The Circular Economy: A Trillion Dollar Opportunity
As a society, the world economy currently operates on a “take-make-dispose” linear model. The model, as it stands consists of three different steps:
- Taking materials needed to create products.
- Making and manufacturing products for mass consumption
- Disposing items when they are no longer of use.
This linear model is not sustainable from an economic standpoint. The production of a majority of the products that we use and consume tap into resources that are finite in nature (ie fossil fuels). We have become reliant on materials that are “cheap” and easily accessible, and this model is physically impossible to maintain as our society continues to age.
The Circular Economy presents a viable alternative to our current linear model. It’s an economy based on the cycle model by the “living world” – if you remove humans from the equation. In the natural world, there is no true waste and there are no landfills. Instead, organisms take from the earth, and their waste and byproducts can be used by other organisms in a continued circle. Many economists, theorists, activists, and academics believe that we can create a world economy based on this concept. As retired sailor and Circular Economy thought leader, Ellen MacArthur, says,
“Never at any point would anything made in a Circular Economy become waste.’
This video by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation does a fantastic job of explaining how this shift would be beneficial to our society.
Shifting to the Circular Economy would require a complete redesign of our economic, infrastructure, and manufacturing systems. We would shift away from creating products to be disposed. Products and their packaging will need to rethought and redesigned to be easily disassembled and regenerated.
Our consumerism would shift as well; instead of purchasing products (ie: appliances) to own, we would lease from manufacturers to use until they no longer work. The products would then be returned to the manufacturers to be broken down and reused in other products. All transportation of materials and goods would take place through renewable energy. Thus, completely eliminating any form of “waste”.
The benefits of a circular economy don’t stop at just sustainability benefits. The transition to circular economy has been estimated to be worth more than one trillion dollars in savings. Designer and thought leader, William McDonough has noted that a shift to the circular economy is
“The largest business opportunity ever seen by our species.”
While this may seem infeasible, some businesses have already started to work towards this model. Entrepreneurs like Arthur Huang, are starting to create businesses that rely on “upcycling” (the reuse of materials to create even better materials or products). But, the success of a truly circular economy rests in the hands of the consumers, because ultimately, they are the ones that are consuming the goods. It’s vital that consumers are educated on the benefits of the circular economy as the transition takes place, as a full transition will be impossible without their support.
For a brief overview of the power of the Circular Economy, watch this video produced the World Economic Forum: