Solving Global Problems through a Circular Economy

Erik Makinson

Sometimes, the solutions to the most complicated problems are, in fact, basic. And sometimes, we just need to view an issue through a different lens to see it clearly. Both of these apply to the problems of resource depletion, unemployment and economic stagnation. The fact that, globally, we’re experiencing many of these challenges concurrently infers that there might be a deeper cause. Perhaps we need to shift our view on a basic premise of our economy.

For years, we’ve developed systems to extract materials from the ground, make products, distribute those goods to consumers, then collect and discard the waste produced. While this linear system has created economic wealth, it has also created negative environmental outcomes. Increasingly, forward-looking countries, businesses, and individuals are unlocking new economic value while benefiting society and the environment by “closing the loop” on our cycle of resources. This idea of eradicating waste through perpetually cycling of goods and materials has been coined the Circular Economy. By recognizing that most of our “waste” is comprised of valuable resources for future use, and then creating systems, companies and processes to ensure that all materials are cycled back through the economy in perpetuity, we’re able to create new economic value while reducing our collective environmental impact.

The concept of recovering waste and creating new value can be traced throughout our history as a civilization. Whether it was the ancient Romans recycling glass or the ragpickers of 19th century New York city, society has always had a contingent of individuals committed to recovering discards and bringing to them new life. In fact, this concept of a circular material flow pre-dates even human history. Nature is, in fact, an outstanding recycler of nutrients, water, and essential gases like CO2 and oxygen.

Today, examples of the circular economy in action span most industries. Southwest Airlines has a Luv Seat program that turns discarded leather airplane seats into sandals and soccer balls, while creating skill training and jobs for rural Kenyans. Smaller start-up companies Stuffstr and Repurposed Materials recover and redistribute items that may be at the end of one life but are perfectly suited for a second.

In ENGIE Insight’s “Circular Economy” blog series, we will explore the history, application, benefits and necessity of a robust system to reuse, recover, repurpose, remanufacture and recycle. We’ll focus on topics such as:

  • Analyzing our existing system
  • The circular economy in nature
  • Shifting to a circular macro economy
  • Case studies of businesses that have adopted a closed loop economy
  • Aligning your business to the circular economy

This series will be complemented by a webinar in August and will culminate in a best practice tour in November, allowing participants to experience these concepts in action. Please join us on the journey as we strive to unlock the estimated $1 trillion in latent global economic value represented by the circular economy.

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