Editor’s note: This is part of a series on closing the sustainability skills gap with the resources we have available right now. Read the previous articles in this series, which cover training on climate literacy, scaling corporate climate literacy, corporate sustainability strategy, measuring and managing GHG emissions, climate and net-zero strategy and regenerative agriculture.
If you studied sustainability in school or have even a casual interest in the circular economy, you’ve almost certainly heard of Interface, a carpet company that has a 50-plus-year history of being at the forefront of both corporate sustainability and circularity. I’m dating myself a bit here, but I vividly remember the first time I learned about Interface and its totally radical (at the time) business model, which involved treating flooring as a service instead of a product so that it could take carpeting back at the end of its useful life and reuse the materials. It was the first time I’d heard of anything like it — and it’s what started me on my transition to working at the intersection of business and sustainability.
Thanks to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and organizations like it, circular business models are more likely to be considered imperative than radical these days. Global companies such as Starbucks and Walmart are piloting reusable packaging programs both independently and in partnership with organizations such as Loop, and as Upstream’s 2023 Reusies awards showed, there’s no shortage of innovators working on the many pieces of the puzzle that make up a circular economy. There’s still work to be done to scale a lot of these solutions, but it’s exciting to see offerings such as Returnity’s reusable packaging system and Patagonia's Worn Wear becoming more mainstream.
There are an incredible number of dimensions to the circular economy, so it can be somewhat daunting to know where to start. If you’re new to the basic principles of the circular economy, there are four great free or inexpensive options below to get you started. If you’ve got the basics down, the circular business models section lists seven courses that can provide you with step-by-step guidance for developing and implementing a circularity strategy at your company, most of which have links to even more tools and training.
As you can imagine, circularity looks different based on the industry — agriculture vs. fashion, for instance — or materials such as plastic vs. metal. The third section offers three intensive courses in design, packaging and fashion, as well as links to several great resources on the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s website.
If all this training leaves you wanting more, be sure to subscribe to Circularity Weekly and save the date for GreenBiz's Circularity 24 event May 22-24 in Chicago to join the growing community of visionaries and practitioners moving beyond incremental action, catalyzing systems change and accelerating the circular economy.
As is often the case with these types of lists, I’m sure I've missed some. If your favorite offering isn’t included here, I warmly invite you to join the conversation on LinkedIn to tell me and your fellow readers about it. Thanks in advance for your help with bringing these resources out into the open so that more people can get to work on advancing sustainable business practices.
Circular economy fundamentals
These courses focus on teaching the fundamentals of circular economy concepts such as eliminating waste and pollution, circulating products and materials at their highest value, and regenerating nature. While that may sound fairly straightforward, don’t confuse simple with easy; some of these introductory-level courses require more than 12 hours of effort.
Fundamentals of Circular Economy from Arizona State University
This course is part of a collection of free micro-courses for small businesses and professionals from Sustainable Earth, a resource developed through a collaboration of students, staff and faculty at Arizona State University.
- Cost: Free
- Time to complete: 1 to 2 hours
- Training format: On-demand videos
- Key topics covered: What is a circular economy; benefits and opportunities of a circular economy; the circular economy in the real world; how to get started with circular thinking; examples of companies taking circular economy action
Circular Economy Pathway from Sustainability Unlocked
This collection of short courses introduces learners to the concept of the circular economy and its implications so that they can implement circularity at their business or into their daily life. These videos are part of a collection of 1,000-plus video modules on the Sustainability Unlocked learning platform, which covers a wide variety of corporate sustainability topics.
- Cost: Free with 30-day trial or included with paid subscription to Sustainability Unlocked, $150/year
- Time to complete: 1 hour and 15 minutes
- Training format: On-demand videos, quiz
- Key topics covered: What is the circular economy; waste hierarchy and stages of circularity; implementing circular economy processes; circular design and manufacturing in practice
Circular Economy: An Introduction from DelftX in partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation
This free course is led by TU Delft and was co-created with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Sustainability. It’s part of a collection of professional certificates available from DelftX, including a Certificate in Sustainable Packaging, a Certificate in Sustainable Engineering Design and a Certificate in Sustainable Resource Management.
