9 leading ladies of the circular economy

This International Women’s Day, we’re shining a light on just some of the many women who are leading the way in the development, support and uptake of the circular economy. From food, fashion, design and IT, these 9 women are helping to create sustainable change through re-thinking, reusing and recycling.

Kate Raworth

Kate Raworth
Kate Raworth (Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University), Foto: Stephan Röhl

First up, let’s set the scene of the state we’re in, the linear economy, with Kate Raworth, ‘renegade economist’, author of Doughnut Economics, and teacher at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute. Kate’s focus is on the world’s economic mindset – one she says is focused on growth and needs to change.

In her TED talk, she clarifies her viewpoint, “we urgently need financial, political and social innovations that enable us to overcome this structural dependency on growth, so that we can instead focus on thriving and balance within the social and the ecological boundaries of the doughnut.”

The doughnut is Kate’s way of framing and explaining humanity’s current challenge: meeting humanity’s basic needs without overusing or destroying the Earth’s support systems and resources. She says we need new ideas for the 21st century if we are to fill the middle of the doughnut hole (“a place where people are falling short on life’s essentials”).

Kate Raworth
Environmental Doughnut Infographic. (Credit: Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics)

“20th century economics assured us that if growth creates inequality, don't try to redistribute, because more growth will even things up again. If growth creates pollution, don't try to regulate, because more growth will clean things up again,” Kate says.

“Except, it turns out, it doesn't, and it won't. We need to create economies that tackle this shortfall and overshoot together, by design.

“We need economies that are regenerative and distributive by design...economies that work with and within the cycles of the living world, so that resources are never used up but used again and again, economies that run on sunlight, where waste from one process is food for the next.”

An idea we stand behind at Aliter Networks.

Funnily enough, Kate often gets mistaken for our next leading lady, Dame Ellen Macarthur.

Dame Ellen Macarthur

Ellen McArthur
Dame Ellen MacArthur. (Credit: Laura Kidd, Flickr & Wikipedia).

Through her many initiatives, including The Ellen Macarthur Foundation, Ellen’s mission is to help accelerate the transition to a circular economy. Together with partners and supporters, and under her guidance, the Foundation has become a thought leader in shaping the circular economy – engaging business, government and academia to ensure establishing the circular economy is on their agenda.

To facilitate the transition from linear to circular, the Foundation is driven by six key areas: education (if we are to change and innovate, we need to understand how and why); business; institutions, governments and cities; insights (providing evidence about the benefits of a transition); systemic initiatives; and communications (connecting over content and ideas is key).

This approach has led them to various work and change initiatives around the world, including here in Europe. One such initiative is the partnership announced last year between the Foundation and the United Nations Environment Programme – aimed at stimulating sector engagement for circular economy solutions. The announcement came alongside introducing the World Economic Forum’s Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE), for which the Foundation is also a partner.

Ellen’s mission echoes Kate’s sentiment in her own TED talk. While sailing the world, she came to realise that our economy “can't run in the long term, and if we know that we have finite materials, why would we build an economy that would effectively use things up, that would create waste?”

“Life itself has existed for billions of years and has continually adapted to use materials effectively. It's a complex system, but within it, there is no waste. Everything is metabolized. It's not a linear economy at all, but circular.

“If we could build an economy that would use things rather than use them up, we could build a future that really could work in the long term.”

Kate Daly

Kate is Executive Director at a center dedicated to the same transition Ellen is working towards – the Center for Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners.

The Center aims to leverage its network and investors – from industry to academia and government – engaging in initiatives to accelerate business, research and innovation in five key areas: packaging, food, the built environment, electronics, apparel and textiles.

We like their own description: “we’re about moving from a linear take, make, waste economy to a restorative one in which materials are shared, re-used and continuously cycled.”

Kate is well placed as the leading lady of such a mission, having previously worked in economic development, where she managed a portfolio including healthcare, cleantech, fashion, tech and advanced manufacturing sectors. A diverse, multidisciplinary background is a constant among the women we feature here (the economist and author, the sailor, and here, the public servant).  

