The case for a circular world
Businesses, investors and consumers are looking beyond the ‘take-make-waste’ economy.
An easily forgotten fact about the food we eat, the goods we buy and the packaging surrounding them is the demand it places on the natural world. “To produce all of this stuff we need to pull resources out of nature,” notes sustainability expert Leyla Acaroglu in a video she recently produced for Finnish high school students. And, she adds, everything we take out of nature, “is at a cost — it’s just a cost to the future”.
Costs range from the loss of carbon sequestration through deforestation, to the depletion of marine food sources because of plastic waste. Ms Acaroglu, a winner of the UN’s Champions of the Earth award, is one of a growing number of activists who want to reverse these losses through the circular economy. This is an approach to industrial and consumption systems that shifts from linear “take-make-dispose” models to circular ones that return what comes from nature to the production cycle.
This means going back to the drawing board. For example, Steelcase, the US office furniture maker, designs products with disassembly in mind. The company chooses materials that are durable during a product’s lifetime but that can also be recycled. It does not blend materials, since this hampers recycling. “It’s different to sustainability because essentially we’re trying to, by design, keep things in the system as opposed to just reducing their negative impact,” says Andrew Morlet, chief executive of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which advocates for a circular economy.