- Cost: Free to audit; $99 to receive a certificate of completion
- Time to complete: 7 weeks, 3 to 6 hours per week
- Training format: On-demand videos, optional exam
- Key topics covered: What is a circular economy; business value in a circular economy; longer lasting products; remanufacturing; waste equals food; thinking in systems
Circular Economy: The Big Idea from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation
This course, delivered by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, provides a foundational understanding of the origins of the circular economy, the limitations of the linear economy and the three principles of the circular economy so that you can develop the mindset required to apply these concepts to your work.
- Cost: $99 for the individual course or included with paid subscription to FutureLearn
- Time to complete: 3 weeks, 4 hours per week
- Training format: On-demand e-learning
- Key topics covered: Using systems diagrams to manage material flows and their inherent value; designing for a circular economy; circular business models and case studies; policies for accelerating the circular economy; communicating about the circular economy
Circular business models
These courses go beyond the basics to dive into more nuanced topics such as how to implement circular business models at an organization or how to use specific tools or frameworks.
Circular Economy: An Interdisciplinary Approach from Wageningen University
This course enables learners to analyze and develop complex circular systems using a systems thinking approach and tools such as life cycle assessments and agent-based modeling. The course can be taken independently or as part of MicroMasters Program in Business and Operations for a Circular Bio-Economy.
- Cost: Free to audit, $149 to receive a certificate of completion
- Time to complete: 6 weeks, 16 to 24 hours per week
- Training format: On-demand videos
- Key topics covered: Introduction to the circular economy; circular systems engineering; transition management; life cycle assessment; agent-based modeling
Circular Economy Program from Swivel Skills
This course was designed to be taken in 15-minute increments to help busy professionals easily find the time to understand the shift to the circular economy, how it’s affecting businesses, and what opportunities, issues and approaches for circular redesign and business development are available. This program is part of a larger portfolio of corporate sustainability training offerings from Swivel Skills.
- Cost: $550
- Time to complete: 4 to 6 hours
- Training format: On-demand videos, e-learning, reading, exercises, quizzes
- Key topics covered: The science behind the circular economy; challenges and opportunities; nutrient flows; product stewardship; industrial ecology; reverse logistics; circular business models and the business case; design and redesign strategies
Circular Economy Specialist Certification from the Circular Economy Institute
Studying for this professional credential will teach learners how to coordinate, implement, evaluate and audit circular projects in public and private organizations. Rigorous assessments include two exams, a written analysis of a company based on the upcoming ISO International Standards on Circular Economy and a 10-minute video in which learners give simulated recommendations to a real organization. This certification is one of several available from CEI.
- Cost: $565
- Time to complete: 60 hours
- Training format: On-demand videos, reading, exercises, assignments, exams
- Key topics covered: Theoretical basis of the circular economy; circular business models and real life applications; barriers and benefits; code of ethics and professional standards; company evaluation based on upcoming international standards
Circular Economy Manager Certification from the Circular Economy Alliance
This self-paced credentialing experience has been designed to cover deeper aspects of the circular economy, including the importance of strategic design, the notion of value cycles, advanced use of circular economy principles and the importance of partnering and ecosystems in the transition to a more circular economy. This is part of a collection of circular economy courses and certifications from the Circular Economy Alliance.
- Cost: $800
- Time to complete: 30 hours
- Training format: On-demand e-learning, exams
- Key topics covered: Circular design; circular business models; driving circularity through policy; circular industry 4.0; training for circularity; circular supply chains; circular and digital economies
Master Circular Design from Circulab Academy
This cohort-based experience teaches learners how to analyze and design circular business models using tools developed by the experts at Circulab including the Value Chain Canvas, the Partner Map and the Circular Canvas. The academy also offers a free introductory course, Activate the Circular Economy, and a Circular Business Models course focused on the Circular Canvas and for learners interested in a shorter, on-demand option.
