Time for a rethink

“The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones” (Maynard Keynes)

Are we teaching industry, business, product design, materials and energy in a way which prepares the next generation for a future which is likely to take a quite different path to the present?

High and volatile commodity prices, the soaring cost of energy, the depletion of known stocks of materials, and damaging environmental consequences are all signs of a faltering industrial economy which follows a linear take, make, dispose path.

There is a consensus for change among key thinkers about how our future should be shaped.  Paul Hawkins (author of Natural Capitalism), William McDonough and Michael Braungart (Cradle to Cradle), Janine Benyus (Biomimicry 3.8), Gunter Pauli (Blue Economy), and Walter Stahel (The Performance Economy) argue for a new industrial revolution which would be characterised by these four key points:

  • A radical rethink of how we use resources
  • A biomimetic approach, in which waste becomes food for another cycle
  • The development of new business models based on performance rather than ownership
  • The need to take a regenerative, rather than ‘less bad’, approach to how we design

The work of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in promoting a circular economy is informed by those thoughts.  The argument is that we have to find a way of using things without using them up; that we need to stimulate a design revolution; that we need to strengthen the economy, get more people in employment and prepare for a world of 9 billion + people. 

There are signs of a change underway: key institutions, like the World Economic Forum, the EU and the Scottish Government, have embraced the thinking.  Universities are teaching the model and researching the possibilities.  Remanufacturing is beginning to take off, new business models are being developed.  Technology – particular the mobile web, the internet of things and additive manufacturing – brings the circular economy a step closer.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation supports teachers to understand and teach the thinking behind a circular economy in three ways.