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The challenge of the Anthropocene era

Paul PolmanA new term has emerged in recent years to describe our modern era—the Anthropocene. It rightly implies that in this age humans became the dominant force shaping our physical environment.

It is evident that an economy that extracts resources at increasing rates without consideration for the environment in which it operates, without consideration for our natural planetary boundaries, cannot continue indefinitely. In a world of soon to be nine billion consumers who are actively buying manufactured goods, this approach will hamper companies and undermine economies. We need a new way of doing business.

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.

I don't believe business can be a mere bystander in the system that gives it life. This is why decoupling economic growth from environmental impact and increasing positive social outcomes are two priority objectives that lie at the heart of my vision for corporate strategy. Businesses need to reinvent themselves, and the circular economy framework provides very promising perspectives, as outlined in the present report.

I welcome this important contribution to the debate regarding the nature of 'economic things to come'. In 2012, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation report 'Towards the circular economy' contributed significantly to our understanding of the opportunity for durable goods. This year's report again takes the business point of view to explore the opportunity of the circular economy for fast-moving consumer goods. Building on all the academic work of recent years and a large base of industry examples, it establishes needed thought structures, identifies the major levers available, and calls out the economic opportunity.

I envision a 21st century where innovation, values, and sheer drive will help harness the power of regenerative processes, and this new report inspires our thinking on how to create prosperity that is not at the expense of tomorrow's opportunities.

This editorial by Unilever CEO Paul Poleman (above) prefaces the second Ellen MacArthur Foundation report published in November 2013 on the emergence of the $700 billion circular economy for consumer goods.

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