Circular Economy

In a world of close to 9 billion people expected by 2030 – including 3 billion new middle-class consumers – the challenges of expanding resource supply to meet future demand are unprecedented. The current "take-make-dispose" approach results in massive waste; in the fast-moving consumer goods sector alone, about 80% of the $3.2 trillion material value is lost irrecoverably each year. Commodity prices rose overall by almost 150% in 2002-2010, erasing the real price declines of the last 100 years.

Experts have calculated that without a rethink of how society uses materials in the linear economy, elements such as gold, silver, indium, iridium, tungsten and many others vital for industry could be depleted within the next 5 to 50 years. As these trends put pressure on companies, business leaders are looking for a better hedge to avoid such risks – a system that decouples revenues from material input.
Waste generated by current industrial models creates extensive environmental and health hazards. Plastic pollution is amassing in the oceans, causing harm to ecosystems and seeping into the seafood people eat. Landfilling creates both short- and long-term risks for human health through harmful leachate, dust, odour, local traffic burden and powerful greenhouse gas emissions. Models that reconcile the outlook for growth with environmental prudence and equity are needed now.

The circular economy is a redesign of the future, where industrial systems are restorative and regenerative by intention and design. The quality of products is defined beyond traditional metrics, to encompass positive effects on economies, ecology and social health. In this future, growth need not happen at the cost of environmental health. The potential for innovation, job creation and economic development is huge: estimates indicate a trillion-dollar opportunity, and numerous global trends suggest the time is ripe for change. 

At the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2014 in Davos-Klosters, Project MainStream was established as a multi-industry, CEO-led global initiative to accelerate a series of business-driven innovations and help scale the circular economy. The World Economic Forum also hosts a Meta-Council on the Circular Economy  that convenes experts, business, policy and civil society leaders to rethink and suggest redesign of policy ecosystems needed to allow systems-level change and widespread adoption of circular models (see link below). 

As the first of its kind, Project MainStream:

  • Convenes top-level international companies
  • Creates a pre-competitive space that supports collaboration across industries and value chains
  • Builds the necessary critical mass of stakeholders through the World Economic Forum's unparalleled convening power
  • Accesses world-class analytics through collaboration with trusted global Knowledge Partners
  • Partners with the world’s top industry experts and most relevant policy-makers and influencers


The project has identified three initial delivery projects as follows:

  • Plastic Packaging: Creating a Global Plastic Packaging Roadmap and linking local packaging waste processing with international packaging design
  • Asset Tracking: Deploying asset tracking in industry-specific value chains; building asset databases to integrate with enterprise data, gauging remaining useful life, and recovering residual value
  • Paper and Paperboard: Developing simple eco-design rules for paper products, to give essential guidance for designers and developers without limiting innovation
All three delivery projects have commenced operations and are ramping up activities as per their respective work plans.


Key Organizations

  • Brambles
  • Brightstar
  • BT
  • Desso Holding
  • Ecolab
  • Indorama Ventures
  • Kingfisher
  • McKinsey & Company
  • Royal DSM
  • Royal Philips
  • Suez Environnement
  • Veolia

Project Management

Nathalie Chalmers, Project Lead, Circular Economy Initiative, Global Leadership Fellow
Tel: +41228691491