“It’s shocking, its horrendous, it’s getting worse not better … but this is a systemic failure and we are trying to go back to the beginning of the pipe and stop that systemic failure through redesigning the system,” said Ellen MacArthur in a recent interview. MacArthur, born in 1976 in Derbyshire, England, is a retired sailor who now fights against plastic pollution. In 2001 she raced single-handedly non-stop around the world in the Vendée Globe when only 24 years old and in 2004 she became the fastest person to circumnavigate the globe single-handed. She was knighted by the Queen in 2005 and has received the Legion d'Honneur from French President, Nicolas Sarkozy.
"If we could build and economy that would use things rather than use them up, we could build a future."
When at sea she realized that all her resources, food, water and fuel, were finite and that they were inescapably linked to success or failure. At land we too use resources that are finite and if we are using these resources in a very linear fashion we are going to use them up at some stage, and no one knows exactly when. She spent time with local and national governments, scientists and working across key industry sectors to understand how we rely on these finite resources. This led to her decision to end her professional racing career and launch the Ellen McArthur Foundation with the goal of “accelerating the transition to a regenerative, circular economy”. The foundation’s work focuses on five interlinking areas:
1. Education: Inspiring learners to re-think the future through the circular economy framework.
2. Business & Government: Catalysing circular innovation and creating the conditions for it to reach scale.
3. Insight & Analysis: Providing robust evidence about the benefits and implications of the transition.
4. Systemic Initiatives: Transforming key material flows to scale the circular economy globally.
5. Communications: Engaging a global audience around the circular economy.
Some of the programs launched by the Foundation are New Plastics Economy, Project Mainstream, Disruptive Innovation Festival and Circular Fibres Initiative.
The Foundation works with its Global Partners (Danone, Google, H&M, Intesa Sanpaolo, NIKE Inc., Philips, Renault, Solvay and Unilever) to develop scalable circular business initiatives and to address challenges to implementing them. The goal is to go from the disposable economic model to a circular economy. The circular economy is baed on looking beyond the current "take, make and dispose” extractive industrial model, and is restorative and regenerative by design. Relying on system-wide innovation, it aims to redefine products and services to design waste out, while minimising negative impacts. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds economic, natural and social capital. The circular economy was first unveiled in 2015 and focuses on encouraging investment in firms that identify excess capacity and use technology to make a business from it.
MacArthur´s goal is clear: to help stop humanity using up the world’s finite resources. Let´s hope she will reach her goal sooner rather than later.