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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)


What is the circular economy?

ConsumablesAs the global human population expands and develops its modern urban model, it is clear that the consequences of wasteful production and consumption are incompatible with thriving economies and healthy lives. The industrial processes that have provided the means for rapid growth and human development are now inherently challenged.

The circular economy concept may form a key aspect of the transition to a resource-efficient economy. Instead of an economy driven by a linear model of ‘take, make and dispose’, a circular model is envisioned that designs out waste and allows materials to safely re-enter the biosphere or continue to circulate as high-quality production resources.

The concept successfully conveys the need for industrial innovation to drive future productivity and competitiveness. It inspires collaboration and interaction across industrial sectors and across public and private enterprise. It can drive change at a transformative rate and scale and is a live demonstration of exciting change.


Capacity building and leadership development

Sustainability leadership

Themes aligned with the notion of ‘circular economy’ are covered as part of our teaching on business model innovation, drawing on research from the University of Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing (IfM), in particular. (Many, but not all, ‘sustainable’ business models aim to deliver circularity, amongst other outcomes.)

This teaching content can be found in our two-day Sustainability Leadership Laboratories and ten-month (part-time) Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Value Chains.

The circular economy is also an integral part of the two-year (part-time) Master of Studies in Sustainability Leadership where it features in modules on sustainable production and consumption, sustainable value and business model innovation and strategy.

Read about our Sustainability Leadership Labs or to find out more.


Global and European policy engagement

Policy EngagementThe Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group (CLG) engages with policymakers and their peers to advocate solutions on climate change within the EU and globally. In December the European Commission adopted a Circular Economy Package to boost global competitiveness, foster sustainable economic growth and generate new jobs. The Corporate Leaders Group is supporting a number of members as they engage with the policy process and look at the impact and opportunities for their own business models. It recently published a report, European industry in the 21st century: New models for resource productivity that explores how leading EU businesses are adopting new business models that deliver greater resource productivity and reduce waste, and what policymakers need to do to accelerate this transition and maximise the potential economic benefits.

Interested in the Corporate Leaders Group? Read more.


Company engagement

Green building

We design bespoke company training for clients in sectors as diverse as food, finance, tourism, retail, building materials and manufacturing, helping them to evaluate the risks and opportunities for value creation in the context of their own operations.

Several engagements have been designed to equip individual companies to understand the implications for their own operations, while other initiatives have brought together individuals from companies along a supply chain to work together and find ways to instill the concept of circularity at each stage of a product lifecycle.

We also catalyse innovation and solutions by bringing companies together to address issues that cannot be solved alone. For example we worked with stakeholders from across the bottled water and soft drinks value chain to develop a pathway for achieving zero plastic packaging waste by 2030. We also carried out a review into action taken by Sky to remove single use plastic from its business through its strategy, leadership, management and engagement. This business change case study aims to inspire and encourage other companies to take action.


Research and knowledge sharing


Whilst studying the Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Value Chains, a group of employees from Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) and Novelis explored the lessons learnt from the REALCAR closed loop value chain project between Jaguar Land Rover, Novelis, Innovate UK and partners. We worked with JLR and Novelis to publish the learnings as a case study in 2016, which is now used for teaching by CISL and business schools.

CISL has also supported a major piece of research to support the transition of EU heavy industry to net zero by 2050. The report 'Industrial Transformation 2050' sets out multiple possible pathways the EU could pursue to achieve the full decarbonisation of its heavy industries by 2050. It highlights a more circular economy as being a large part of the answer, alongside reusing materials that have already been produced, using end-of-life plastics as feedstock for new production and Innovations in new, clean production processes.

Learn more about the impact of our work and read more about the definitions and characteristics of value chains.



Adele Wiliams

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In New York's Hearst Tower, 85 per cent of the structural steel contains recycled material.

Credit Mariano MantelCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic.