Circular-ish: embracing the messy reality of circular economy innovation

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The circular economy idea is out there. In the past ten years, it’s gone from being a niche idea to an undeniable trend. Many are captivated by the potential for change in the way they live, work, or innovate. And many more are feeling the urgent need for a circular economy, as the ‘burning platform’ moves from metaphor to real life. So whether through passion or necessity, the idea isn’t going away – it’s the end of the beginning.

By Joe Iles, Design Lead, Ellen MacArthur Foundation on September 29, 2022

Spurred on by this wave of interest and expectation, many businesses are setting ambitions, targets, and strategies to move from linear to circular. This direction setting is an important step in the journey to make the circular economy a reality.

The transition means doing things differently – and that’s happening too. People are rolling up their sleeves, grappling with the concept, and working to put it into practice.

You’ve probably noticed an increase in taglines like “Wear Sneakers Ltd now makes trainers out of 12% recycled material!” around products on shelves and in press releases or media coverage, emphasising how a company is taking some resources they previously viewed as waste and using a few of them to create something new. This use of waste, along with a lot of other types of innovation, is often categorised as ‘circular’. The fact that these stories are becoming more visible is evidence that we are taking the first steps away from the wasteful, linear economy. That is good news.

However, I have a confession to make. Sometimes when I see examples like this under the banner of a circular economy, I feel disappointed. I get judgemental. I turn into a circular snob.

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