainability at the forefront, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has worked with companies worldwide, enabling them to rethink and redesign how they run their businesses to be more circular.
In this blog, we discuss:
- Background on the Ellen MacArthur Foundation
- What is the Circular Economy?
- The Foundation’s Approach to Promoting a Circular Economy
- The Importance of the Circular Economy
- Involvement with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation
- Challenges of Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Circular Economy
Background on the Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Believe it or not, Dame Ellen MacArthur is a former professional sailor. And not only was she a pro she also broke the world record for the fastest solar circumnavigation of the globe in 2005 - talk about impressive!
In her Ted Talk on the topic, she spoke about how she became fascinated with sustainability and resource efficiency during her sailing expeditions.
She quickly realized she would have to pack everything she needed for the journey if she wanted to survive, which took both strategy and a lot of planning. And although this was not easy it brought Ellen MacArthur on an adventure full of life-changing discoveries…
Witnessing it firsthand, MacArthur saw the fragility of the natural environment and the impact of human activity on the oceans and biodiversity.
She had a realization that the world is faced with a finite number of resources and that our current economy is linear in that we extract resources, make things, and then throw them away - an unsustainable model.
And with that MacArthur decided to question and challenge these business models with the ideas of circular design, ultimately setting out to create what we now know as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
History and Mission
In 2009, after retiring from professional sailing, MacArthur started to move the needle on her valuable realizations, founding the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2010.
Built on the premise that a circular economy was necessary to create a more sustainable future, MacArthur set out to redesign what most people thought of as sustainable.
The foundation started as a small organization with a handful of employees, but quickly gained recognition for its work on the circular economy. Funding and support from businesses, governments, and other organizations helped the Ellen MacArthur Foundation push the limits of its research and findings, and expand its global network of partners and supporters.
With an initial mission to raise awareness of the benefits of a circular economy and to drive systemic change toward this new economic model, the foundation has since become a leading voice on the topic of the circular economy.
Since its formation, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s work has been recognized with numerous awards and accolades. And further credibility has been built through collaborations with businesses, governments, and academia, to develop practical solutions and promote the adoption of circular economy practices, around the world.
Whether it's designing products for circularity, creating closed-loop supply chains, or developing new business models to prioritize sustainability, there is no challenge too big when it comes to The Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
What is the Circular Economy?
Now you be wondering…
What is a circular economy?
Simply put, the idea of a circular economy can be defined as an economic model that aims to eliminate waste, such as plastic pollution, and maximize the use of resources by keeping materials and products in use for as long as possible, but this definition may look different for every individual company.
In contrast to the traditional linear economy, which is based on a take-make-dispose model, the circular economy seeks to create a closed-loop system in which resources are continuously reused, recycled, and regenerated.
At the heart of the circular economy is the idea of redesigning all systems to eliminate waste and pollution, at all stages of a product's lifecycle.
To do so companies may consider eliminating single-use products and creating items that owners can reuse or are compostable. Not only is waste reduction critical to building a circular economy but so is extending material life spans.
By keeping materials in use through reuse and plastics recycling, we can reduce the need for new resources and in return decrease the amount of waste in landfills.
As decision-makers push to eliminate linear economic systems and implement a circular economy, companies around the world will be empowered to create value from waste.
Rather than seeing waste as a problem, companies that use a circular business model can use waste as a valuable resource utilized to create new products and services.
Although this commitment is no easy task, as MacArthur saw firsthand, it's a necessary change we must take to build a more sustainable and resilient global economy that benefits both people and the planet.
The Foundation’s Approach to Promoting a Circular Economy
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation takes a multi-faceted approach to promote a circular economy, but it's all built on a global network and a deep commitment to the cause.
Businesses, non-profit organizations, and academia committed to the circular economy are the core foundation in promoting collaboration and knowledge-sharing to catalyze this much-needed change.
By bringing together leaders from different sectors, MacArthur herself believes that we can accelerate the transition to a circular economy. And this belief is reflected directly in her vocal advocacy…
MacArthur regularly speaks at conferences and events around the world, using the tools of education and advocacy to build momentum around commitments to the foundation.
Additionally, the foundation works hand in hand with policymakers, business leaders, and the general public to not only educate about the benefits of a circular economy but to propose practical steps that can be taken to implement it.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation also conducts research and analysis to identify key challenges and opportunities in the transition to a circular economy.
