Circular Economy & Fairphone – Inspiration from Nature

Circular Economy & Fairphone – Inspiration from Nature

Focus on higher purpose seems to be precluded when a leader is deeply rooted in ego because the currency oft he ego is fear, how can a leader be available to lead others in a conscious way if they are busy defending a fractured ego?

Ellen MacArthur, one of the world’s best sailors, has constantly pushed things to the limit, ever since her love of sailing began. After achieving the great feat of breaking several world records, she felt that it was time for a new beginning in her life. She had learned one of life’s main principles while at sea: Not only to conserve the resources at hand on the boat, but also to follow the cycle of nature, and understand that in nature there is no waste. In the cycle of nature, everything is used, all that comes to life and all that decays. It is the food chain of nature – that which is “waste” becomes fuel for new life. Unfortunately, our current economy works in exactly the opposite way –in exponential periods, we operate as a “linear economy”“ instead of a „Circular Economy“ and with that, we reach the limits of our growth.

>> YouTube #11 – Ellen MacArthur, Rethinking the Future

Just imagine yourself experiencing a day, in the forest, on a lake, or on the seaside in a time warp of a year’s cycle within one day. Fast-forward your observation through the individual changes of the seasons – open up your senses, see it, hear it, feel it. Suppose you were standing next to a tree, what would you see? If you, like me, would imagine a ripe apple or plum tree in August, you could experience the maturity of the tree, hanging full of fruit, which would soon be harvested. After harvest time, the days get shorter, and the sunlight is less intense as autumn draws in. You will witness beautiful leaves in colors of yellow, brown and red. It’s time to let go. Perhaps pictures of the Indian summer on the east coast of the US come to mind. Over time, the trees become bare, leaves fall to the ground and begin to rot, as they provide the humus needed for a new cycle of trees after winter, the time of contemplation and reflection, in which the tree is preparing for spring, when it then unfolds its buds and draws from the nutrients of the humus layer from the previous year.

This is the natural cycle of nature, a perfectly coordinated and mutually dependent system, in which waste, for example, in the form of leaves, is not only used, but is anticipated – it is an integral part of nature’s design. It was through this observation of nature, and intense experiences at sea – 2500 miles away from civilization – combined with endless optimism, and the wish to contribute to a better world that Ellen MacArthur began to ponder how the existing ”either or” mindset of the economy and ecology could evolve into a newly interconnected reality. After years of learning, meeting with scientists, entrepreneurs and policymakers, she created the basic principle of the “Circular Economy“.


Ellen_MacArthur_Bryan_LedgardShe wasn’t the only one with this idea in mind. German eco-visionary Michael Braungart, chemist, process engineer and former Greenpeace environmental activist, already wrote a book in 2002, together with American architect William McDonough on the subject by the name of „Cradle to Cradle“. „If only people were to design products properly, so that they are either biodegradable or completely separable into recyclable parts, then they could put an end to the theme of conserving resources“[1], says Braungart. There is a new book on the shelf from this duo called “The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability–Designing for Abundance“. Bill Clinton wrote the foreword for this book. The message is as simple as it is effective.Growth is not a question of energy, but a question of material and design. A product should never be “hybrid”. It must either consist entirely of biodegradable or non-decomposing substances.

Material savings of 700 billion Dollars in „Consumer Goods“

Let’s be clear about this, the primary issue isn’t about climate neutrality, it’s about the intelligent use of our cyclical system of nature and how it can be adapted into product design and beyond for the design of business models. We’re also not just talking about resource efficiency, which is the goal of every business today, but mainly for monetary reasons. A McKinsey & Company report [2] estimates a potential global savings of 700 billion USD for the consumer goods sector alone.

Global potential for a 25 trillion Dollar Circular Economy

We’re especially referring to new entrepreneurial potential using the principle of Circular Economy. In 2010, Ellen MacArthur founded the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, whose sole aim is to explore this principle and to find ways in which it can be introduced in a practical way into the global economy and society. She has attracted very prominent supporters to this project. Founding partners include Cisco, British Telecom, B&Q, National Grid and Renault. According to a report in collaboration with McKinsey & Company, the shift towards a Circular Economy could generate 25 trillion USD annually for the global economy by 2025. (McKinsey 2013)


[1] Borchhardt, A. (2013): Kein Müll: Der Öko-Visionär Michael Braungart arbeitet an einer Zukunft, in der alles wieder verwertbar ist. Er will eine Welt ohne Abfall, eine Welt zum Prassen. Damit macht er sich nicht nur Freunde, in SZ from 8/21/2013, Süddeutscher Verlag, München, P. 3
[2] McKinsey & Company (2013): Towards the Circular Economy, Opportunities for the consumer goods sector, Executive Summary, No. 2/2013 Ellen
Photo of Ellen MacArthur by Bryan Ledgard


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1 Comment

  1. Charles M Lines Author September 11, 2015 (2:30 pm)

    ‘Focus on higher purpose seems to be precluded when a leader is deeply rooted in ego..’ Yes indeed! In fact, to work collaboratively and sustainably to create the ‘circular economy’ mentioned in the article a new leadership skills is needed: the ability to be assertively selfless. I explore this and some other relevant skills here: Also, as creating a circular economy requires advanced collaborative skills it needs to take account of the seemingly reverse logic that underpins collaboration. I explore this here: Thanks for the post!