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Circularity 19: The future is circular

 

Last week, I went on my first official business trip on behalf of Hand Me Up: Circularity 19, the inaugural circular economy conference hosted by GreenBiz. In essence, the circular economy is a new economic system characterized by the principles of "designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems" (as defined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation).

Buying and selling secondhand clothing – or sharing it for free by way of hand-me-downs – has been a thing since long before the term “circular economy” was coined. (AKA, we were circular before it was cool.) But what I find exciting about the circular economy is that the concept is being extended to so many other aspects of society: agriculture, electronics, architecture, city planning. It’s something that is happening at a system-wide level. And it’s starting to become mainstream. This past January, it was one of the main topics of discussion at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting at Davos. And if they’re talking about something at Davos, you know it’s legit.

Similarly, the caliber of the attendees and speakers at Circularity 19 made it clear that this is not just a niche issue being discussed by hardcore sustainability enthusiasts. We heard from the likes of Apple, Google, Procter & Gamble, and Dow, to name just a few. And more and more apparel brands are catching on, and wanting to capture some of the value that the transition to a circular economic model promises.

Some of the key themes of the conference are summarized here by GreenBiz Chairman Joel Makower. From my perspective, the spirit of collaboration stood out the most. Across the board, the people I met were friendly and eager to connect. Maybe it was because the concept of the circular economy is still somewhat under the radar, or because this was the first conference of its kind in the US, or just because we were in Minnesota, the capital of niceness. But there was a palpable sense of excitement as people discovered that others were just as passionate about the topic as they were.

One of the greatest sources of connection and friendship at the conference was the Yale F&ES community that I’m lucky to be a part of. There were at least a dozen current students and alumni in attendance, and we naturally found each other. High-fives, hugs, and nostalgia ensued.

I’m grateful to the all-star GreenBiz team for organizing such a fantastic event (and for allowing me to volunteer in exchange for a discounted rate, essential for a bootstrapped startup founder). I’m already looking forward to Circularity 20 – and excited to see how far along we’ll have come as a circular business by this time next year.

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