• Logo

Circular Economy: The Big Idea

Delve into the concepts of the circular economy to understand its origin, design, and importance for the planet and our economy.

3,658 enrolled on this course

A rainbow over the sea. The rainbow is almost a complete circle

Circular Economy: The Big Idea

3,658 enrolled on this course

  • 3 weeks

  • 4 hours per week

  • Digital certificate when eligible

  • Intermediate level

Find out more about how to join this course

  • Duration

    3 weeks
  • Weekly study

    4 hours
  • 100% online

    How it works
  • Unlimited subscription

    $244.99 for one whole yearLearn more

Learn about almost everything there is to know about the circular economy

Our current linear economy consumes finite resources, turns them into products, and creates a never-ending stream of waste. Through the clever design of products, systems, and policies, we can instead create a circular approach that benefits businesses, people, and the planet.

On this three-week course, you’ll develop your understanding of how and where the circular economy came from. You’ll start by examining the limitations of the linear economy and why we can’t just simply modify it to fix its problems.

You’ll learn key terminology, concepts, and the three principles of the circular economy to ensure you’re able to apply the thinking to your own work or studies.

Unpack the systems diagram and really get to grips with the concept

To help you develop the mindset required to apply a circular economy, you’ll learn how to use a systems diagram to manage material flows and their inherent value. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to design for a circular economy.

By exploring case studies to see the circular economy in action, you’ll discover how successful circular business models operate.

Explore policy development for a circular economy

Next, you’ll delve into policy development to understand the importance and power of policy to achieve circularity.

You’ll discover how policies are designed and gain an understanding of what policies are currently in place to help accelerate the transition to the circular economy.

Learn from the experts at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Throughout the course, you’ll be guided by the specialists at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

With their expertise and using economic examples, you’ll finish the course with the knowledge and skills to apply circular economy concepts to your own work or studies.


  • Week 1

    Understanding the circular economy

    • Introduction

      We'll start with a thought experiment...

    • Three products

      Let's analyse these three products

    • What is the linear economy?

      We need to properly understand the status quo before we can imagine alternatives

    • An emerging mindset

      The way we think shapes how we see the world. What kind of thinking can conjure up a circular economy?

    • The circular economy

      It's time to get to know the circular economy

    • End of week one wrap up

      Let's summarise what we've learned this week

  • Week 2

    Designing for a circular economy

    • Recapping week one

      Let's look back on the key points from week one

    • The butterfly diagram

      Take a look at how flows of materials - and value relationships - work in a circular economy

    • Designing for a circular economy

      Upstream solutions have to be designed. Here's how we do that for a circular economy.

    • Case study: the washing machine

      Let's have a close look at the factors to consider when designing washing machines

    • From consumer to user

      What if we moved more towards a use model rather than an ownership model?

    • A close look at the biological cycle

      Let's take a look at how we can create value in the biocycle and rethink farming systems at land and at sea.

    • End of week two wrap up

      Let's reflect on what we've learned this week

  • Week 3

    Making the shift

    • An introduction to week three

      Find out what we have planned for this week, and recap the key ideas from week two

    • Push and pull factors

      Which factors are 'pushing' companies and governments away from a linear economy, and which ones are 'pulling' them towards a circular economy?

    • Rules of the game

      Let's take a close look at how regulation can affect a shift to the circular economy

    • Policy and the circular economy

      Let's look closely at how policy can and does influence a circular economy

    • Communicating the circular economy

      There are often misconceptions that can befuddle our attempts to clearly communicate the concept. Let's try and avoid some here!

    • Take a stance

      It's time for you to take a position on the circular economy

    • A summary sandwich

      Have you ever compared the circular economy to a sandwich? Maybe it's time you did!

    • End of the course wrap up

      You've made it to the end of the course, so let's recap!

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explore the origins of the circular economy
  • Assess the problems associated with the linear economy
  • Critique the approaches some have taken to 'fixing' the linear economy
  • Reflect upon the three principles of the circular economy
  • Compare the different flows of materials, and their corresponding values, within the circular economy
  • Discuss circular design techniques and their relative merits and uses
  • Evaluate the value of circular business models
  • Assess the push and pull factors for transitioning to a circular economy
  • Explore the different policy decisions that contribute to a circular economy
  • Evaluate the systemic repercussions of changing policy to support a circular economy

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone interested in the circular economy and its application.

Who will you learn with?

Who developed the course?

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is committed to the creation of a circular economy that tackles global challenges, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution.

Ways to learn

Buy this course

Subscribe & save

Limited access

Choose the best way to learn for you!

$109/one-off payment

$244.99 for one whole year

Automatically renews


Fulfill your current learning needDevelop skills to further your careerSample the course materials
Access to this courseticktick

Access expires 20 Jun 2024

Access to 1,000+ coursescrosstickcross
Learn at your own paceticktickcross
Discuss your learning in commentstickticktick
Certificate when you're eligiblePrinted and digitalDigital onlycross
Continue & Upgrade

Cancel for free anytime

Ways to learn

Choose the best way to learn for you!

Subscribe & save

$244.99 for one whole year

Automatically renews

Develop skills to further your career

  • Access to this course
  • Access to 1,000+ courses
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

Cancel for free anytime

Buy this course

$109/one-off payment

Fulfill your current learning need

  • Access to this course
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Printed and digital certificate when you’re eligible

Limited access


Sample the course materials

  • Access expires 20 Jun 2024

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

Sale price available until 3 June 2024 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply.

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

Sale price available until 3 June 2024 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

Want to know more about learning on FutureLearn? Using FutureLearn

Learner reviews

Learner reviews cannot be loaded due to your cookie settings. Please and refresh the page to view this content.

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join:

Do you know someone who'd love this course? Tell them about it...

You can use the hashtag #CELearning to talk about this course on social media.