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sport everything economy opportunity provides

All the way round: Why the circular economy provides sport an opportunity to rethink everything

Dame Ellen MacArthur went round the world and back again, and decided that life goes in circles.

In 2005, the English sailor broke the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the planet. It was a mark she held for three years but the influence of that experience lasted somewhat longer. MacArthur was struck by two things that stayed with her on returning to dry land.

One was the sheer terror of realising how finite the resources were on her yacht - a feeling she transferred to the rapidly diminishing resources in the wider world, accelerated by everything from conspicuous acquisition to the planned obsolescence of electronics. And the second was that life depends on cycles and that in nature, nothing is ever really wasted.

She soon came to embrace the concept of the circular economy. In 2009, shortly before retiring from sailing, she created the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which works with industries, governments and universities to further the cause.  

“It’s extraordinary, when you shift from a line to a circle, just how many parts of the economy that touches,” she said, in her inaugural address to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2018 Summit. “In fact, it’s hard to find parts of the economy that that doesn’t touch. And we’re hugely energised by that circle because we see that as an opportunity. There is an opportunity to regenerate natural systems. There’s an opportunity to reconnect nutrient loops. It’s phenomenal.

“We’ve shown that to be worth trillions of US dollars in different industries, in different territories, in different sectors all over the world. There is an opportunity there that needs to be grasped. Now, getting there is not always that simple. But when you have that vision, it drives innovation - it drives your thinking.”

 in every aspect from the construction of venues to the transportation of people and the power needed for broadcast facilities. The exact impact is not easy to separate from other activity

The circular economy is related to efforts to drive down carbon emissions, particularly when it comes to the use of renewable energy sources. But its remit is much wider. It is a different way of considering production and consumption: an attempt to replicate natural cycles in which all waste ultimately comes to sustain new life.

At its core, the circular economy concept aims to ‘design out waste’, through the use not just of renewable energy but of products that are ‘made to be made again’ with easily recyclable elements, and business models that encourage sharing and reuse. This might mean the implementation of bleeding-edge technologies like self-healing polymers, or the shift from companies selling one-off items to lifelong services, replacing a consumer’s goods at the end of their use and repurposing the parts.

The environmental significance of this is self-evident but proponents of the circular economy see ancillary financial benefits, running from lower costs for vital minerals and raw materials to more rational household spending. Yet as straightforward as the concept is to illustrate, it would demand constant collaboration and refinement to pull off.

Sport, much like the rest of the economy, is touched at every level by the possibilities of cyclical thinking. Sitra is a Helsinki-based organisation that has been working with the Finnish Olympic Committee in helping local organisations integrate circular economy practices in their everyday activities.

 in every aspect from the construction of venues to the transportation of people and the power needed for broadcast facilities. The exact impact is not easy to separate from other activity

Dame Ellen MacArthur eponymous foundation promotes circular economy policies and principles

‘Sports clubs are an enormous community asset that can promote a sustainable lifestyle,’ reads a statement on its website. ‘Both clubs and sportspeople can make many everyday choices that help to mitigate climate change. For instance, sports gear and equipment can be rented or bought second-hand, the energy consumption at gyms can be minimised, you can car-pool or cycle to training sessions – and the slice of ham between the post-practice sandwich can be replaced with a fava bean burger.’

The two parties also worked together to trial low-carbon and circular economy-based initiatives at the Lahti 2017 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships. These ranged from facilitating sustainability workshops to using local foods, recycling or reusing all materials used at the event, and installing solar panels on the roof of the stadium to boost renewable energy use.

The environmental impact of major sporting events can be considerable, in every aspect from the construction of venues to the transportation of people and the power needed for broadcast facilities. The exact impact is not easy to separate from other activity, but a 2008 study by researchers at Cardiff University found that the average spectator can generate a carbon footprint up to seven times greater than they would going about daily life.

 in every aspect from the construction of venues to the transportation of people and the power needed for broadcast facilities. The exact impact is not easy to separate from other activity

Every media at Tokyo 2020 will be made from recycled electronic waste, including old mobile phone components

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