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The Next Economy
2017 Circulars Nominate 36 Innovators Leading the Way to a Circular Future

There’s growing evidence around the efficacy of a circular economy and the key role it will play in helping companies and nations carry out the commitments outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement, maintain competitive economies, and reduce waste and consumption of natural resources. The journey to a circular economy will be a long one, and it will require cooperation between businesses, local governments, investors and individuals around the world.

There’s growing evidence around the efficacy of a circular economy and the key role it will play in helping companies and nations carry out the commitments outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement, maintain competitive economies, and reduce waste and consumption of natural resources. The journey to a circular economy will be a long one, and it will require cooperation between businesses, local governments, investors and individuals around the world.

It’s a tall order, yes, but as the list of finalists for this year’s Circulars — an awards scheme recognizing innovators in the area, by the World Economic Forum and the Forum of Young Global Leaders — proves, there are individuals and organizations that are already pushing the circular agenda forward and paving the way for others.

The 2017 Circulars cover six distinct categories: Leadership; Multinational, SME; Government, Cities & Regions; Investor; and Digital Disruptor. Below, we explore each category and the nominees being recognized for their work to drive forward the circular economy.

The Fortune Award for Circular Economy Leadership

There are huge economic, social and environmental benefits to be reaped from the adoption of a circular economy, but strong leadership is needed to inspire more companies, governments and individuals to take up the banner for the cause.

Case in point: William McDonough, who is nominated for his consultation work through McDonough Innovation, his architecture firm, McDonough + Partners; and MBDC, a Cradle to Cradle consulting firm — not to mention co-authoring the seminal Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, which introduced the concepts of biological and technical cycles, and provides a framework for restorative and regenerative systems.

The other nominees are:

  • Susan Chong Suk Shien, founder and CEO of Greenpac, a knowledge-based company that specializes in re-engineering, designing and distributing environmentally friendly packaging products and solutions. Under her leadership, the company has placed significant focus on partnering with customers to re-engineer its industrial packaging processes by creating circular packaging solutions to achieve bottom-line savings, clean the supply chain and reducing tons of packaging waste;
  • Frans Timmermans, a Dutch politician and diplomat serving as the First Vice President of the European Commission is being recognized for bringing the circular economy to the forefront of the agenda in Europe;
  • social entrepreneur Guido Braam, whose current work revolves around the development of circular business development hubs;
  • John C. Warner, the founder of the ‘green chemistry’ field, for inventing a number of circular-enabling chemistry technologies for a variety of industry sectors; and
  • Nate Morris, CEO of Rubicon Global, a leader in cloud-based waste/recycling solutions.

The Accenture Strategy Award for Circular Economy Multinational

To spur change on a large scale, the participation of multinational corporations is critical. Their influence and reach can help drive the adoption of circular practices across a variety of different industries, and have far-reaching impacts. Johnson Controls — a global diversified technology company — is a prime example. It’s one of the world’s most successful examples of a circular economy, designing, making, transporting, recycling and recovering vehicle batteries using more sustainable methods. The company currently boasts a 99 percent recycling rate for conventional batteries in North America, Europe and Brazil, enabling them to produce new batteries containing more than 80 percent recycled material, a process that ultimately reduces greenhouse gas emissions, energy use and transportation miles.

Working being done by Enel SpA — an Italian multinational manufacturer and distributor of electricity and gas, to bring circular supplies to consumers — is also being recognized. The company’s new strategy includes reducing investment in coal and nuclear power, focusing on small-scale and decentralized projects, developing renewable generation capacity and adopting a shared value and stakeholder focus approach, as well an ambitious overall commitment to decarbonization.

Two apparel companies made the cut, Nike and Patagonia, also made the cut. Reimagining waste streams and moving closer to a closed-loop business model, Nike currently produces 71 percent of all of its products with recycled materials, and designers use 29 high-performance materials made from factory scrap. For Patagonia, extending the life of its products by starting with high quality design, making parts accessible and repair easy, is an important way to reduce their carbon, waste and water footprints. According to a WRAP report, the practice reduces impacts by 20-30 percent per person simply because there’s less to throw away.

