The Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) announced today from the World Economic Forum in Davos that Unilever has joined Cisco, Kingfisher, Philips and Renault as the EMF’s latest Global Partner. The partnership will find the Foundation supporting Unilever as a pathfinder in unlocking the value of the circular economy within the FMCG industry.
Unilever CEO Paul Polman has long viewed the circular economy model as a key opportunity for business development. In his foreword for the Foundation's second economic report, he stated:
“The concept of a circular economy promises a way out. Here products do not quickly become waste, but are reused to extract their maximum value before safely and productively returning to the biosphere. Most importantly for business leaders, such an economy can deliver growth. Innovative product designers and business leaders are already venturing into this space."
The EMF says Unilever has the potential to pilot circularity across global fast-moving supply chains, and with a reported 2 billion consumers worldwide using Unilever products each day, the opportunity to test it at scale. Outlined as a US$700 billion opportunity for the FMCG sector in the Foundation’s second economic report, the consumer goods industry is just now starting to embrace the potential of the circular model. The EMF says that the benefits of reuse for durable goods have been more widely demonstrated (see the Foundation's case studies), but for consumer goods — such as food, beverages or apparel and their packaging — which are short-lived and often transformed during use, the economic benefits of a circular design are admittedly harder to convey. Yet the Foundation insists recovering part of the US $2.6 trillion of material value lost each year is a huge opportunity for fast-moving consumer goods companies and that Unilever will prove to be an important pathfinder within the industry.
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In February, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched the Circular Economy 100 (CE100), a three-year program aimed at bringing together a network of 100 leading companies globally to facilitate development and commitment to new circular economy projects. The CE100 will provide executive education on key themes and emerging trends, share knowledge and new learnings, and identify and develop solutions to common challenges. The objective is that by 2015 participating companies will have triggered circular initiatives that will result in an aggregated economic benefit of $10bn for the businesses involved. In addition to the EMF’s five global partners, the CE100 has attracted the participation of over 40 corporate member companies including the Coca-Cola Company, IKEA, H&M, M&S, BT, Terracycle and WRAP.