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Top 10: circular economy resources

Abstract circular backgroundA representative of a leading US company recently told me that it was seeking a bigger presence in the UK because of our “thought leadership” on the circular economy.

That is in large part due to more than fifteen years of work by WRAP and Green Alliance, two organisations I have the privilege to work with, along with the Royal Society of Arts, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and a host of progressive business organisations.

But how to access the wealth of excellent material available on the subject? For key entry points, here are my top ten suggestions to help you get to grips with the circular economy:

If you read nothing else, this short piece by Liz Goodwin of WRAP encapsulates the essence of a circular economy as an emerging framework for economic life, and debunks common misconceptions and objections.

2. Dame Ellen MacArthur might be famous for sailing around the world single handed, but she is becoming just as renowned for her Foundation’s promotion of the circular economy. Her work draws on advice and inspiration from the gurus of this new way of viewing resources: Professor Walter Stahel, who first coined the term ‘circular economy’, and Michael Braungart and William McDonough who wrote Cradle to Cradle. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s website has engaging short videos explaining the principles and a wealth of material demonstrating serious business commitment to the ideas and the economic case, as well as the ground-breaking global networks being built up by key players.

WRAP was the first body to show the limited extent of circularity in the UK economy by mapping resource flows and publishing this seminal illustration.

4. McKinsey reports have modelled the resource efficiency savings to be gained from circular economy approaches for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and they have found some impressive numbers. They examine aspects of day to day life that we are all familiar with: washing machines that should last longer, smartphones that should be reused, and vans that should be easier to recycle, and work out the opportunities for the businesses concerned if they make improvements.

5. What everyone wants from the circular economy is jobs, and genuinely new jobs, not just substituted employment. This recent economic analysis by WRAP and Green Alliance shows that employment in this sector can help to tackle regional and structural unemployment.

How to do it
Circular economy discussions often come back to the need for better design. the RSA’s The Great Recovery project is helping designers (and those who brief them) to adapt their thinking. It has workshops, tools and networks, and all of them offer a route to getting involved and making a change.

7. This practical guide in the DO Shorts series for time pressed business people is a step by step guide for assessing any company’s potential for more circular approaches, and then getting it embedded.

8. Implementing the circular economy in a whole sector is a daunting prospect, but WRAP aims to support exactly that process by working collaboratively with the whole supply chain. For instance, WRAP is helping to transform how we design, buy, use and dispose of electrical products. See the detail at On this theme, Green Alliance’s A circular economy for smart devices gives a very practical set of costed out circular business models for electronics which companies can start using now.

9. For countries, the challenge is to find key industries to pioneer circular approaches. This Green Alliance study for the Scottish Government highlights some imaginative opportunities:

10. Of immediate help to the new government, Wasted Opportunities, from the Circular Economy Task Force, shows how a small amount of structural change promoted by the government, building on existing business models and technologies, could unlock £1.7 billion in value per year in the UK alone.


Written by

Green Alliance Associate, Chair of WRAP and independent board member of the Consumer Council for Water. @JulieEHill