Having knowledge and insight into various industries can highlight that social, environmental and economical issues are much more connected than one might think, sparking the idea for systemic change. Indeed, it’s often through another industry or seemingly unrelated avenue that we find ourselves following a cause we believe in.

Jente de Vries, Chantal Engelen and Lisanne van Zwol

No strangers to the crooked path that can lead to a calling, in 2013, this trio came together to create Kromkommer, a social enterprise championing the fight against food waste here in The Netherlands. How? By saving ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables that would otherwise end up as waste.

Chantal
One of Kromkommer's founders, Chantal. (Image: Kromkommer).

After travelling and studying law, economics and business administration, Jente was drawn to co-create Kromkommer through a desire for “impact, freedom, food entrepreneurship, sustainability and positivity”. Meanwhile, Chantal is a self-proclaimed foodie who saw a way to “save the world” one crooked vegetable at a time, and had recently won a competition focused on solving food problems, which resulted in Too Good to Waste. And Lisanne was driven by the daunting reality of climate change and the food industry (where a great deal of fruits and vegetables are discarded because of their size, colour or shape, before ever making it to stores).

Cooperating with growers, wholesalers, retail, restaurants and consumers, we salute the awareness and impact these ladies have created by rethinking and reworking the way we view and consume food. From salvaging produce and creating vegan soups from it, to making a ‘wonky’ fruit and vegetable playset for children, all helping to change people’s perception about fruit and vegetable ‘beauty standards’.

Lieke Pijpers and Thalita van Ogtrop

Lieke Pijpers and Thalita van Ogtrop
Thalita and Lieke of The Next Closet. (Credit: The Next Closet).

Next up are two ladies supporting circular and reusable fashion here in Amsterdam – Co-founders of The Next Closet, Lieke Pijpers and Thalita van Ogtrop. Much like Aliter Networks, their mission is to accelerate the purchase and reselling of second-hand products (in this case, clothing wares).

It’s no wonder the focus of many circular economy efforts are on the fashion and textile industry – after oil, this industry contributes the most pollution in the world. Incidentally, it’s an industry that is heavily dominated by women (at both the production and consumption ends), and the facts and figures really highlight that we must to do better throughout the whole supply chain. Lieke and Thalita want consumers to understand that they can invest in quality clothing, while also reusing and saying no to fast fashion.

We wish these two leading ladies the best of luck as they continue their mission to become the biggest sustainable marketplace for designer fashion in Europe!

Odette van Zijdveld

Last but not least is our very own leading lady, Aliter Network’s Chief Happiness Officer Odette, who is driven by people, planet and profit. We’re proud to have a diverse and international team with female leadership in a typically male-dominated space.

With a passion for and expertise in sustainability, strategy, business design and leading mission and vision, Odette joined Aliter in 2017 with a goal to make a difference with IT and to redesign Aliter Networks into a Happiness Company. One that is connected with itself, its stakeholders and our planet.

Aliter Networks is focused on sustainable technology, where reusing IT hardware saves substantially on CO2 emission, e-waste and people from working under terrible circumstances to mine and produce IT hardware.

Odette firmly believes in the benefits of the circular economy.

“We need a circular economy to save our planet and the people on it. But I also believe in the business opportunities, innovation, creativity and above all, new ways of working together and sharing the responsibility, that a circular economy stimulates. Let’s bring our economy back from ego-nomy to eco-nomy again – an eco- system where all stakeholders are in balance. ”.

Well, that’s our (non-exhaustive) list of some of the women out there kicking ass to grow the circular economy! What do you think? Who else would you add?

To us, the message is clear. At the end of the day, to further the circular economy, we must work together – women, men, newcomers and seasoned professionals, from a range of industries and backgrounds. We’ll leave you with this quote:

"Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance." - Kofi Annan


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