Re-thinking Progress: Business and the Circular Economy

“The circular economy is the new paradigm that business needs.” The message was delivered loud and clear by Gavin Warner, Unilever’s circular economy programme lead, and Pia Heidenmark Cook, IKEA’s head of sustainability, speaking at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Re-thinking Progress event.

Ellen MacArthur at the University of Bradford, 14th April 2015. © Victor De Jesus Credit: Victor De Jesus
© Victor De Jesus
Credit: Victor De Jesus

Warner and Heidenmark Cook were joined by Ellen MacArthur in a panel discussion at the University of Bradford’s Norcroft Centre on the evening of the event’s first day, where they discussed  range of subjects including – why the model for our global economy is no longer fit for purpose, why the circular economy is important for the future of business and how Unilever and IKEA are beginning to strategise around, and take advantage of this new business paradigm.

Warner emphasised the importance of the concept to Unilever saying: “We want to be around in the future so we need to be ahead of the curve on circular economy”.

It was also clear from the conversation that the advantages are not limited only to an undetermined time in the future. Both companies are making changes now and Cook suggested that the development of circular economy business models would also play the role of strengthening IKEA’s relationship with its customers through opportunities for repair and customisation of its products.

An audience of 175 business leaders, academics, designers, aspiring entrepreneurs and students also had the opportunity to ask questions to the panel chaired by the University of Bradford’s Peter Hopkinson.

“If you compare linear and circular models even today, circular offers more value and is more resilient.” Ellen MacArthur, Re-thinking Progress, April 2015.

The opportunities of today combined with a vision for the future were carried throughout the two days of Re-thinking Progress – an open house event aimed at bringing together a network of circular economy interested parties to build knowledge and collaborations around the circular economy in both education and business contexts.

Sessions, workshops and talks ranged from “circular economy 101” introductions to the development of an innovative card game designed to support businesses exploring the concept in-depth, to sessions with specific relevant themes like cradle-to-cradle ®, remanufacturing and the built environment.

Ellen MacArthur at the University of Bradford, 14th April 2015. © Victor De Jesus Credit: Victor De Jesus
© Victor De Jesus
Credit: Victor De Jesus

A balance was achieved between bigger picture issues such as a discussion and exploration of the boundaries of the circular economy framework led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Ken Webster and sessions aimed to developed specific projects or ideas like a proposal for a new postgraduate Pan-University model for an executive masters on the circular economy run by Dr. Fiona Charnley and Lorraine Bell of Cranfield University.

The event also had an online element with Marcel Wubbolts, Royal DSM Group, Nabil Nasir, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Dr Ellen Franconi, Rocky Mountain Institute being streamed and open to those unable to attend in person.

Beyond the content and interactions in the scheduled sessions themselves, Re-thinking Progress is as much about the conversations and collaborations developed during the breaks and the opportunities for attendees to meet and exploit a growing network around the circular economy.

Re-thinking Progress hits the intersection between business and education bringing together a diverse range of people into one space for two days. It separates itself from other events of its kind by fostering and nurturing a diversity and inter-disciplinarity that ultimately, once extrapolated and scaled up, will play a crucial role in creating a global economy that can be both prosperous and resilient in the long-term.

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Seb Egerton-Read

Seb Egerton-Read

Seb writes daily content for Circulate across the full spectrum of the website's topics. Previously he has spent five years as a freelance writer for a number of websites and blogs. You can e-mail Seb at seb[at]

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