CEO, Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Tackling the root causes of global challenges, including climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution, is an urgent priority.
The key to creating solutions is transforming our current “take-make-waste” economy into one that’s regenerative by design. The circular economy offers this genuine opportunity to eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials, and regenerate nature.
The circular economy is a systems solution framework that retains the value embedded in products and materials, decoupling economic activities from the extraction of the Earth’s finite stock of resources. If we can keep things in use for longer through circular business models such as reuse, repair, and remanufacturing, then the need for production using “virgin” materials is reduced, providing an opportunity for better growth while leaving space for nature to thrive.
Economic activity in a circular economy can also actively regenerate natural systems. For example, take a circular economy for food, in which products are designed using ingredients that are low-impact, diverse, upcycled, and grown in regenerative farming systems. Creating food products using these ingredients can help to rebuild degraded soils. In addition, regenerative farming systems, such as agroecology, agroforestry, and managed grazing, can increase biodiversity because an absence of chemical inputs builds healthier soils that sequester carbon, helping to keep it out of the atmosphere.
Shifting to regenerative production, using upcycled ingredients, and eliminating food waste could halve the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the food industry alone by 2050. These practices are essential if we stand a chance of hitting the targets set in the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees compared to pre-industrial levels by 2100.
A circular economy approach to industry and land use is increasingly being adopted by businesses and enabled by governments across the world. In Canada, regenerative farming systems helped soils remove 4.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in 2019, offsetting 5.8 percent of agricultural GHGs.
Food manufacturers operating their own farms and buying from independent farmers are now investing in building up expertise in these agricultural practices on the ground — an illustration of the essentially collaborative nature of the circular economy.
By 2030, New Brunswick-based McCain Foods aims to use regenerative farming systems across all the 370,000 acres of land it farms globally to produce potatoes. As part of this plan, it has set up an “AgPortal” to funnel essential data to farmers so they can test out the effectiveness of these agricultural techniques.
Food giant Danone has established a regenerative agriculture scorecard that helps the farmers it works with to measure and test soil health, water levels, and other factors that contribute to biodiversity protection.
Cutting-edge Canadian digital technology is also helping to accelerate the move to regenerate nature. At the University of Guelph, agrometeorology professor Claudia Wagner-Riddle and her team are developing digital sensors to test the effect of regenerative farming systems on soil health.
As we move forward in a world with many uncertainties, the circular economy depends on the expertise and energy of everyone in the system to work together to redesign the way we make and use things. This is a blueprint for a future that invests in our natural world, building resilience for us all.