Strategies that Work: 

Circular Value Chain

Overview

To tackle the challenges of climate change, we need to shift our way of thinking and build a circular economy — where waste and pollution are designed out in the first place; products and materials stay in use for much longer; and natural systems can regenerate.

 

Moving toward a circular economy would make a crucial contribution toward preserving the environment and mitigating the climate crisis. Creating a circular economy for five key sectors — cement, aluminum, steel, plastics and food — could cut CO2 emissions by 3.7 billion tons in 2050, equivalent to eliminating current emissions from all forms of transport.

 

This is not just an environmental issue. It simply makes social and economic sense to make better use of scarce resources by designing a system to avoid waste and keep materials in use for longer. Consider the fact that there is 100 times more gold in a ton of discarded mobile phones than there is in a ton of gold ore. If we reduce food loss and waste by just a quarter, we could feed 870 million hungry people.

 

In this track, we’ll review the concept of a Circular Value Chain, provide the big opportunities that you can apply in your workplace, and point you to the tools, databases and organizations to help you on this journey. You’ll also hear from our impressive speaker team who will provide valuable information and resources.

Big Opportunities

The Circular Value Chain has 4 key elements:  Business Model, Product Design, Production, and Consumption.  This provides a framework for analyzing how circular economy concepts can be applied to individual organizations.  

  • Business Model – Integrate product circularity into your Business Model (e.g. integration of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), transparency in product information, efficiency in production).

  • Product Design - How to design products for circularity (e.g., using second hand materials, ensuring recyclability, enabling reparability, encouraging reusability).   Products need to be designed so that they can be used over and over and can be recycled, repaired and repurposed.   This represents a shift in thinking.  

  • Production – Producing products in a manner that minimizes waste.   Many organizations do this well and part of the circular model is to embed this way of producing to all organizations.  

  • Consumption – This concept is an extension of product design -- how do we enable circular product use (e.g. repair, reuse, sharing).  This requires creating products that can do this but also marketing and educating consumers to do so.  

  • Circular policies are under development in many countries and already in effect in others. By acting early, not only can organizations tackle the challenges of climate change, they can do so as industry leads, well ahead of regulation.

Explore: Readings

"5 opportunities of a circular economy", Greenbiz
Additional Reading
Recycling Partnership Resources
Learning Tool
Recycle Everything (TerraCycle)
Website Resources
United Nations Conference - Trade & Dev
Website Resources
"F-Waste Is A Huge Climate Issue: How Smart Businesses Are Solving It"
Additional Reading
The Circular Classroom
Learning Tool
"Roadmap to Reduce US Food Waste by 2030", ReFED
Report
US Plastics Pact
Association
Circular Economy Club Database
Website Resources
Upstream Solutions - Learning Resources
Discover the Reuse Revolution Enjoy curated learning experiences. Expand your understanding. Spark solutions in your community.
Website Resources
RE-CIRCLE (OECD)
Website Resources
Reward Points Program for Qualifying Waste (TerraCycle)
Website Resources
Insights Engine: Data and Solutions Hub for Food Loss and Waste (ReFED)
Learning Tool
The Sustainability Consortium
Association
"How to Build a Circular Economy", WRI
Additional Reading
ReFED Resources & Guides
Website Resources
Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Website Resources
Cradle to Cradle Book
Book
"Furniture Waste - The Forgotten Wastestream"
Additional Reading
ReFED
Website Resources
Outdoor Industry Association
Association
Loop Initiative (TerraCycle)
Website Resources
"Is a world without trash possible?", National Geographic
Additional Reading
EPA Resources
Learning Tool
World Resources Institute
Website Resources
World Business Council for Sustainable Development
Website Resource
European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform
Association
"Building a Circular Path Forward", Closed Loop Partners (2020)
Report
Global Sustainable Office Furniture (De Clercq Office Group)
Website Resources
"Why data & measurement are key to a circular economy transition", Greenbiz
Additional Reading
"Blueprint for America's Recycling System", Recycling Leadership Council
Report
Center for Circular Economy
Association
Ellen MacArthur Foundation - Learning Opportunities
The following series of lesson plans provide a good introduction to the circular economy, and can be taught in sequence or as stand-alone lessons. For more resources, explore our circular toolkit below.
Learning Tool

Explore: Media

TED Speaker Page: Dame Ellen MacArthur
Video
A World Without Waste | Kate E. Brandt
Video
10 Musicians Taking on the Climate Crisis
Music
Survival Architecture and the Art of Resilience
Art
Closing the Loop, dirs. Graham Sheldon & Rin Sheldon (2018)
Film
Humans Changed the Face of the Earth, Now We Rethink Our Future | EMF
Video
Wasteland, dirs. Lucy Walker & Karen Harley (2010)
Jardim Gramacho outside Rio de Janeiro was the world’s largest landfill site before its closure in 2012 when toxic waste started leaking into the sea. Those who lived nearby earned a crust by sifting through the mountains of rubbish. This heart-warming documentary tells the story of Vik Muniz, a renowned New York artist, who came to make portraits of the scavengers. His aim? To sell the paintings and give the money directly back to the people in them. Waste Land gives an insight into the lives of the adults and children who spend their days on the dump and showcases the power of art and its ability to bring out the beauty in people.
Film
Circular economy new business models | Tom Szaky
Video
Dame MacArthur shares her vision of a circular economy for a better planet
Video
World Bank Circular Economy Video
Video
The True Cost, directed by Andrew Morgan (2015) [Clothing sustinability]
Film
Surprising thing I learned sailing solo around the world | Dame MacArthur
Video
The Circular Economy | Kristin Kinder
Video
TED Speaker Page: William McDonough
Video
Taking Trash Talk to a Whole New Level | Peter Harris
Video
A Plastic Ocean, directed by Craig Leeson (2017)
Journalist Craig Leeson and free diver Tanya Streeter illustrate the consequences of eight million tonnes of plastic being dumped into the oceans each year. The result is shocking. Plastic is not only posing a threat to marine life but is also in our food chain. There’s poignant footage of seals and turtles strangled by plastic and dead birds that never stood a chance. The documentary stresses that it isn’t too late for us to make the change for a better future and that simple measures such as recycling and using reusable containers can make all the difference.
Film
Sustainability through a circular economy | Maayke Damen
Video
TED Playlist: Reduce, reuse, recycle
Video