Ellen MacArthur on how the circular economy will transform business

In a world where only a fraction of products are recycled, the idea of "keeping the molecules in play" by constantly cycling materials back through supply chains might seem far fetched.

Still, that's the cornerstone of the "circular economy" movement, where sustainability advocates are trying to sell businesses on resource cost savings and efficiency gains.

Ellen MacArthur, world-renowned sailor and founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, discussed her organization's mission at the recent GreenBiz 16 conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

Her take: Companies have only started to scratch the surface of a trillion-dollar opportunity.

"We probably only know 2 percent of what the circular economy really is," MacArthur said. "It's fundamentally a change in the way the economy functions from the outset — the way materials flow through the economy, the that way energy is used."