Re-thinking Progress: The Circular Economy

With up to 50 billion connected devices predicted by 2020, a pervasive digital transformation is reshaping the economy. Will this ‘fourth industrial revolution’ lead to an acceleration of the extractive, ‘linear’ economy of today, or will it enable the transition towards a society in which value creation is increasingly decoupled from finite resource consumption?

There's a world of opportunity to re-think and re-design the way we make stuff. 'Re-Thinking Progress' explores how through a change in perspective we can re-design the way our economy works - designing products that can be 'made to be made again' and powering the system with renewable energy. It questions whether with creativity and innovation we can build a restorative economy.

A circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design, and aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times. The concept distinguishes between technical and biological cycles.  As envisioned by the originators, a circular economy is a continuous positive development cycle that preserves and enhances natural capital, optimises resource yields, and minimises system risks by managing finite stocks and renewable flows. It works effectively at every scale.

A new report, Intelligent Assets: Unlocking the circular economy potential, finds that pairing circular economy principles with the information generated by intelligent devices creates a fertile ground for innovation that could enable this decoupling, and lead to broad social benefits. The report was produced by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation as part of Project MainStream, a global, multi-industry initiative that aims to accelerate business-driven innovations to help scale the circular economy.

“Digital technologies are driving a profound transformation of our economy. Guiding this wave of change by applying circular economy principles could create value, and generate wider benefits for society, as this report shows. Intelligent assets are a key building block of a system capable of ushering in a new era of growth and development, increasingly decoupled from resource constraints.” Dame Ellen MacArthur, Founder, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

The Circular Economy 100 (CE100) initiative is a programme to promote a zero-waste philosophy among businesses run by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The platform aims to bring businesses, entrepreneurs and governments together to help members learn, build capacity and collaborate with key organisations on circular economy issues. Dutch banking giant ING are the latest to join fellow corporate members including Nike, which joined last month, as well as the likes of Google, Philips, Unilever and Renault.

Gerald Naber, vice president of sustainable finance at ING, said the bank's membership of CE100 will offer lessons in how to best integrate sustainability into its business model. "To thrive in a world where sustainability takes centre stage, forward-looking businesses are embracing sustainability requirements, using them to foster innovation, drive competitiveness, and create new business models," he said in a statement.

"The circular economy is the ultimate answer to solving the problem of the depletion and economic scarcity of resources, but it also creates new business opportunities. As a leading global bank, we are actively engaging with our clients to come up with the solutions that will support their transition."  

In October ING was among the 10 banking giants to pledge to boost green impact investment. Last year the bank also issued its first green bonds to raise cash for clean energy and green infrastructure projects.

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