Just What is the Circular Economy Anyway?

Imagine a future where landfills are consigned to the rubbish heap of history.  Source: Metro Vancouver

Imagine a future where waste is consigned to the rubbish heap of history. Source: Metro Vancouver

Closed-loop. Cradle-to-Cradle. Industrial Sustainability. There’s more than one name for the circular economy. But, whatever you call it, a zero waste approach to the manufacturing and consumption of the goods and services offers a new framework for continued prosperity in a changing world.  And as our planet gets smaller, resources scarcer, and the stakes higher, the circular economy may be the only way to support our modern way of life. So, what are we talking about when we talk about the circular economy?

Economist, philosopher, and Quaker Kenneth Boulding is credited by some as being the first modern thinker to bring the idea of a circular economy to a wider audience. In his 1966 essay The Economics of the Coming Spaceship EarthBoulding postulates that humankind is beginning a transition to a way of thinking that sees our planet more as a closed system than a limitless resource:

“The closed earth of the future requires economic principles which are somewhat different from those of the open earth of the past. For the sake of picturesqueness, I am tempted to call the open economy the “cowboy economy,” the cowboy being symbolic of the illimitable plains and also associated with reckless, exploitative, romantic, and violent behavior, which is characteristic of open societies. The closed economy of the future might similarly be called the “spaceman” economy, in which the earth has become a single spaceship, without unlimited reservoirs of anything, either for extraction or for pollution, and in which, therefore, man must find his place in a cyclical ecological system which is capable of continuous reproduction of material form even though it cannot escape having inputs of energy.”

For laypeople it may all seem like a recipe for higher prices and diminished opportunities. Surely the demands of recycling and the limitations of fewer resources must make life harder? Luckily, the opposite appears to be the case.

In the World Economic Forum’s report Towards the circular economy: Accelerating the scale-up across global supply chains examples are provided of existing circular economy efforts and initiatives that can lower costs to consumers and increase profits to manufacturers. Even more examples are provided in the Ellen MacCarthur Foundation’s three reports on the economic rationale for a transition to a circular economy; a shift they estimate could represent a $1 trillion USD opportunity for the global economy.

But moving from theory to practice is a challenge. Without the knowledge and guidance of the pioneers of the circular economy, it’s easy to make costly missteps or even go down entirely wrong paths. That’s where the 2014 Zero Waste Conference can help.

sandy rodgerOur line-up of speakers is a Who’s Who of cradle-to-cradle successes including Sandy Rodger,  who is the lead on the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Project MainStream. Sandy is a business leader with 30 years industrial experience, leading manufacturing, supply chain, and R&D. He served on the board of a $9Bn Unilever business, led a business turnaround for Diageo, and was Diageo’s corporate head of R&D and safety and environment. He is an engineer with an MBA and Environmental Systems Masters, and has wider sustainability experience at the urban and community level.

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 1.30.11 PMAlso speaking at the event will be Bridgett Luther – President, Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. Luther has served as president of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute since its inception in 2010 and leads the administration of the Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Program, which guides continual improvement towards products that fit into the circular economy framework.


The 2014 Zero Waste Conference offers a unique opportunity hear from industry leaders such as Rodger and Luther, network with like-minded individuals, and make important connections with private and public organizations committed to the successful implementation of this new paradigm. And at only $125 for the full day, this event even treads lightly on your wallet! Please join us for an inspiring day of shared knowledge and real world solutions to pressing issues. Sign up for #ZWC2014 today.

10 thoughts on “Just What is the Circular Economy Anyway?

  1. Pingback: Five Days to Zero Waste Conference 2014 | Zero Waste Conference Blog
  2. Pingback: 3 Things I Bet You Didn’t Know About Our Waste – From Metro Vancouver’s Zero Waste Conference
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