Developing a Circular Economy – The Ellen MacArthur Foundation

The Circular Economy

Developing a Circular Economy – The Ellen MacArthur Foundation

A topic that is gaining traction globally with many brand owners is the theme of creating and developing a circular economy. While this has been a topic of previous immago posts, it is one that is broad in its scope and is continually evolving, deserving to have various topics under its banner highlighted.

A refresher on the Circular Economy

This topic has continued to spark significant interest around the globe over recent years, especially as a mechanism that slots in perfectly with the realisation many are now making of the undeniable need for changes to the way we live and treat our planet.

The Circular Economy, in a nutshell, is an organisation’s framework of systems designed to contend with climate change, waste, pollution, and biodiversity degradation.

It is a system or set of systems that combine to encourage a circular reduce–reuse–recycle philosophy when it comes to products we all consume every day, rather than the linear take–make–dispose approach which has driven itself into the daily lives of most.

  • Take: raw materials and resources are collected
  • Make: they are transformed into products that are used until…
  • Dispose: they are discarded as waste


It is generally accepted that systems designed to align with a circular economy, have 3 driving principles at their heart. These principles are borne out and driven right from the early stages of product design.

Stage One: Eliminate waste and pollution

This centres on eliminating the current Take-Make-Waste system, instead reworking product development to align with a reduce–reuse–recycle structure. From the very start, products are designed for a circular life cycle.

Stage Two: Circulate products and materials at their highest value

This stage defines the principle of keeping materials in use, either as a product or, when they can no longer be used, as components or raw materials.

Stage Three: Regenerate nature

Again, this is simply the path of moving away from the take-make-dispose prevalent linear economy, to a structure that supports natural processes, leaving more room for nature to thrive.

Apparel and sustainability

What is being done to promote the creation of circular economies?

So how this set of principles is being brought to the market? What is being done to encourage and promote brand owners to embrace the concept and actually invest in developing their own mechanisms for entry into a circular economy?

There are many examples of organisations, people and even governments trying to promote and help secure this theme.

An excellent example of dedicated efforts to educate and encourage engagement into a circular economy philosophy, and not just in the mammoth apparel industry, is portrayed by The Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Established in 2010 and located on the Isle of Wight, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation is a registered charity with associated foundations also in the US and Brazil.

The aim of the foundation is relatively simple, but as is often the case practicality can be more complex and time consuming. Their goals centre firmly on assisting and guiding the acceleration of organisations’ transitions to the circular economy.

The Foundation has emerged as a global thought leader, establishing the circular economy on the agenda of decision makers across business, government and academia the world over.

“We choose to engage with the current system to drive change quickly. This means building strong relationships with decision-makers from business, government and academia, designers, innovators, NGOs and others. We believe businesses play a crucial role in shifting the system. We recognise that currently many businesses are part of the problem, but given their capacity to innovate and ability to drive change quickly and at scale in global markets, they also need to be part of the solution.

Underpinned by our independent charity governance, we create new collaborations and challenge the organisations we work with to raise their ambition levels, set ambitious goals supported by evidence-based analysis, and stimulate new and better solutions at scale and speed.

Our pioneering work on plastics has achieved an unprecedented level of collaboration to eliminate plastic pollution, bringing together more than 1,000 public and private organisations, large and small, from across sectors and industries around the world. This includes many of the world’s largest producers, users, and recyclers of plastic packaging, to work towards a common goal of creating a circular economy for plastics.”

Our network brings together industry leading corporations, emerging innovators, affiliate networks, government authorities, regions, cities and more. The goal is to build circular economy capacity, address common barriers to progress, understand the necessary enabling conditions, and pilot circular economy practices.

(An exert from The Ellen MacArthur Foundation website)

The foundation’s work focuses on areas where shifting to a circular economy can have the biggest impact, including;

  • Biodiversity
  • Cities
  • Climate
  • Fashion
  • Finance
  • Food
  • Plastics


This topic is significant in both its scope and global impacts. Whilst the concept is relatively simple to understand, the path to see ideas and new practices evolve into reality is steep, however, it is undeniably imperative that a start is made, no matter how small that start is.

Organisations such as The Ellen MacArthur Foundation have well-documented ideas, pathways, and examples of success stories to call upon and share.

Take some time to visit their comprehensive website, this encompasses a significant amount of research and up-to-date information on the topic, along with success stories of people and organisations putting talk into practice, not to mention ways you too can consider your own footprint in the high stakes arena of global sustainability.

Recycling in the Circular Economy

We all must do our part

Whilst this charitable foundation is providing invaluable direction, there is still the firm underlying necessity for each of us individually, to take conscious responsibility for the state of our planet and of course to embrace a path, no matter how small, to contribute to its repair.

Specific to apparel, it is clear the basis of the industry must be reinvented to set a better framework to operate under. Many are doing this at an individual level, but to be fully effective this reinvention needs to include more of the global garment brands. It is imperative it is driven from the product design level, centring on creating products that can be used for longer, are easily regenerated, and are made from safe and recycled/renewable materials.

Whilst the Ellen MacArthur Foundation is tackling the topic at many levels within a number of industries, your local immago office is ready and eager to discuss with you how we could link in with the creation of your own circular economy, or at least to ensure your garment trims and retail packaging are ready to join the drive towards a better earth.

Contact us today if you would like to know more about how we can help you take the first steps toward a circular economy.