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Opportunities in the circular economy

Circular Economy: Restorative & Regenerative

26 October 2018

Joe Iles, Editor in Chief of Circulate at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, recently spoke with third-year Innovation students at the Centre about the circular economy and creating new and compelling business models.

image courtesy of Joe Iles/Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Image courtesy of Joe Iles/Ellen MacArthur Foundation

At the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship we often find that diverse ideas and connections come together in moments of serendipity to create new ideas and opportunities.

One such moment of serendipity happened recently when we invited University of Bristol alumnus Joe Iles in to talk to our third-year undergraduates about his work at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation on the Circular Economy.

Our third-years are taking a unit called ‘Doing Something Completely New’ in which they have to identify a problem to be solved or a gap in the market - and then prototype a solution or offering to respond to that problem or gap. As part of the introduction to this unit we highlight how ideas are typically judged and evaluated; on their desirability (does anyone want it?) their feasibility (can it be done?) their viability (is there a sustainable model here?) and on the authenticity and credibility of the proposer (is this the right team to do this?)

This final criterion has been something of a work in progress for a couple of us in the team and we felt it was time to make it explicit in the curriculum. To emphasise the importance of authenticity and credibility, we introduced the role that personal values play in making an entrepreneur motivated, resilient, and credible in the eyes of stakeholders. We also reflected on how organisations can have values too; that can make them more attractive and compelling to their customers.

It just so happened that it was this week that we’d managed to book Joe to come and talk about the Circular Economy.

Photo of Joe Iles

Joe Iles graduated with a History degree from the University of Bristol back in 2010 and found a job working for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation – where he seems to have found an organisation that shared his own values.

Joe gave an engaging and impassioned talk explaining the problems we face with a ‘disposable’ culture and how the circular economy model is creating new ways to live and do business. As well as creating new and compelling business models for established companies and emerging start-ups, the circular economy approach can radically reduce demand for resources and energy.

From Renault re-manufacturing car parts to deliver their most profitable factory and British Sugar using waste CO2 emissions to grow tomatoes (and now medicinal cannabis) to some great sharing economy businesses like Feather and OpenDesk, right through to amazing edible water capsules for sports events and festivals. 

The circular economy is a great example of how a personal value like environmental sustainability can find a role in a business model. New value is being attached by customers, regulators, and by businesses to re-use, re-purposing, and re-cycling in delivering products and services that have more sustainability and more ethical values. These values are not just altruistic, they’re also driving customer acquisition, efficiencies, and ultimately the economic bottom line.

Our students seemed inspired to take up the challenge of a far more sustainable way of doing business.

Further information

Bristol’s innovation courses are the first of their kind in the UK, designed for people who want to pursue their academic specialism in a way that enables them to apply it in an innovative and entrepreneurial way in a rapidly changing world. Learn more

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