The remaining nominees for the Multinational category include Cisco Systems and BASF SE. Cisco has been rolling out initiatives to address everything from product return and remanufacture to teaming up with suppliers, customers, employees and communities to develop, pilot and implement circular economy principles. BASF receives major kudos for developing the “Biomass Balance method,” which enables it to produce any chemical or material by using renewable raw materials within existing, interlinked production plants.

The Young Global Leaders Award for Circular Economy SME

Multinationals aren’t the only ones who have an important role to play. Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are key for filling in the gaps — and can do so quickly and efficiently. The nominations for Circular Economy SME includes nominees spanning a vast array of industries. Fairphone — a Dutch social enterprise building a movement for fairer electronics — is changing the way we interact with electronics, one smartphone at a time. The company has amassed a dedicated following for its transparent supply chain and products that put ethic values first. While their first-generation product focused largely on a conflict-free supply chain, the second also boasts a unique modular design for its second smartphone, which allows owners to open and repair their phones without any technical skills.

I:Collect has been working towards addressing issues in the apparel industry apparel with the development of a global take-bake system for the reuse and recycling of used clothing, footwear and other textiles. I:CO offers a global logistics, sorting and recycling infrastructure which empowers retailers and consumers to be active participants in managing a product’s lifecycle and maximizing the retained value in valuable materials.

Other nominees, such as MBA Polymers, are finding new ways to recycle plastics through the mining of plastics and other materials from complex waste streams**; Park 24 Co** is leading the sharing economy in Japan with its car-sharing service; SAFECHEM Europe GmbH, a subsidiary of Dow, has developed a holistic and sustainable risk-management concept in which used cleaning solvent is taken back from consumers and put back into a reuse loop system to create new products; and Unusual Rigging Ltd. has managed to reuse 50 tons of ‘technical’ nutrients over the past year alone and reduce its CO2 emissions by over 60 percent with a shift to renewable energy generation.

The AB InBev Award for Circular Economy Governments, Cities and Regions

Kickstarting the circular economy isn’t just something left to the private sector — governments, policy-makers, cities and organizations are helping lead the shift with infrastructure improvements, recovery projects, research, action plans and funding. Nominees include Canada’s Simon Fraser University, South-Africa’s USE-IT, the UK’s WRAP program, the Scottish Government, social enterprise Circle Economy and the China Association of Circular Economy (CACE).

The CNBC Award for Circular Economy Investor

More and more investors are placing their support behind companies and brands making the shift towards more sustainable practices, with circular economy initiatives being particularly attractive as they clearly indicate a business’s ability to continue on into the future. The award for Circular Economy Investor is aimed at venture capital and private equity firms, sovereign wealth funds, pension plans and investment banks investing over $1m into circular businesses or firms to boost the circular economy. The nominees are ArcTern Ventures, Circularity Capital, ING Bank, NY Green Bank, Sitra: the Finnish Innovation Fund and SJF Ventures.

The Ecolab Award for Circular Economy Digital Disruptor

This ones-to-watch category covers companies changing the economic landscape through the development of inventive sharing-economy-geared digital platforms that are fast-tracking the circular economy in way larger, more established entities can’t. Peerby is taking an Airbnb-inspired approach to everyday necessities, with its online sharing community that enables people to borrow and rent, rather than buy, the things they need; Hello Tractor has created a low-cost “Smart Tractor” that pairs the tractor owner with labor-constrained farmers willing to pay for tractor services; through its Loop Rocks platform, NCC Industry has created an open ecosystem platform for the construction industry which works to reduce time, costs and environmental impact by using less virgin masses and unnecessary transportation; Rubicon Global, whose founder Nate Morris is up for a Leadership award, has built a cloud-based technology and big data platform that provides waste and recycling solutions; and UPMADE is a design and production system developed by designer Reet Aus PhD that allows garment brands to commercialize industrial-scale upcycling at the product stage.

For more information about the Circular Awards and the 2017 nominees, visit