Since the industrial revolution, many global populations have prospered as a result of the mass production business model.
We find and extract raw materials, convert them into products, and when they have brought utility to the consumers who buy them, we dispose of them as waste.
It’s undoubtedly a simple and widespread business model but is now increasingly seen as horribly wasteful by global manufacturers and consumers alike.
21st century communications technology means that people living in almost all areas of the planet are inter-connected and are more aware of global mindsets than ever before.
Consequently, many people are becoming more conscious of living in a finite world; one where natural resources are declining at an alarming rate.
One of them is the British record-breaking, solo round-the-world yachtswoman Dame Ellen MacArthur.
In 2010 she founded and launched – the Ellen MacArthur Foundation; an organization that is devoted to what is called the “circular economy”.
Inspired by the way there is no waste in nature, it looks for other uses for the by-products discarded during conventional production. It is a concept much larger than just recycling, she insists. “It’s about maintaining the value of everything we use for as long as possible”.
Perhaps the most significant early achievement of the foundation is that Ellen MacArthur has successfully engaged a number of global corporations to join her circular economy campaign, including BT, Cisco, Philips, Renault and Unilever.
Unilever’s chief executive, Paul Polman, says the company has long been concerned about industry’s reliance on diminishing supplies of raw materials, saying “We need a way of decoupling our growth from environmental impact”.
That is why Unilever is backing Ellen MacArthur, and finding ways of putting the circular economy principles to work, factory by factory, product by product.
So with big business onboard and global consumers increasingly concerned about environmental sustainability, change in the centuries old consumption business model now seems possible and given sufficient investor support will perhaps become reality in the very near future.