Going In Circles Could Create $1T in New Economy Activity
Shifting the world from a pass-through economy of disposable products to a “circular” model of continuous material re-use could open up vast new business opportunities, Dame Ellen MacArthur, a retired British yachtswoman who has taken up the cause, told a sustainability conference in California last week.
“In a perfect circular economy, resources mined from the earth would be reused over and over, while biological resources would be used as long as possible and then returned to the earth in a biologically sound way,” GreenBiz reported from the Verge sustainability conference in Santa Clara. Companies including Nike, Google, and Philips, the report adds, are already reaping “hundreds of millions of dollars” in savings from tactics as varied as recycling materials, reusing computer hardware , and repurposing an entire coal-fired power plant in Alabama as a server farm.
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Extending the practice across the global economy would unlock US$1 trillion in new value, MacArthur told the conference, citing research her foundation has conducted with the McKinsey group. To get there, the former deep-water sailor told the conference, industries must accomplish a change in attitude at “multiple points.
“You have to change every part of the business; it has to involve the finance department, design, marketing, manufacturing, distribution. It’s not easy and it takes time,” MacArthur conceded.
Nonetheless, she argued that with the world population projected to grow by another one-third within four decades, the planet cannot continue to support “a linear consumption-oriented economy where items are thrown out after use.”