The circular economy gets its own Academy Awards by Brian Dumaine @FortuneMagazine October 29, 2014, 10:07 AM EDT E-mail Tweet Facebook Google Plus Linkedin Share icons This fall at a World Economic Forum meeting in Asia, Chinese premier Li Keqiang stressed China’s goal “to pursue green, circular and low-carbon development.” What premier Li was getting at is a notion that other government leaders around the globe and increasing numbers of CEOs are finally starting to embrace: the need to create a circular economy, one in which all the materials we use in our industrial stream must either be reused or returned safely to the earth. Why? As middle class consumption and urbanization continue to intensify in the developing world, business will struggle to meet this growing demand. When Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart published their iconoclastic book Cradle to Cradle in 2002, they laid out a road map for designing products that could be continuously reused or returned to the ecosystem. Perhaps their most famous case was that of a Swiss textile manufacturer that used the Cradle to Cradle process to find benign chemicals for its dyes. When Swiss authorities measured the waste flow from the plant, they thought their instruments were broken because what was coming out was cleaner than Swiss drinking water. Since Cradle to Cradle major corporations from Walmart to Ford and smaller businesses such as Patagonia and Stonyfield Farm have worked hard to reduce their environmental footprints while making a profit. At the same time, new organizations have sprung up around the movement, including most recently The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circular 100, a group of the world’s top corporations including Cisco, Philips, Renault, Kingfisher and Unilever that are addressing major challenges in accelerating the transition to the circular economy. In a recent study conducted by Accenture for the United Nations, 36% of 1,000 CEOs across 25 industries, many of the world’s largest corporations, planned to use circular economy models such as shifting from products to services, substituting supplies from linear to circular, engaging in the sharing economy or recapturing and recycling valuable materials. Says Peter Lacy, the managing director of Accenture’s strategy and sustainability program who led the study: “We are seeing a ‘silent revolution’ in the way we think about global value chains and business models that is allowing us to grow companies and even whole economies, decoupled from natural resource use and environmental impact.” But a movement really hasn’t arrived until it has its own awards event, and that’s what will happen in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The Circular Economy Awards, or “The Circulars,” will be an annual event recognizing individuals and organizations from commerce, civil society and academia that have made a notable contribution to driving circular economy principles. The Forum of Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum, a group of next generation movers and shakers, created the awards. Their mission is to “inspire leaders to embrace the circular economy business philosophy for their organizations and provide tangible examples of successful business models and means of implementation.” But there’s a very practical aspect to these awards, too. Says Christophe Beck, the president of international at Ecolab and one of the award’s sponsors: “The awards are a great opportunity to learn from one another. Sometimes the winners can become our customers or our partners.” The awards (Fortune is a media partner) will be divided into five categories including one for individuals who have displayed circular economy leadership, one for entrepreneurship and one for companies that are disrupting business as usual by enabling the circular economy with data driven technologies. (Think the sharing economy.) The deadline for filing is October 31, 2014 (apply to organizers if you require an extension). Entries should be submitted in PowerPoint format to firstname.lastname@example.org (entry forms are available here). Winners will receive a trophy—made of recycled glass of course—but the awards promise to have an impact beyond the ceremony at Davos. “We want to celebrate these best practices,” says Niall Dunn, the global chief sustainability officer BT Group, another sponsor of the awards. “We want to spread the word about how the winners are delivering industrial strength solutions.” A noble endeavor. Will the world be ready to listen?