Dame Ellen MacArthur – Making waves

* 6 min read


Next in the Sustainability Pioneers series, Gillian acknowledges Dame Ellen MacArthur who has inspired a whole generation to rethink, redesign and build a positive future.



Although maybe not quite at legendary status (yet), Dame Ellen MacArthur, is for me, the greatest influencer of my generation. Not content to only secure a new world record as the fastest person to circumnavigate the globe single-handedly and still be considered as Britain’s most successful offshore racer, she has since gone on to arguably even greater things. Ellen has founded multiple NGOs, including The Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation and on a global stage with The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Plastic Pact Network. Is there anything this remarkable woman can’t do?

In 2001 Ellen became a household name at 24 years of age when she raced single-handedly non-stop round the world in one of the hardest offshore races, the Vendée Globe. Ellen came second, I can vividly remember seeing her all over the press and she returned home to fame. In 2005 Ellen went on to beat the world record as the fastest person to sail single-handed non-stop around the world, was knighted by the Queen in the same year and also received the Légion d'Honneur from former French President, Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008.

You would think Ellen’s sailing career alone would have kept her occupied, but her mission, didn’t end here. She made it her quest to:

Inspire a whole generation to rethink, redesign and build a positive future
GC1Ellen MacArthur

It's truly inspiring, and it all started when she took a sabbatical from sailing in 2005 and went to South Georgia to help count the albatrosses. It was there that she witnessed the impact we, as humans, have on nature and our natural resources. This led to the realisation, that just like sailing, we rely on a finite supply of resources and if we carried on at current rates this would have a real impact in her lifetime.

In 2009, Ellen announced her intention to retire from competitive racing and started a new journey, one that led her to discover a framework for re-design and the idea of shifting from our limited linear economy to one that is re-generative by nature. This may sound obvious to us now, but 12 years ago this was a radical thought, which has changed the packaging industry and forced us to reconsider the choices we make in work and in life. When Ellen launched the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in September 2010, I’m sure she hoped for change but what she has actually achieved is quite remarkable, on a global scale.

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Image source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is a charity focusing on accelerating the transition to a regenerative circular economy. The Foundation works in three areas:

  • Education – inspiring a generation to re-think the future
  • Business – catalysing business innovation
  • Insight – the opportunity for a re-design revolution

Within the first two years The Ellen MacArthur Foundation was presenting analysis on the circular economy to the World Economic Forum and is now held in high regard in the packaging industry, surpassing other longer-standing environmental campaign groups.

Striving to further promote a circular economy, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation supported the 2018 launch of The UK Plastic Pact. The key driver of the Plastic Pact was to create momentum from businesses, governments and NGOs all moving in the same direction for the greater good. This may sound like a cliché, but it really has made a huge difference and has led to increased focus and steeper targets, which can only be a good thing when considering a circular economy.

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The UK are not alone with a Plastic Pact, there are many others globally and (you guessed it), Ellen has been fundamental in creating global alignment through The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Plastic Pact Network. This is a network of national and regional initiatives which brings together key stakeholders to implement solutions towards a circular economy for plastic, tailored to each geography. All are united behind a common vision, with a set of local targets to:

  • Eliminate unnecessary and problematic plastic packaging through redesign and innovation
  • Move from single-use to reuse
  • Ensure all plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable, or compostable
  • Increase the reuse, collection, recycling or composting of plastic packaging
  • Increase recycled content in plastic packaging

What an inspiring 20 years! - From sporting accolades to pioneering charity work. Ellen has continued to drive forward with the same perseverance and determination we witnessed back in 2001. So, what’s next for Ellen MacArthur? I don’t know the answer to that, but one thing is for sure, I’m pretty sure she’s far from done yet!

I can’t say I’ve set up various charities or sailed around the world, but I am proud to have represented my country with sporting achievements and I am equally as proud of the strategic sustainability roadmaps I have been, and continue to be, involved in and e-halo, our innovative packaging specification database. I share Ellen’s passion for promoting a circular economy and I too will continue to educate, influence and guide our clients to align with Plastic Pacts and ultimately reduce the impact on our natural resources.

Ellen, you are an inspiration, keep flying your flag!

Key takeouts:
  • Challenge the whole chain: from governments and businesses to consumers, all need to play their part
  • Education is key: results will be delivered with inspiration, information and guidance
  • Collaboration: together we can make a difference
  • Balance: education, insight and innovation will change our future
  • Passion: one person can make a huge difference


The Author: Gillian Garside-Wight - Sustainability Partner

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