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Ellen MacArthur: making waves on a journey to a circular economy


the global conversation

Ellen MacArthur: making waves on a journey to a circular economy

Dame Ellen MacArthur is a living legend of the sailing world, becoming the fastest person to circumnavigate the globe single-handed. She unexpectedly retired from professional sailing after smashing that world record. She told euronews that her time at sea took her on a new and unexpected journey.

Dame Ellen MacArthur

  • Dame Ellen MacArthur, from Britain, shot to fame age 24 after she sailed single-handedly non-stop around the world in the Vendée Globe in 2001 coming second in the race.
  • Three years later she set off round the world again, and this time made the record books becoming the fastest person to sail around the world single-handed.
  • In 2005, she was then knighted by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and received the Légion d’Honneur from then French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
  • Her time at sea has ultimately led her on a new and unexpected journey bringing her racing career to an end. In 2010 she launched the Ellen MacArthur Foundation which has the goal of accelerating a transition from a linear economy to a regenerative, circular economy.


“Without looking for it, I found something quite fundamental. That was that when you sail around the world in a boat, you take everything with you you need, you’re at sea for three months (…) You realise what finite really means, because what you have, is all you have, there simply is no more. I stepped off the boat at the finish line and I suddenly realised that in fact our global economy is no different. Our global economy is entirely dependent on finite resources.”

Because of this realisation, in 2010, Ellen MacArthur set up the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Her goal is to hasten a transition from our current linear economic model based on what can be termed as take-make-waste principles, to a regenerative circular economy.

In this latest edition of the Global Conversation Ellen MacArthur explains to euronews’ Isabelle Kumar that the circular economy is far more than a lifestyle change. It involves a far reaching systems-level change.

“The circular economy is much more about a change in the system, it’s not at all about individual behaviour change. The circular economy is about looking at our current economic model as a linear one saying we take something out of the ground, we make something out of it, but ultimately we throw it away and we get what we can out at the end, we recycle what we can. With the circular economy, from the beginning you design for disassembly, you design for re-manufacture, you design so that product can fit within a flow,” MacArthur said.

The idea is definitely taking on, the Foundation has well-known global partners, such as Renault, Cisco, Kingfisher, Unilever and Philips. Ellen MacArthur has also been in consultation with the European Commission over its new circular economy proposals.

The Foundation’s work is based on three areas: business, communication and education. As such Ellen MacArthur not only works closely with business, she is also working with universities and schools worldwide to inspire the next generations.

“Young people love this. (…)There was a student from the UK who was doing his A-levels, so he was 18-years-old, and he went to his Design and Technology teacher, they had been studying the circular economy, working with the foundation, he said: ‘Sir when I did my GCSEs, aged 16, I loved D and T (Design and Technology) but I couldn’t think of anything to design, but now, I have learnt about the circular economy, everything I see, I want to redesign.’ Ellen MacArthur adds: “We see this again and again.”

Given MacArthur’s determination, this is one challenge she is not going to let go of easily, but she believes the tide is changing and that this systems-level change is within our reach.

“Giving up has never been an option for me. Not at all. Not when there is something so important.”

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