- Cost: $1,600
- Next start date: Jan. 9
- Time to complete: 8 weeks, 6 hours per week
- Training format: Videos, live online Q&A sessions, exercises
- Key topics covered: Understanding and applying systems thinking; analyzing a value chain with circularity; facilitating cooperation between stakeholders; analyzing and designing circular and regenerative business models
Implementing the Circular Economy Masterclass from the University of Exeter Business School, in partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation
This virtual live masterclass was developed for practitioners who want to learn how to initiate and implement circular economy principles at their organization for long term value creation. Course content is delivered by experts at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Exeter Centre for Circular Economy, launched in 2018 by Dame Ellen MacArthur.
- Cost: $2,100
- Next start date: Jan. 22
- Time to complete: 6 weeks, 6 hours per week
- Training format: Live online classes, e-learning
- Key topics covered: Managing the key stages in an organization’s circular value journey; closing the implementation gap; making the case for change
Circular Economy: Transition for Future Sustainability from MIT Professional Education
This course examines circular economy topics through four lenses: material science; technologies; institutional and economic structures; and equity. The course is offered individually or as part of a Professional Certificate in Sustainability.
- Cost: $3,200
- Next start date: Dec. 2
- Time to complete: 9 weeks, 8 to 10 hours per week
- Training format: E-learning, assignments, optional live online Q&A sessions
- Key topics covered: Technology and material science; quantifying circularity; strategies for a more equitable distribution of costs and benefits; institutional and economic structures and policies; the role of plastics and electronics recycling
Circular topic deep dives
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s website offers fantastic resource collections on how to apply circular economy principles to cities, design, fashion, food and plastics. Below are a few courses that go into more detail on packaging, design and fashion. Regenerative agriculture is also an important component of the circular economy; for related training, check out 14 training resources for regenerating the land through agriculture.
Sustainable Design & Production from UnSchool
This course teaches learners how to consider a product’s potential impacts from a life-cycle perspective, which helps to reduce or avoid unintended negative impacts in the production of their products and services. This is one of many offerings from UnSchool’s extensive catalog including Introduction to the Circular Economy, Introduction to Circular Systems Design and Introduction to Life Cycle Thinking.
- Cost: $99
- Time to complete: 1.5 hours
- Training format: On-demand videos, reading
- Key topics covered: Eco-design and circular economy strategies and how to apply them; how to evaluate the environmental impacts of design and production; how to use Life Cycle Assessment for reducing the impacts of produced goods and services; design for disassembly, longevity, reusability, dematerialization and modularity
Sustainable Packaging for a Circular Economy from DelftX
This course is designed to teach learners how to improve packaging systems in order to recapture the estimated $80 billion of value lost when plastic packaging goes to landfill. The course is offered individually or as part of a Professional Certificate in Sustainable Packaging.
- Cost: Free to audit, $149 to receive a certificate of completion
- Next start date: Jan. 17
- Time to complete: 6 weeks, 3 to 4 hours per week
- Training format: Self-paced e-learning, optional exam
- Key topics covered: Sustainable packaging systems design, closed loop packaging systems; designing with renewable, bio-based materials; business strategies that support closed loop packaging
This Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is a comprehensive introduction to circular fashion taught by about 30 experts from both academia and industry. It covers circularity in all steps of the fashion value chain from new textile materials and circular design all the way to business modeling.
- Cost: Free to audit, $169 to receive a certificate of completion
- Time to complete: 5 weeks, 4 to 6 hours per week
- Training format: On-demand e-learning, optional exam
- Key topics covered: The role of circularity in fashion; the importance of design for disassembly and recycling; evaluating new biobased materials for textiles and related changes to the production process; new forms of value creation
Join the conversation
I hope this article has helped you find at least one great new resource to help you incorporate more circular practices into your work. Be sure to keep an eye out for future articles in this series and remember, if I’ve missed one of your favorites or if you want to tell me about a resource that could be relevant to a future article, please join the conversation on LinkedIn. Until next time!