Over ten years ago, Marc de Wit began his journey at Circle Economy as one of its first employees building an organisation based on the vision of founder Robert-Jan van Ogtrop. When Circle Economy started in Amsterdam 12 years ago, the idea of the circular economy was hardly on the radar. Today, the concept has become well-known as a leading solution to the ongoing climate crisis. With the team now 70 people strong and the launch of a new firm, Circle Economy Consulting, on the horizon, we’re taking this opportunity to sit down with Marc to take stock of the last ten years and the journey that lies ahead.
Before diving into your 11 years at Circle Economy, what can you share about the upcoming change?
Well, I am really excited that today we start a new firm, Circle Economy Consulting. Still as part of the Circle Economy family but fully focussed on helping businesses to implement circular solutions. It builds on everything we have learned over the past ten years working with so many great companies, from small ones like Fairphone to big names like Philips.
Looking back, can you share a bit about what inspired you to join Circle Economy in the beginning?
I was working in sustainability consulting when I made the transition to Circle Economy. The big draw for me was the new adventure. A new organisation. A concept that was based on such a powerful idea yet with so much territory to be explored. And the founders’ idea that this transition should focus on all relevant stakeholders—from government to education and the business community—was very intriguing to me. Being able to connect worlds, build bridges and dissect the challenges various players face in the transition to the circular economy.
And what was it that made you stick around all these years?
One red thread has been collaboration. I have been fascinated by the variety of stakeholders that I have worked with over the years—and that are all needed to make the circular economy a reality. This was such a joy. One day, I’d be working with a civil servant in the city of Amsterdam, presenting to the deputy mayor, while the next moment, I’d be discussing how to speed up investments at a bank or discuss technological innovations and new business models in the manufacturing industries. It has been these years of seeing and discussing all perspectives that have been both rewarding as well as eye-opening.
What do you enjoy most about working with clients?
The most rewarding moment of working alongside clients is when you reach breakthroughs. From the moment we analyse the data and get a sense of where the real impact is to becoming more circular, reducing carbon emissions, boosting company resilience or delivering better products to customers. To generate these insights, we have developed and refined an approach that relies heavily on data analysis but always in combination with the human touch.
Can you share some highlights from your time at Circle Economy?
I am really grateful for the opportunities I got during my time at Circle Economy. It has always felt like we could do everything we wanted as long as we could get the right people together and a bit of money to get started. This is how we began our work with businesses, which soon led to our first City Scan with Amsterdam in 2016. Another highlight was the article in National Geographic, which was great recognition while introducing the topic to a general audience. Also, the launch of the first CGR in 2018 and the launch of the first national CGR in Austria in 2019. So many!
What have been some of the pivotal moments for you in the development of circular thinking?
One particular point stands out for me, which must have been in 2017. The topic of a circular economy was catching on. But it struck me that there was an exclusive focus on new business models for circularity, which remained relatively vague. Thinking about moving forward in the transition, I thought it was crucial to develop a measurement of circularity. An answer to the question: How circular is the world today? Already in the early years at Circle Economy, we started to collect data and look at patterns across the global economy. From these early steps in a small team and with our own investment, we wrote the first Circularity Gap Report (CGR) back in 2018. And this thinking is the central offering to businesses as well. Where do you stand today, where can you go and how can you get there?
What do you think the role of consulting is in the circular economy space?
When we started more than ten years ago, we were pioneers. Pioneers in developing a basic notion of what a circular economy is and is not. Grounding our analysis in data. Data that is scarcely available, but with the right mindset and experience, there is always a lot you can find if you know where to look. But moving from the analysis, it is crucial to work with people in organisations that transfer the insights and build the capabilities to continue on their own. Our work aims to get people in a position where they can move forward without us. So, in short, the key is to move from a place of long-standing and deep insights, let analysis play a role in understanding where you stand and where you want to go and get people trained up and in a place where they themselves can drive tangible change.
What do you see as Circle Economy Consulting’s unique contribution?
In short, central to our approach are two things: data and people. We strongly believe that with the right data and analysis, you have a solid starting point and knowledge to light your path. But ultimately, you need people to interpret these data and people to add their experience, skills and energy to transform and implement real solutions. We want to nourish our track record of deep insights and a pragmatic approach while creating solutions that people can apply in the real world. We strongly believe in working closely with businesses—getting to know each other and developing solutions together.
Who are you taking with you on this adventure?
It’s great that you asked that question. Because on top of how we work, as I just explained, it is most important and fun to work with the best in the field. I am incredibly happy that I’m launching this brand-new firm with a passionate team of circular economy experts. A team with a long-standing track record of collaborating with over 100 businesses, including industry leaders like Philips, Action and Rockwool.
To wrap up, why is now the time for Circle Economy Consulting, and what are your hopes for the future?
The time for this initiative really is now. We’re coming out of a year where not only do we see nature taking a hit with record temperatures, wildfires and floods, but also businesses are feeling the impact. Even with covid-19 being a vague memory, we see that the current state of the world is putting a magnifying glass on the cracks in the system—surging resource scarcity, supply chain disruptions and, at least in Europe, increasing legislation that requires businesses to act. We want to play a proactive role in helping businesses embed circular economy thinking to become future-proof and play an active role in shaping a future where all people and the planet can thrive.