Design Products MA Named RCA Schmidt-MacArthur Fellow 2015

MA Design Products student Thomas Leech has been selected as this year’s Royal College of Art candidate for the Schmidt-MacArthur Circular Economy Fellowship. 

The Schmidt-MacArthur fellowship is one of a number of programmes delivered by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation aimed at advancing the circular economy. The transition to a circular economy involves shifting from a wasteful and polluting ‘take-make-dispose’ linear model to a circular model, where materials and resources can be used over and over, designing out waste, saving energy, reducing carbon and, where possible, avoiding pollution. 

Leech is one of 18 students from world-leading universities, including MIT, Yale and Stanford, working across business, design and engineering, who have been chosen to participate in the Schmidt-MacArthur fellowship. The RCA fellowship is delivered annually with expert input from the College, Cranfield University and Imperial College London.

Students on the fellowship gain access to an influential global business network and world-leading academics, as well as benefitting from the peer-to-peer discussions the programme encourages, with the goal of developing new products, services and business models.

Leech particularly looks forward to the ‘opportunity to meet kindred spirits that really get why the circular economy is so vital. The fellowship is also a hugely practical resource: you can get straight into the leading papers and academic thinking, as well as having direct access to mentors.’

Notably, the programme encompasses the expertise of thought-leaders in the circular economy, with contributions from biomimicry pioneer, Janine Benyus, and ‘cradle-to-cradle’ experts, Walter Stahel and William McDonough; all advocates of systems modelled on nature’s sustainable circulation of resources. In addition, businesses, including Unilever, Kingfisher, Philips, The Coca-Cola Company, IBM, M&S and IKEA, are involved as ‘CE100’ members looking to adopt the circular economy as a part of their core practice.

Leech will receive a £2,000 scholarship to develop a circular economy project for the next 12 months, and will participate in the Fellowship’s flagship summer school and networking event in June. He is the third RCA student to join the pioneering circular economy business programme, following in the footsteps of Tim Sadler (MA Innovation Design Engineering, 2014) and Ellie Banwell (MA Innovation Design Engineering, 2015). During his fellowship, Sadler developed a computer circuit board made from a single sheet of aluminium that can be recycled infinitely, rather than a multitude of soldered precious metals that cannot be separated. Banwell is expected to unveil her circular economy innovation later this summer.

On Leech’s selection for the fellowship, Jo Miller, Project Lead on the Schmidt-MacArthur Fellowship, comments, ‘Tom showed a strong ability to think creatively around the big-picture systems changes that might be needed to shift to a circular economy. His observations on the move from a traditional mechanistic to a more metabolism-based world view were particularly interesting and we felt this would add a valuable dimension to the 2015 programme.’

Clare Brass, Head of SustainRCA and Schmidt-MacArthur fellowship mentor, reiterates the huge benefits of the programme for participating students. She says: ‘SustainRCA plays a key role in mentoring students on the fellowship, and we look forward to supporting Tom, giving him the opportunity to deep dive into the circular economy and to connect with some of the best creative thinkers in engineering, business and design from all over the world.’