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A circular choice

From solo navigation, McArthur's idea of a closed-circuit economy generating its own eco-sustainability.

by Maria Pia Rossignaud
13 May 2020
3 min read
byMaria Pia Rossignaud
13 May 2020
3 min read

Buy, use, throw away? Or buy, use, recycle? Two different approaches to consumption. The first is the linear economy model, a thing of the past (hopefully). The second is the circular economy model, the way of the future, a system designed to refuel itself. The innovative concept of an economy based on environmentally sustainable principles was dreamt up in 2009 by the MacArthur Foundation, specifically by its founder Ellen, also a famous British sailor. On 7 February 2005 she set the world record for circumnavigating the world alone, doing 27,354 nautical miles in 71 days.

It was while navigating on her own that Ellen MacArthur began to reflect on man’s need to change how he uses the earth’s resources. Her reflections out on the open sea made her realise that the earth – just like the boat on her voyage – should be seen as a closed system.

In an interview she has said that if you “go off […] to sail around the world, nonstop, you would take everything you need for your survival. Everything. You have a boat, your little world, and you put everything on that, for your survival for the next 3 months, or 4 or 5, depending on how fast your boat is. […] If you run out of something, that’s it, you can’t stop and buy more, in the deep ocean you are 2,500 miles from the nearest town […] you are really isolated and you really do develop a different way of thinking.”

This contemplation kindled in her a burning ambition to transform the world’s economy, by putting a stop to the linear model, which “generates wealth by extracting raw materials, processing them, transforming them into products that end up in landfills. Or, when we are lucky and in any case in an infinitesimal part, to recycling centres,” as she once remarked at one of the many conferences that hand her centre stage in this debate. She thinks the blame lies not just with consumers but with difficult recycling techniques.


Ellen MacArthur on her boat, the Kingfisher

Eni’s circular world

In a circular economy, material flows take two forms: biological ones, capable of reintegrating into the biosphere, and technical ones, designed to be reused (without going back into the biosphere). In its capacity as an energy company, Eni has steered all its operations towards new solutions for replacing the old model of consumption with the more rational, sustainable one that is the circular economy. The company is turning itself on its head in order to adapt and respond properly to a socio-economic and environmental situation of growing complexity. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), above all the one about ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns (number 12), demands research for continuous regeneration systems and elimination of waste. Eni’s patented creations bear witness to the importance the company places on research, which is crystallised in the innovation of its sustainable products and processes, applicable on an industrial scale.

Minimising consumption of resources like water and energy, as well as using sustainable raw materials, are the pillars of the change Eni seeks. Its approach, declaring war on waste, is in total harmony with Ellen MacArthur’s proposed model, not to mention the European Green Deal. The latter is a new growth strategy to turn the European Union into a modern economy where the challenges of the climate and the environment will become an opportunity for all.