Ellen MacArthur Foundation: towards a circular economy
Release time:2020-08-27

abstract:Founded in 2010, the foundation quickly became a global thought leader, while establishing the circular economy as the order of the day among opinion makers, businesses, governments and research institutes.


Starting from the industrial revolution, the rapid rhythm of technological progress has allowed a growing number of people to have access to products coming from all over the world at low prices, bringing a level of life and material comforts that would have been unimaginable for previous generations to a good part of humanity. However, all this has come at a cost: the linear system of production ‘take-make-waste’ is polluting the planet at an extremely high cost to both our health and the environment, without considering the fact that resources are not endless. For this reason, it is important to pass from a linear economy to a circular economy. This is the mission with which the Ellen MacArthur Foundation was founded in 2010, a charitable organisation that is aimed at accelerating the transition of the system towards a circular economy that quickly became a global thought leader for businesses, governments and universities.


From a linear economy to a circular economy 

With the support of different strategic partners, the work of the Foundation is focused on six interconnected areas: 


The Foundation works through projects and collaborations with the aim of promoting both formal teaching and informal learning, with a special focus on online platforms. The work of formal teaching includes educational programmes for higher education with partners in Europe, the United States, India, China, and South America, while informal learning includes the development of the ‘Circular design guide’ realised in collaboration with IDEO in addition to online events.


The Foundation works with its partners to develop circular commercial initiatives and face the challenges that arise from their implementation. The network brings together sector leaders, cutting-edge businesses, government authorities, regions and cities, all united by their joint efforts to develop a circular business model.

Institutions, governments, and cities

In support of its clear commercial efforts, the Foundation collaborates with governments as well as with local and international institutions, with the aim of informing those with political power and supporting mechanisms of public/private co-creation. From international institutions that create a global agenda to local bodies that bring about changes to everyday life, the Foundation aims to involve the interested parties on every level – from the initial idea to its development. 

Insight and analyses

The Foundation works to quantify the economic potential of the circular model and develop approaches to generate this value by working with international experts, scholars, and intellectuals.

Systematic initiatives

Adopting a global and cross-sector approach to material flows, the Foundation is bringing together organisations along the entire value chain to face situations of ‘systematic standstill’ that organisations are unable to overcome singularly. Plastic is at the heart of the first systematic initiative of the Foundation with the initiative ‘New Plastics Economy’ launched in 2016, which reunites the main interested parties in rethinking and redesigning the future of plastic, starting from the packaging; while textile fibres are the focus of the initiative ‘Make Fashion Circular’ dedicated to material flows, which was launched in 2017.


The Foundation is committed to communicating ideas and information through its research reports onto the circular economy, case studies and books, with communication on digital media. The Foundation also makes its knowledge and information available through the ‘dedicated platform’ Circulate.


Ellen MacArthur Foundation and fashion

It all starts from one basic assumption: it’s necessary to rethink the current ‘take-make-dispose’ model. In fact, every second the equivalent of one garbage truck filled with fabrics is either disposed of in a landfill or burned. An estimated value of 500 billion dollars is lost every year because of clothing being worn only for a short amount of time and then not being recycled. If we don’t start changing things, by 2050, the fashion industry will account for a fourth of global CO2 emissions. Plus, washing clothes results in half a million tons of plastic microfiber being released into the ocean every year, which is the equivalent of over 50 billion plastic bottles.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation released a report, ‘A new textiles economy’, which redesigns the future of fashion, promoting a new vision of the industry where clothes are designed to last longer and be worn for longer periods of time. Additionally, new business models call for the renting, reselling, or recycling of used clothes. There are then incentives for forms of production and a use of clothing that does not release toxic and polluting substances. The Report was developed thanks to the support of sector leaders, including H&M Group, Lenzing and NIKE Inc. as the main partners, and C&A Foundation as a charitable partner. Over 40 other fashion brands with influence, leading businesses, NGOs, public bodies and experts have made their own contributions.