When it comes to transformational change, we look towards our Trailblazers, and few have blazed a brighter trail than former yachtsman Dame Ellen MacArthur, who in 2005 set the record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe. Although Dame MacArthur has now lowered her sails, she’s still navigating uncharted waters as founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. This charitable foundation focuses on tackling the root causes of global challenges by promoting something that’s almost radical in its vision: a circular economy.
“The best way to describe a circular economy,” MacArthur says, “is to compare it to our current, predominantly linear one. Today we take something from the ground, make something out of it, and at the end of the life of that material, it gets thrown away.”
But in a circular economy, “you would keep products and materials in use for as long as possible.”
Another key principle of the circular economy is regeneration. “Anything that physically biodegrades has the opportunity to regenerate natural systems, and all that is underpinned by the shift to renewable energy”.
Despite massive changes to the way we approach waste and resources, the benefit of a circular economy isn’t just environmental, it’s egalitarian: “You end up with a much more distributed economy, a much more diverse economy, and a much more inclusive economy,” MacArthur explains.
The circular economy’s focus on designing out waste from the outset has echoes in Dame MacArthur’s distinguished career as a record-breaking sailor, where she could only pack what was needed for survival.
“When you sail out of port, you are acutely aware of what you have, and you manage it down to the last drop of diesel, the last packet of food. You are truly aware of what finite really means.”
For Dame MacArthur, the fact that collectively, we haven’t brought the same sensibility to managing the earth’s resources is a pain point that needs to be addressed.
“Within a circular economy, from the outset, when you build a system, infrastructure or product, you design a product in a different way; you design out waste and pollution. Why would we ever create waste and pollution if there are different ways of designing products?”
Confronting this idea of the finite was an awakening for MacArthur, but when it first sparked her imagination, she had no idea that she was beginning a journey that would carry her across large swathes of time, around the world, and through some of the most intransigent economic models in human history.
“When I began on this journey, I couldn’t see the goal,” Dame MacArthur says. But not being able to see her port of arrival didn’t stop her when she sailed solo around the globe – and this time, she’d have a team on her side.
At first glance, global giant Coca-Cola may seem like an unlikely ally for shaking up traditional ways of doing business. But in an age when a brand’s message is as important as its products or services, Dame MacArthur’s no-nonsense approach to stewardship is finding favour with more and more organisations.
For many companies, ignoring their footprint is no longer an option, and re-focusing their efforts in order to better serve the principles that drive the circular economy isn’t just ethical, it’s good business.
And make no mistake: good business is still at the heart of the circular economy, even if the prioritisation of sustainable practices – potentially at the expense of short-term profits – seems far away from traditional corporate culture.
Bea Perez, SVP & Chief Communications, Public Affairs & Sustainability Officer for Coca-Cola, is all-in on the big brand’s shift towards going green. “Marketing should not just be about selling the brands,” Perez says. “It should be about using the brand’s voice to shape and drive change.”
When Coca-Cola established a sustainability office in 2011, Perez was tasked with leading it. “I remember feeling like I had just won the lottery, because now I was in a role where I could come in and drive that change.”
But Perez knew that change wouldn’t be easy. To make Coca-Cola’s contributions to sustainability meaningful, they had to occur on a large scale.
“Sometimes you have to create waves, and understand that it will not be popular, because you’re going to be challenging all the cost equations in the business.”
And so it was that Bea Perez ignited the spark of change that would lead Coca-Cola to embrace global sustainability and become a partner of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “We were one of the first companies to join the plastics initiatives that the Ellen MacArthur Foundation put together. I’m still learning, and we’re just scratching the surface as to what can be done.”
Coca-Cola is one of a number of business titans partnering with the Foundation, and what started as a singular vision of one woman on a journey across a vast expanse of ocean has now inspired organisations around the globe to begin their own journeys towards the unknowable horizon.
In the maelstrom of 2020, when red-sky mornings rule the day, we can all be thankful that we have dedicated, driven and forward-thinking women like Bea Perez and Dame Ellen MacArthur charting our course towards a better tomorrow.
To learn more about the Circular Economy, check out Salesforce’s webinar with Dame Ellen MacArthur and Bea Perez here.