Solutions Driving the Circular Transformation
Written by Deirdre White and James George
PARADIGM SHIFT (noun)
a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions
In our natural world, all physical matter revolves in an infinite cycle of restoration and regeneration. There is no waste in biological systems, only secondary resources. It therefore makes sense that our global economy—a system we recognize as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment—should be harmonious with its larger ecological system, and yet this is not the case. Our linear, take-make-waste platform, which may have been practical when resource scarcity was a distant concern, requires a paradigm shift. Given that there are no good choices in a bad system, the transition to alignment—to a circular economy—must happen now.
The planet is at an inflection point. Every day we hear about new symptoms of our fracturing environmental system, warning us of our perilous path.
This new reality has never been more evident as we weather COVID-19 and witness the scale of our interconnectedness and the power of collective decision-making towards a common goal.
It’s not possible to know what the future looks like if this systems breakdown continues. However, recognizing the limits of our understanding helps us avoid hubris. The first step to recovery is admitting we have a problem and then focusing our energy with concerted action through partnerships involving the public, private, and social sectors. A starting point may be to acknowledge the fallacy that perpetual economic growth on a finite planet is the path to prosperity. As a mindset it is long outdated.
There are no good choices in a bad system.
We don’t need to find the right answers all at once. But it’s important to ask the right questions—how can we stop extracting raw materials and design out waste? How might we keep materials already in the economy in circulation to avoid consumption at the expense of our natural resources? Finally, how do we get to a state where our economic activity regenerates our natural systems?
Despite the monumental challenges we face, there are awe-inspiring opportunities to correct course, and we should be energized by the prospect. Entrepreneurship is entering its golden age. Technological breakthroughs are hitting their stride at the right time to give humanity the boost it needs, an example of which you will read from SAP. The groundswell of support from consumers, employees, and now investors who are demanding change promises to disrupt industry and create circular supply chains, as you will learn from the example of cosmetics company Lush. Growing public awareness and activism also promises we’ll elect public leaders who are serious in their commitments to a more sustainable future and willing to make necessary decisions for the sake of future generations—mayors like Suzanne Jones of Boulder, Colorado, who shares her perspective in this issue.
For those less familiar with the breadth of the transition detailed in the following pages, there’s more to a circular economy than recycling; it’s a much bigger idea, and much more fundamental. It’s about how we think, behave, and consume. It’s about equitable distribution of resources to avoid straining critical ecosystems and careful attention to the regenerative capacity of nature when we liquidate green capital to build and power our cities.
Paradigm Shift is about the most promising solutions on the horizon, from some of the most prominent voices leading the transition. To our readers, one key message is simple: this is a complex global challenge, and there is always a simple solution, which is always wrong! For a complex problem, we need to design and build a suite of interdependent solutions. This is the good news—we designed our existing economies, so there is nothing stopping us from designing the economy of the future. We are therefore only limited by our own imagination and collective determination.
Join the circularity revolution and use this publication—its proposed solutions, lessons, and calls to action featured in each article—to drive social innovations and cutting-edge solutions needed to realize the circular economic future we dream of, and now more than ever, need!
Co-Author James George
As Network Development Lead for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and a key stalwart of the Foundation’s Business team, James is responsible for engaging with the Foundation’s network to ensure that the impact, scale, and ambition of those organizations helps support the Foundation’s vision for 2025.
By understanding how an organization’s strategy on circular economy aligns with the Foundation and its partners, James is able to work closely with other project leads and provide context to the business community on how they can engage effectively with the Foundation. In short, a storyteller with an eye for an opportunity.
This article is part of the Paradigm Shift publication series on solutions from the leaders of the transition to a circular economy. See the full collection of stories and upcoming webinars with the authors here.