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  • Writer's pictureRichard Plumpton | ii |

One Planet (R)evolutionaries #3: Ellen MacArthur.

[Image: Dame Ellen MacArthur | © The Ellen MacArthur Foundation]


17 years ago I spent a slightly disorientating month with Sir Robert Swan in Patagonia and the Antarctic Peninsular on a leadership course (a slightly unsuccessful course for the Coca-Cola Company who I was working for at the time, as every employee sent on it was so inspired that they left shortly afterwards!)

Dame Ellen MacArthur reminds me of Robert in many ways: she is an adventurer having sailed round the world solo in world record time (Robert was the first person to walk to both Poles), a 'one-issue' campaigner through her efforts to promote the Circular Economy (Robert leads 2041 in his attempts to preserve Antarctica for future generations), an inspirational public speaker (Robert is certainly also this) and a 'roll your sleeves up' leader (again, I've seen Robert first hand in this mode).

But where Ellen differs to Robert, is in the potential societal-wide impact that her work on the Circular Economy could have, vs. Robert's vital, but more localised work to preserve Antarctica.

Experiencing an epiphany about the fragility of the earth whilst sailing through the Southern Ocean in 2005 – at a point when she was so isolated that the closest humans to her were on the International Space Station – Ellen has devoted the last 13 years to promoting the adoption of the Circular Economy as a key way of addressing some of humanity's critical challenges.

Through the Ellen MacArthur Foundation she looks to provide thought leadership to governments, business and academia as a way of accelerating the transition from today's linear 'Take-Make-Waste' economy, to a circular one where resources are re-used and recycled to support a sustainable, regenerating economic model for all.

When she set out on her journey in 2010, Ellen was building on circular concepts that stretched right back to 1966 but, as with climate change, the pace of change was glacially slow. Ellen recognised her exploits as a world-renowned sailor gave her a unique position of influence and set about to use this to accelerate the world's transition to an economic model that recognises we have just one planet that is currently suffering from human habitation far more than it needs to.

In the 13 short years Ellen has been leading this work, her impact has been profound. She has successfully built on the work of the many circular economy pioneers that went before her and has promoted the concept to a point where it is both being spoken of at the highest levels of government and business, and being implemented through a broad range of projects initiated or supported by the Foundation.

The projects she has sparked through the Foundation include leading an initiative that seeks to bring about the adoption of circular principles to urgently address the global issue of plastic waste, and demonstrating how regenerative farming practises can revolutionise the production of food as the world population goes past 8 billion later this year. More details about these and other projects can be found here.

As Ellen heads into her 14th year of trying to build the Circular Economy, her drive and focus appear, if anything, to be growing despite the myriad challenges she faces in trying to change a deeply embedded global economic system. If I was impressed by her when I first stumbled across her work in 2012, I am even more so as she looks to find more ways to drive change around the world in 2023.

To find out more about what motivates Ellen to keep driving change, her 2015 TED talk isa s good a place as any to begin.


This post is the 3rd in a planned (sporadic) series on some of the un- (or under-)sung heroes working to help us achieve 'One Planet Living'.




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