Circle vision

For years, Walter R Stahel has been advocating the merits of a circular economy. Now that people are finally listening, he talks to Charles Newman about what the idea really means, and what we need to do to get there

This article was taken from Issue 75

With all the hype currently surrounding the idea of a circular economy, it’s easy to forget that this is a concept that has been circulating (sorry) for several decades. One of the people to originally champion the vision is Walter R Stahel. In fact, his 1981 paper ‘The Product-Life Factor’, for which he won a Mitchell Prize, was the first publication to define the closed-loop economy and its impacts on waste prevention and job creation.

Indeed, along with a few other notable figures like Amory Lovins (see interview in Resource 67), Stahel has been advocating circularity to a largely unreceptive audience for decades now: “I normally say my role has fluctuated between the fool on the hill and the camel in the desert”, Stahel laments. “The sad story is that all these ideas, brilliant ideas from all these now famous people, were as valid then as they are today… but until a few years ago, they didn’t seem to incite anybody to take action.”