View looking up to blue sky through tall buildingsThis theme focusses on developing the innovative economic and business, policy and community engagement models needed for a sustainable society.

Moving to a circular economy

To tackle climate change and conserve our planet’s resources we need to design for a circular economy and move to a zero waste society. The circular economy is a model of production and consumption which involves reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products for as long as possible. Imperial researchers are working to tackle pollution by looking at the circular economy in areas such as the service industry, new business models, water management, consumer goods, stopping plastic waste from entering the environment, and the construction industry.

Design for a circular economy

Researchers from the Dyson School of Design Engineering are investigating ways to design for a circular economy. Dr Marco Aurisicchio explores how designers can consider the entire lifecycle of products and configure the systems to produce closed loop material flows. Dr Elena Dieckmann has started a company, Aeropowder, to develop new ways to use waste chicken feathers in sustainable thermally insulating packaging and potentially insulation in construction. Dr Pelin Demirel works on aligning companies’ decision-making towards circular outcomes, particularly given the need for urgent innovation in response to new environmental regulation. Read about The Forum's May 2020 workshop on how to transition to a circular economy.

EPSRC Circular Economy Centres

Researchers from Imperial are involved with two of UKRI's  Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centres, a £22.5m initiative announced by the Government in November 2020The new £4.3m National Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Chemical Economy led by Loughborough University will  develop new transformative technologies to help reduce the chemical industry’s environmental impact, with a particular focus on recovering and reprocessing olefins. Academics from the Department of Chemical Engineering and the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial will lead work on process integration and whole system analysis as part of the centre. Read the news article about the centre. Dr Rupert Myers from Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering will carry out research as part of the UKRI Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre For Mineral-based Construction Materials led by University College London. The centre will develop systems for more efficient use and recovery of mineral resources, helping the construction industry to do more with less, reduce waste, lessen pollution, and lower costs. Dr Myers looks at resource flows within the infrastructure sector and leads the infrastructure lifecycles research area in the Centre for Systems Engineering and Innovation. 

Supporting businesses to adopt sustainable models

The Leonardo Centre, led by Professor Maurizio Zollo from Imperial College Business School, has a mission to tackle the two big challenges currently faced by business and the world at large: environmental and social regeneration. Professor Nick Voulvoulis from the Centre for Environmental Policy, researches water in the circular economy and leads the research collaboration with Veolia on the Circular Economy. 

A new centre for climate change innovation is an initiative of Imperial's Grantham Institute and the Royal Institution to catalyse innovation of all forms that address the causes and effects of climate change. It is backed by six founding members, Arup, the Mayor of London, HSBC UK, Octopus Centre for Net Zero, Pollination and Slaughter and May. There are a number of briefing papers on economics and finance related to climate change and environment issues on the Grantham Institute website.