The EU environmental policies for the 2014-2020 seven-year period envisage, after sustainable development and a green economy, the transition from a linear economy based on the production of waste to a circular economy focused on reuse and recycling. This means enabling social innovation dynamics that focus on local communities and on sustainability, and the implementation of operational plans and strategic projects that require new and integrated managerial and administrative skills.

For Ken Webster of the Ellen McArthur Foundation, “when the circumstances change, business must change“. With this premise, the Foundation, MIP and TU Delft have created a training-oriented partnership which includes an international fellowship for postgraduate students of business, engineering and design. A unique opportunity for a growing leader to develop skills and an easily marketable vision.

MIP is the first European University to integrate an educational initiative of this type within an existing MBA program.

Seb Egerton, content coordinator of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, talks about it in detail on the Circulate portal, a digital place created by the foundation itself where everything related to a circular economy can be addressed.


Much of the focus on the transition to the circular economy has been on the changes required in business and the policy initiatives that could support those transformations. Higher Education (HE) institutions play an important role in the transition as “thought leaders” and idea developers, but also as places of research funded and geared towards the needs of the future economy.

Circular economy has been a part of many university research agendas for some time across a number of disciplines, in particular business, design and engineering. The development of curriculum and teaching programmes has been a longer process, but there are now a number of initiatives integrating the circular economy concept into existing programmes and also specific circular economy related curricula.

In March, an example of the new HE teaching initiatives was delivered at MIP Politecnico di Milano Graduate School of Business (MIP). MIP became the first European university to integrate a circular economy elective course into their existing MBA programme. Students engaged with a week’s work of lectures, discussions and interactive activities to learn more about the basic principles of a circular economy, the business rationale for transitioning to a restorative economy and opportunities for new business models in the changing contexts.

The elective was created through a collaboration of MIP, TU Delft and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The three organisations came together after the partnership was developed through the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Schmidt-MacArthur Fellowship programme – an international postgraduate fellowship on the circular economy for design, engineering and business students.

The Fellowship is run by the Foundation with expert input from academics and business leaders. Students develop a project as part of their postgraduate study focusing on creative, innovative models and tools to contribute to accelerating the transition to a circular economy. A key element of the programme is a week long summer school that not only acts to stimulate the course and those projects, but also convenes a network of academics from some of the world’s most prestigious HE institutions.

MIP’s elective was born out of that network with the week’s programme led by TU Delft Assistant Professor of Industrial Design Engineering, David Peck. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Ken Webster (Head of Innovation) and Ella Jamsin (Research Manager) also provided key inputs delivering lectures. Peck said, “the course is a strong addition to the portfolio of learning opportunities that the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and in particular the Schmidt-MacArthur Fellowship Programme, has helped to create.”

MIP’s elective aimed to seek solutions and inspire action among participants, many of whom were being introduced to the circular economy concept for the first time. Juan Diego Cespedes Henao, a civil engineering student from Colombia, described the week as an opportunity to explore a “completely different and challenging paradigm for the world’s economy”.

The elective’s cohort was diverse with participants from India, Venezuela, Kazakhstan and Chile. Raushan Beknazarova, a public administration student from Kazakhstan, reflected positively on the suitability and relevance of the concept to her own national context: “Less-developed countries can take a lead in the circular approach by adapting their growing economies to a long-term set of values compared against the heavily regulated ‘mature’ economies.” Beknazarova’s comments allude to the fact that many developing countries are the largest providers of raw materials globally.

“The course provided me with a new perspective of the way in which business could be done and gave me the tools and ideas to put into practice in my country.”

Sabrina Annarelli, Venezuela

The development of this course is one part of a plan to increase circular economy related teaching activities at MIP. Davide Chiaroni, MIP Management Academy Director, identified circular economy as vital knowledge for university business students today, “circular economy is one of the hot topics about new ways of managing the companies of the future”, and suggested that the elective was an important part of a general expansion of the circular economy learning opportunities that the school hopes to offer its students. It is MIP’s intention to offer the circular economy as an elective on next year’s programme as well hoping to build upon their work with both the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and TU Delft.