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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)


September 2017 – This report is based on interviews with companies that are using circular economy principles to reduce their exposure to risk, and to access new markets. It discusses some of the successful transformations and changes made, obstacles faced, and potential policies for overcoming those obstacles.

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Circular Economy ReportBusinesses and governments from around the world are wrestling with how to do more with less – how to deliver business growth and increasing prosperity whilst respecting planetary limits. But more and more businesses have identified innovations and new business models for improving resource productivity, showing how it is possible to transform resource use and improve economic results at the same time.

This new report from The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group (CLG) explores how leading European businesses are adopting new business models that deliver greater resource productivity and reduce waste, and what policy makers need to do to accelerate this transition and maximise the potential economic benefits.

All fourteen companies interviewed for the report are changing the way they operate: re-designing products to use fewer materials and last longer, choosing bio-based inputs, and reusing or recycling waste. They are responding to a context of diminishing natural resources, increasing supply chain vulnerability, and the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and environmental impact. The benefits include cost savings, enhanced reputation, and consumer loyalty.

This shift towards a more careful use of materials offers significant benefits for companies prepared to innovate. The EU Commission estimates that waste prevention, eco-design, re-use and similar measures could bring net savings of €600 billion, or 8 per cent of annual turnover, for businesses in the EU, and reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2-4  per cent.

However if the EU is to make the most of this opportunity it needs to shift incentives, remove obstacles, and support these initial moves. The new EU Industrial Strategy next spring is the perfect opportunity to put this transformation at the heart of the EU’s economy.

Citing this business conversation

Please refer to this publication as University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). (2017). European industry in the 21st century: New models for resource productivity, Cambridge, UK: The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group.

Find out more about how CISL is helping companies transition to a resource-efficient economy. 

Author and acknowledgments

This business briefing was authored by Joanna Gaches with editorial input from The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group (CLG) Secretariat. CLG is a member of the We Mean Business coalition, which has provided financial support for the production of this report.


Copyright © 2017 University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). Some rights reserved.


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CLG, CISL, the wider University  of Cambridge, or clients.


Published: September 2017