‘Circular Economy’ Blends Design, Engineering and Sustainability


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Schmidt-MacArthur fellows and mentors from the 2013 program strike a pose in front of the famous London Eye. Photo: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Schmidt-MacArthur fellows and mentors from the 2013 program strike a pose in front of the famous London Eye. Photo: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

You’ve probably heard of the sharing economy, but what about the emerging circular economy, a melding of design, engineering and sustainability?

A core principle of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in the U.K., the circular economy refers to an industrial economy that is restorative by intention; aims to rely on renewable energy; minimizes, tracks and seeks to eliminate the use of toxic chemicals; and reduces waste through careful design. (Watch the video at the end of this article to learn more.)

Together with the Florida-based Schmidt Family Foundation, the organization launched a new fellowship last year that pairs postgraduate students and academics from leading universities in Europe, India, China and the U.S. with year-long research and design projects.

Appropriately named the Schmidt-MacArthur Fellowship, the program will bring young designers, engineers and businesspeople together with faculty mentors in the hopes of dreaming up forward-thinking ideas to reinvent the economy.

After a successful first run last year, the foundations selected 14 fellows from leading universities like MIT, Stanford University, Tongji University and London Business School for the 2014 program. They are also in search of one more “wild card” fellow, who will be selected in the spring (applications are due March 2).

Partner universities range from top American names like MIT, Yale University and the University of California, Berkeley to the National Institute of Design (India) and Imperial College London.

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“The Schmidt-MacArthur fellows, embedded with their mentors in our partner universities in the U.K., Europe, the U.S., India and China, represent the first wave of what we expect will be a systematic movement of young people, thinkers, inventors, entrepreneurs and future business leaders,” said Wendy Schmidt, president of the Schmidt Family Foundation. “They will take what they’ve learned and apply their innovative thinking to doing things differently within the industries and institutions that shape our world.”

Mary Mazzoni

Based in the Phoenix metro area, Mary is a lifelong vegetarian and enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, biking and relaxing in the park. When she’s not outside, she’s probably watching baseball. She is a former assistant editor for Earth911.