From Sustainable to Circular Manufacturing

Progressive companies and forward-looking governments are shifting their attention from old-style sustainability towards a “circular” approach. This “circular” approach effectively decouples growth from rising resource constraints in a world that will add 3 billion middle-class consumers over the next 15 years, participants at the 44th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting were told.

circular manufacturing

Speaking at a session, From Waste to Wealth, Ellen MacArthur, Founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, said: “The circular economy opens up ways to reconcile the outlook for growth and economic participation with that of environmental prudence and equity. It is inspiring CEOs, politicians, engineers, designers and the next generation of leaders,” she said.

Leading global companies are already building the concept of the circular economy into the way they do business. It is helping them to drive innovation across product design, to develop product-to-service approaches and to test new ways of recovering materials from redundant products such as old mobile phones. 

Circular manufacturing has huge economic potential. The European market for fast-moving consumer goods totals €3.2 trillion a year, of which 20% could be recuperated through smart circular practices, MacArthur said. With early adopters moving ahead, how can we accelerate these processes?

Cutting-edge thinking in the scientific community is moving us rapidly from linear to circular. The next big thing is what Neil Gershenfeld, Director, The Center for Bits and Atoms, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, described as analogue materials. These contain digitized information that enable them to disassemble the elements that initially went into their fabrication and make them available for re-use.

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