As we all know the topic of sustainability is ever-changing but with the help of ongoing research the foundation has been able to develop practical tools and frameworks to adapt to these changes.
And The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s commitments don’t stop there…
A strong proponent of innovation and entrepreneurship as drivers of the circular economy, MacArthur has also established a number of programs to support entrepreneurs who are developing circular business models; connecting entrepreneurs with investors and mentors who might be able to help scale the business.
Overall, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s approach to promoting a circular economy is both holistic and collaborative and sends the message that stakeholders must come together in order to achieve the goal of creating a more sustainable and resilient future.
The Importance of the Circular Economy
In a world faced with climate change and environmental uncertainty, taking steps to improve global impacts on our planet are critical.
The circular economy is an important concept because it offers a new vision for economic growth that is more sustainable and equitable than the traditional linear economy.
As many companies have found out the hard way, resources are finite and environmental degradation is detrimental to everyone involved.
But implementing the circular economy seeks to break this cycle by promoting more sustainable production and consumption patterns.
Companies that can find supplements for plastic packaging or reduce overall plastic waste are taking the right steps in this journey toward a more circular economy.
By reducing waste, emissions, and plastic pollution, businesses can start to mitigate climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and protect natural resources and biodiversity.
And environmental benefits aside, there are also many economic benefits companies using a circular economy may see…
By keeping resources in use for longer and reducing waste, the circular economy can help to reduce pressure on finite resources and improve overall resource efficiency, and as a result, reduce costs and supply chain pressures for businesses.
The circular economy’s new approach to economic growth prioritizes sustainability, resource efficiency, and equity…
And in an unpredictable world full of environmental and social challenges such an approach is more than necessary.
Involvement with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Companies that already have best practices in place for a circular economy may be wondering where to go next…
Beyond adopting circular economy principles and sharing best practices around the topic, companies may want to take it a step further, which can be done through The Global Commitment.
Simply put, The Global Commitment is a commitment from businesses and governments to change how they produce, use, and reuse plastic by 2025, driven by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation and the UN Environment Programme.
The Global Commitment covers four key areas: packaging, food systems, the fashion industry, and plastic waste. And those who commit are expected to take action in each of the areas, such as reducing single-use plastics.
And it’s important to note that global commitments such as those related to The Ellen MacArthur Foundation take more than just a verbal obligation.
Companies must track progress, share best practices, and continue to improve their circular economy strategies continually.
Whether your company is ready to take The Global Commitment or just wants to be more educated on the circular economy, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is there to help - and the perfect resource your team can use cross-functionally to take steps toward a more circular business model.
Challenges of Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Circular Economy
As they say, if it was easy we’d all be doing it…
But unfortunately, commitments to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Circular Economy are far from easy and pose many challenges.
With a lack of overall awareness and understanding of the circular economy, it can be difficult to get the necessary buy-in from all stakeholders.
Infrastructure and supply chain limitations required to extend the lifecycle of materials are also not always accessible or are expensive to implement.
Moving towards a circular economy may also require significant investments, which can be a challenge, partially in an economic context where short-term cost savings may take precedence.
Overall, there is a need to scale up circular economy initiatives but this requires collaboration, coordination, and resources.
With this being said the environmental issues the topic addresses are unfortunately not going anywhere, so businesses should begin reevaluating their business models and start taking the necessary steps in implementing these changes.
For you and me a solar circumnavigation of the globe by yacht won’t be necessary to realize that our global resources are finite and plastic pollution is more than detrimental- thanks, MacArthur!
With a mission to raise awareness of the benefits of a circular economy, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has taken impactful strides in redesigning how the world looks at sustainability.
With well-deserved recognition, the foundation has gained commitment from businesses and governments from around the world.
But as we all know making these commitments are no easy task, and take time and dedication from all members of a team.
And these changes also require data - data about a company's waste, pollution, and emissions across a business’s entire supply chain.
The shift away from a linear economy and towards a circular economy requires DNA-level data so companies can see where the necessary shifts to the commitment make both logical and economic sense.
Taking a Spec-First approach to data management will help empower companies to ensure that their materials and supply chain practices are in line with the circular economy principles and goals of Ellen MacArthur’s Global Commitment.
And with Specright companies can do just that…
Overall, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s multifaceted approach to promoting a circular economy has made influential impacts on people, companies, and other organizations around the world.
And with Dame Ellen MacArthur’s grit and commitment the foundation will push to be better, addressing whatever environmental and social challenges they may face.