The Circular Economy: Regulatory and Commercial Law Implications

February 23, 2016 10:00 am — 4:00 pm
Washington, DC (and via webinar)

Co-sponsored by the Environmental Law Institute and the ABA Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources
Additional sponsors: EOS Climate, Leveraged Green Energy, RSR Technologies, US Business Council for Sustainable Development


In response to the resource constraints, environmental pressures and economic barriers that characterize our “take and dispose” economy, many have put forward a vision for a “circular economy” that would not only conserve and recycle materials, but also contribute to new technological, financial and environmental innovations.

As the circular economy approach gains traction – with noteworthy advances in the EU, China and the US – it is becoming increasingly clear that adjustments to our system of regulatory and commercial law will be needed to further progress towards a circular economy.

This session acknowledged that the circular economy is not just another buzzword or slogan, but instead is a serious approach to supplant the way global production and energy systems operate. For lawyers and their clients, this represents a new and important thought construct that will lead to legal frameworks better adapted to the 21st century. 

The purpose of this program was to:

  • Explain the meaning of the “circular economy” and how it is being applied at the intersection of energy, environment and materials management.
  • Present some of the specific regulatory, procurement, financial structuring, and other legal initiatives that are emerging to help actualize its objectives globally.

Attendees heard presentations designed to:

  • Highlight the integration of the several legal disciplines comprising the future body of law related to the circular economy;
  • Concretely illustrate some of the advances in industrial ecology are already contributing to the vitality of the circular economy;  and
  • Consider ways in which legal innovations for the circular economy will incorporate parameters of social responsibility and thereby facilitate both environmental sustainability and economic viability.

NOTE: Available presentation materials are linked after the individual panelist's name on the agenda.


10:30 am Registration
11:00 am

Three Faces of the "Circular Economy" Concept

The first panel will provide a basic understanding of the Circular Economy from several distinct but complementary perspectives, including business, government and academia. The Circular Economy must be seen in an interdisciplinary and multi-sectoral context.  Professionals and practitioners from a range of disciplines are creating a community of practice that draws from and builds upon current thinking in industrial ecology, recycling, solid waste regulation, materials management, and product re-design and re-use, among others. For some, the Circular Economy is more broadly construed as an alternative economic model. The transition to the Circular Economy will involve systems-level change, a re-thinking of business models, and new legal, finance and policy approaches. The expert presenters will introduce the concepts and principles that underpin the Circular Economy framework as it continues to evolve.

Ira Feldman
, President & Senior Counsel, Greentrack Strategies – Vice-chair, ABA-SEER EISR Committee (moderator) [presentation]
Cheryl Coleman, Director, Resource Conservation and Sustainability Division, US EPA [presentation]
Reid Lifset, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Industrial Ecology, Yale University
Scott Nadler, Program Director, US Business Council for Sustainable Development [presentation]

12:30 pm

Luncheon Keynote: The Unifying Vision of the Circular Economy
Dr. Markus Zils
, Founder & Managing Director, Returnity Partners GmbH (Munich, Germany) (formerly Circular Economy practice lead for McKinsey & Company)

1:30 pm

The Circular Economy in Action: Energy, Renewables & Other Materials Conversion Initiatives

This panel will focus on the application of Circular Economy concepts and principles in specific critical sectors, including solar energy, battery storage, and chemistry. Throughout the industrial age, the burdens arising from this “linear” manufacturing/disposal process were largely ignored. Now, this process is recognized as increasingly untenable, and has led to the “circular” paradigm of planned resource reuse, remanufacturing and recycling of previously disposed of byproducts and supply chain sharing. In some important sectors, such as base metals and agriculture/biomass, the Circular Economy approach is already working effectively and is being pursued profitably. Under increasing public scrutiny, many types of businesses are voluntarily establishing “scorecards” to determine the bottom line effectiveness of their Circular Economy planning. The panelists will discuss several diverse applications and describe current examples of the implementation of Circular Economy principles.

John Howes
, Principal, The Redland Energy Group – Vice-chair, ABA-SEER EISR Committee (moderator)
Dr. Timothy Ellis, President, RSR Technologies [presentation]
Dr. Janet Hawkes, Managing Director, HD1 LLC [presentation]
Edward Manukian, CEO, Leveraged Green Energy [presentation]  (note: Roger Feldman gave Mr. Manukian's presentation)
Wayne Rifer, Director of Research & Solutions, Green Electronics Council [presentation]

3:00 pm

Growing the Circular Economy Through Legal Initiatives

The legal concepts now emerging to advance the Circular Economy reflect the diversity of issues involved in the modification of behavior and legal obligations related to property ownership and responsibility for property use; facilitation of collaborative production and distribution to maximize materials use (in renewable energy, among other sectors) and economic competitiveness; and creation of viable financial and commercial structures to viably implement the innovations introduced. While the Circular Economy will certainly include facets of regulatory law designed to protect the environment and transition to sustainability, it is likely that the emerging body of law will incorporate other legal principles as well. Moreover, as the perceived applicability of Circular Economy innovations continues to evolve, regulatory policy and law will likely take on different forms in specific sectors or geographic regions. To provide more comprehensive coverage of this fast evolving field of law, this panel includes both public and private sector panelists from the United States, China, and Europe.

Roger D. Feldman
, Counsel, Andrews Kurth LLP – Co-chair, ABA-SEER EISR Committee (moderator) [presentation]
Joe Madden, CEO, EOS Climate Carbon Impact Factor [presentation]
Fabrice Vareille, Minister Counselor - Head of Transport, Energy, Environment and Nuclear Affairs Section, Delegation of the European Union to the U.S. [presentation]
Qian Xiaoyan, First Secretary, Embassy of China

4:30 pm

Closing Keynote:
Scott Fulton, President, ELI

5:00 pm




Supplemental Materials:

Circular Economy, generally

Circular Economy in China

Circular Economy in European Union

US EPA and Circular Economy

Carbon Impact Factor (CIF)

Yale Journal of Industrial Ecology

US Business Council for Sustainable Development