The first era of sustainability, call it sustainability 1.0, focused on cleaning up the planet’s growing environmental mess. Federal legislation restricted air and water pollution, as well as hazardous waste, and businesses adapted to the new regulations. Sustainability 2.0 took a broader perspective, reducing not just toxic waste, but waste of all kinds. The business community realized that less waste meant less cost and pitched in, often increasing efficiency and boosting profits in the process.
But throughout this era of growing environmentalism, the linear business model, which has dominated the modern world since the industrial revolution, remained fundamentally unchanged. “Take, make and dispose,” is what Ken Webster, head of innovation at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, calls it in his recent book, The Circular Economy: A Wealth of Flows.