Circular Economy

As an ambitious alternative to a traditional linear 'make, use, dispose' model, the circular economy's aim is to eradicate needless waste and build in reuse wherever possible. There is exciting potential for the creative industries and the construction sector to make this work on a city scale.

As an ambitious alternative to the traditional, linear ‘make, use, dispose’ model, the circular economy’s aim is to eradicate needless waste and build-in re-use wherever possible.

A circular economy has the potential to bring about a paradigm shift in how we live and do business - with exciting potential for the creative industries and the construction sector to make this work on a city - and global - scale.

What we said in 2016

"It's a model that disregards the outmoded thinking that access to cheap resources can maintain economic growth. Rather than accepting waste as a way of life, materials are recovered wherever possible, and disassembly is built in to products to aid that."

"The business case for a circular economy is compelling. Analysis published by McKinsey estimates shifting towards circularity could add $1 trillion to the global economy in the next ten years and create 100,000 new jobs."

"We view the circular economy as a key component to a better future: better for people, businesses, the environment - and for the spaces we must all share."

Looking Back

When we spotted the nascent Circular Economy three years ago, we referred to it as a 'fledgling movement'. Since then the issues that drove its development have exploded into the public consciousness - particularly through the increased attention on the damage caused by single-use plastics.

Leading the charge into a reusable, recyclable, future is former round the world sailor Dame Ellen MacArthur. Months at sea brought her face to face with a quite literal tide of plastic pollution - and led to the launch of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2010.

Her Foundation continues to forge relationships with global brands and drive change in multiple industries.

Where we are now

In the quest for a more sustainable use of the world's resources, Dame Ellen MacArthur says: “We are trying to change a system, not one business. We need to change the way people think, the way things are designed, the materials that are put into them…”

But changing the way industries think remains a challenge.

Whilst the mood music around manufacturers' intentions to move away from the 'take, make, dispose' model is generally positive, it appears to remain anecdotal. Indeed, a report from early 2018 suggests that growth of the Circular Economy is held back by a lack of finance brought about via a catch-22 situation. Simply, large-scale commercial finance for Circular Economy-based businesses remains negligible, but because few businesses have a circular business model there are few opportunities for institutions to invest. Not quite the circularity the situation needs.

One solution could be the European Commission's 2018 plan to pilot its 'Innovation Deals' concept on up to five Circular Economy projects. Innovation Deals are designed to help waive any regulations found to be an obstacle to innovation. So if a business wanted to invest in a Circular Economy project, but felt restricted by the current EU rules, they could make a case to the EU Commission, who would analyse the regulation and - if it were found to be restrictive - lift that barrier.

Evaluation of that pilot is due before the end of 2018. Just in time for Brexit.

What's Changing?

Given the amount of media coverage around plastics, in the last couple of years, the danger is that the Circular Economy concept gets anchored in people's perceptions as simply 'solving the plastics problem'.

Hence, changing the focus of circularity away from just reducing waste is key. Everyone knows that 'waste is bad', but the challenge facing advocates of the Circular Economy is how to land the 'reuse/recycle' message upstream in the design and manufacturing of products - innovating inputs rather than managing outputs.

A 2018 World Economic Forum report questions how quickly that transition can be made. It says: "The rub with the circular economy is that it does not exist today. It needs to be invented and grown. Fast: over the next few decades."

It also recognises that changing the way global economic and commercial systems behave will require 'enormous disruption' - but it does offer a radical source of optimism.

The WEF says that the transformations required will be accelerated in "... places where our systems of production and consumption most strongly overlap, where the density of complex innovations is fastest, where resources are most limited and where living with the consequences of waste and pollution are direst."

And the location of these hot-houses for change? "Cities - especially large cities." Maybe there's hope in those crowded Future Spaces after all.

How the story has developed