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Davos Man embraces the Circular Economy

EPA Head Lisa Jackson Tours Method Home Care CompanyEPA Head Lisa Jackson Tours Method Home Care Company
Adam Lowry Photograph by Justin Sullivan — Getty Images

For years now forward-thinking executives and environmentalists have been talking about the circular economy, but examples of companies actually engaging in this new way of doing business are few and far between. To remedy that, the Young Global Leaders at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos have decided to recognize enterprises and individuals that have made a notable contributions to sustainability by figuring out ways to grow without putting undue strains on the world’s resources and climate. In essence, businesses that engage in circular economy thinking design their products to either be reused or returned safely back to the earth.

Learn more of what to expect in Davos from Fortune’s video team:

In that spirit, the Young Global Leaders for the first time presented the Circular Economy Awards to six winners in five categories ranging from circular economy leadership, to projects involving cities to the use of digital to disrupt a traditional industry. (For a full list of the winners and finalists click here.) The awards, presented in collaboration with the global consultancy Accenture (Fortune is a media partner) and sponsored by BT, Ecolab (ECL) and SABMiller, cover a wide range of companies and individuals.

Among the winners, The BT award for “Circular Economy Digital Disruptor” went to Tradeshift, a company that helps businesses generate visible, real time data to manage their supply chains more sustainably. The San Francisco based company says it has created the world’s first, free cloud-based network for different businesses to connect, transact and collaborate on supply chain issues. Over the last 4 years, Tradeshift has connected more than 500,000 companies in 190 countries with more than a third of these coming from emerging markets.

The Circular for entrepreneurship went to the home cleaning products company Method. Started 13 years ago in San Francisco, Method, says founder Adam Lowry, has become the world’s largest and fastest-growing green cleaning company by putting to work the principles of the circular economy. The company makes sure all its products contain materials that can be recycle infinitely, are designed for sustainability and are made with renewable energy and social fairness; For example Method’s first laundry detergent was three times more concentrated than that of its traditional competitors. That saved retailers shelf space and money. Before long the Method won distribution contracts with major retailers, including WalMart (WMT). By 2008, the U.S. laundry detergent business had followed Method’s lead, switching to a more concentrated versions of laundry detergent, saving more than 400 million of pounds of water, plastic, cardboard, and fuel every year.

The Leadership award this year was shared by two individuals for their work in spreading the word about the circular economy. Janez Potočnik served for 5 years as European Commissioner for Environment. He is being recognized for incorporating resource efficiency into the continent’s structural economic strategy: “Europe 2020”. Potočnik also fundamentally shifted European environment policy from a focus on legislation to punish polluters to making the circular economy grounds for common interest and common action between the government and the private sector.

The other leadership winner is Sir Ian Cheshire, the executive director of Kingfisher, Europe’s largest home improvement retailer with over 1,170 stores in eleven countries. Sir Ian was the driving force behind Kingfisher adopting and implementing circular economy ideas. He has challenged his employees to create and use products that waste nothing. His goal is for Kingfisher to be producing by 2020 1,000 products with circular economy certification.

The Young Global Leaders plan to make the Circulars an annual event, celebrating the pioneers in this exciting, new way to think about business. The goal is to spread knowledge and best practices so that one day the circular economy will be just the way we all do business.