NEWSLETTER by Alessia Falsarone. The author acknowledges the team at The University of Chicago Circular Economy and Sustainable Business Management Program and all participants of the innovation knowledge hub for their insights and collaboration.

Today, on Indigenous People’s Day in the US, we pay tribute to the Native communities who are the custodians of almost one-third of our planet. These communities have long been masters of circularity, even before the Western world acknowledged its significance. As guardians of natural resources, they developed intricate systems of land use, resource management, and taxation that could sustainably support large populations on their islands. They emphasized the value and purpose of every resource and material, rejecting the notion of waste as a natural outcome of resource flow. In this week’s exploration, we delve into how indigenous knowledge and practices can expedite the transition to a circular economy.


The science of impact

Regeneration, recycling, reciprocity, and sustainability are not new concepts for Indigenous Peoples. Despite being only five percent of the world’s population, they are actively engaged in conservation projects that cover about 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity. Rooted in a deep connection to the land and seas, their approach to conservation goes beyond environmental management. Indigenous cultures emphasize taking only what is necessary, using resources judiciously to allow them to regenerate, and planning for the well-being of future generations. The Australian Circular Economy Hub offers valuable insights on how Indigenous communities worldwide embrace this mindset. They understand that maintaining healthy ecosystems requires a regenerative mindset. It’s not surprising that the new European Union battery regulation acknowledges the wisdom of Indigenous Peoples.

Islands can serve as model systems for studying the circular economy through their indigenous heritage. A multi-disciplinary and international group of researchers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa has studied the philosophy of aloha ʻāina, the Hawaiian ancestral circular economy, and how its contemporary approach toward advancing Indigenous economic justice have supported the integration of  circularity in policy advocacy in the island.

Aloha ʻāina describes a set of core values and practices grounded in the relationship between the environment and people.

According to their findings, aloha ʻāina “serves as a guide in the stewardship of ecological systems, as well as an agent of change within current social, political, and economic systems”.


>> click to zoom in | Credit to University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and Ecology & Society Journal


Interestingly, because of the finite amount of resources available to sustain life on an island, aloha ʻāina is relies on a network of boundaries to ensure accurate management and just redistribution of resources across layers of society. The ancestral version of what we may call a modern governance structure.


| Circularity roadmaps explained

Indigenous knowledge is increasingly been employed as part of the circularity efforts of countries that host a wealth of native communities. Chile’s pioneering efforts are a notable example of that. It offers a prime example of how turning towards Indigenous knowledge, circularity principles can fast-track its actions to mitigate environmental impacts, for example, in the context of waste reduction.

The country’s stated goal is to recover 30% of organic waste by the end of the decade. The Isla Grande de Chiloé – off the west coast of Chile – is emerging as a global leader in the circular economy, with its focus on durability, reuse, and recyclability. The Curaco de Vélez recycling center is repurposing solid waste for agriculture and creating new products – an example of the functioning of a sustainable economic model where local recyclers are acknowledged as part of the official workforce in a new production value chain. The center, supported by UNDP and other organizations, is also providing a stable work environment to local recyclers – many of which are women.


Investing in the Circular Economy

Investing in circularity is closely intertwined with acknowledging and including Indigenous knowledge, heritage, and roots in the evaluation of both opportunities and risks. Safeguarding Indigenous rights is crucial in addressing the systemic risks posed by nature and biodiversity loss. Indigenous rights have become a significant concern, both legally and ethically, for sustainable finance specialists and the wider investment community. Non-profit organization Amazon Watch has recently released a guide for pension funds, asset managers, and other institutional investors, offering valuable guidance on investment due diligence led by Indigenous representatives. Written among others by Emil Sirén Gualinga, a member of the Kichwa people of Sarayaku in Ecuador, this toolkit effectively navigates the complex relationship between effectiveness of biodiversity protection, investor responsibilities and international human rights norms.

Numerous instances have shown that failing to respect Indigenous rights can have significant negative impacts on businesses, including financial losses, damage to reputation, and project cancellations. For instance, a study analyzing the risks associated with community opposition and violations of Indigenous rights in over 300 oil, gas, and mining projects revealed that companies identified as “leaders” outperformed their counterparts, referred to as “laggards,” by 4 percent-plus in annual returns(*).


>>click to zoom in | Credit to Amazon Watch and lead author Emil Sirén Gualinga, member of the Kichwa people of Sarayaku


While the risks of investing in businesses that fail to respect Indigenous peoples’ rights are increasingly being recognized by investors, it’s important to remember that failure to obtain, in advance and on an on-going basis, free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) by native populations may expose companies to increased legal, reputational or regulatory risk.

With over 50% of energy transition mineral projects located on or near Indigenous land,  including a sound FPIC in investors’ due diligence is a must. Circularity principles can help create a more direct dialogue on the impacts of each project from an environmental and societal perspective. Circularity can in fact provide much needed mitigation options as well as a lens to identify sustainable development opportunities at the local level.

(*) Data between 2010 and 2014.


You don’t want to miss this week

From New York to Bristol (UK), and Lyon (France), this week offers new opportunities to connect with fellow circularity practitioners both in person and in hybrid mode.

Discover, grow and leave your mark!

October 10th: Circular Shift 2023 – Powering Innovation for a Circular Future (New York City). The annual summit by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute will unite some of industry’s leaders in a tangible exploration of approaches and strategies to innovate for a circular future, featuring a diverse program of both inspirational and interactive sessions. It will be a valuable opportunity to gain fresh insights into the latest practices and innovations powered by the Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Program across different sectors, including the built environment, furniture, fashion, textiles, cosmetics and personal care. The expert interview will open the day with George Bandy Jr, the Chief Sustainability Officer of Fiber Industries and former circularity lead at Amazon. George will discuss how to create change in organizations.

October 11th – 13th: Blue Earth Summit (Bristol, UK). Over 3 days, the Summit plays host to 5,000+ decision makers, industry pioneers, provocative thought-leaders, sustainability trailblazers, insightful solutionists and boundary-pushing start ups. It’s the place to explore, meet, learn, collaborate and take action. The event includes a live pitching competition onsite. The highly interactive programme that Blue Earth offers is available here. Notable sessions include panel discussions on the future of leadership by The Bio-Leadership Project, and how to make regenerative business possible with the participation of John Elkington and Andres Roberts, both on day 1. Not to be missed.

October 11th – 13th: Pollutec (Lyon, France). Known to be a springboard for market innovations and international development, this two-day event hosts circular economy professionals from over 130 countries present their work to 50,000+ attendees. Many different topics of the circular transition have their own area in the exhibition center, including waste management, energy efficiency, biodiversity and natural habitats. Inventors present their solutions to issues in the areas of water, waste, energy, smart cities and sustainable construction, air pollution and risks to the circularity transition. To follow Pollutec’s exhibition, you can stay connected by registering to their newsletter. Never spam, only knowledge.


Off to another impactful week!



Alessia Falsarone is executive in residence, practitioner faculty at the University of Chicago, where she leads the Circular Economy and Sustainable Business program. The article is based on the author’s newsletter A Week of Circularity from the innovation knowledge hub.


All opinions expressed are those of the author and/or quoted sources. is an independent and neutral platform dedicated to generating debate around ESG investing topics.