Unilever and Novelis collaborate to educate on circular economy

Sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future has launched two new online tools designed to help businesses embrace the circular economy, following partnerships with consumer goods firm Unilever and the world's biggest aluminium can recycler Novelis.

The partnership with Unilever birthed a circular business model toolkit, detailing 10 circular business model archetypes.

The toolkit explains the various models – including industrial symbiosis, upcycling and modularity – and offers case studies of the model in action.

For example, model number 5 – providing collection services – was recently put into action by Argos, with its gadget trade-in scheme.

Unilever’s director of sustainable business Gavin Warner said: “At Unilever we firmly believe that action on climate change is good for business and we want to share that insight with others.

“We have found the Circular Business Model Toolkit immensely helpful as a tool that helps our teams visualise scenarios for better product sustainability, and are certain that they will be a valuable resource for other business leaders and decision makers as well.”

Circular design

Meanwhile, the Forum for the Future partnership with Atlanta-based aluminium firm Novelis saw the creation of an online education platform for young designers.

The platform – called Design for Demand – introduces strategies for designing in circularity, offers several design briefs for download and provides educators with sessions plans and materials for teaching about the circular economy.

Novelis senior manager of sustainability Andy Doran said: “Aluminium by nature has immense potential for recycling – 75% of all the aluminium ever made is still in use – and we wanted to use it as a case study to help designers think differently about their design choices, material use and product vision.

“Designing for a circular economy isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. We want Design for Demand to assist designers in innovating new products that cut waste and change the way consumers use them.”


According to Forum for the Future, both tools are designed to help change mindsets about product life cycles, material flows and processes, in order to speed up the transition form linear to circular business s models.

Forum for the Future chief executive Sally Uren said: “The widespread ‘take, make, waste’ business model rampantly consumes finite resources and results in huge amounts of waste.

“We need to rapidly make the shift to economic models in which products and materials are repaired, reused or recycled as much as possible. The EU [circular economy package] announcement is a step in the right direction, but we don’t just need legislation, we also need to educate and empower those that are embedded within the product design process and those who make business decisions. These two tools are aimed at doing just that.”

Opportunity knocks

The EU circular economy package was launched last December, with weakened recycling targets, tools to halve food waste by 2030, and measures to promote reparability in the design phase of products.

The European Commission has also made funding arrangements which opened up €24bn for businesses looking to transition to a circular economy model.

A European transition to the circular economy could create three million extra jobs by 2030 and reduce unemployment by 520,000, a recent WRAP study claimed.

Brad Allen

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