Circularity vs. Linearity: Understanding the Shift Towards Sustainable Consumption
October 9, 2023

Circularity has taken the lead against linearity in the game of “keep it in play or throw it away”. With “circularity” being a buzzword in the sustainability, technology, and innovation spaces, it is important to understand its application and antithetical counterpart: linearity. The terms linearity and circularity represent opposing paths that a material may follow. Let’s walk through the definition of these terms, greenlist’s instrumental role in scaling circular practices, and the cultural shift towards sustainable consumption.

To conceptualize circularity, it is helpful to gain context on the business framework it acts against: linearity. The thought leader for circularity, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, describes linearity as “a system where resources are extracted to make products that eventually end up as waste and are thrown away”. As opposed to the inherently cyclical natural world, linear models are used only by modern humans. This framework is how most traditional businesses operate today and it is extremely unsustainable and inefficient.

As defined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, circular economy is “a system where materials never become waste and nature is regenerated”. The Ellen Macarthur Foundation established three pillars of a circular economy: “eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials (at their highest value), and regenerate nature”. Greenlist’s returns solution eliminates waste and pollution and circulates products and materials at their highest value. 

What is greenlist and what role does it play in improving the costly and environmentally-problematic process of returns? As the most profitable and sustainable approach to returns, greenlist is helping businesses of all sizes make circular transitions by enabling peer-to-peer returns. Founder and CEO Jess Owens launched greenlist to solve a problem she had as a shopper – a jacket sold out in her shopping cart. She knew it would be returned but the store couldn’t connect her to a return. While many traditional returns follow the linear route by meeting their fate of incineration or landfill (not to mention costing the retailer money to take back the product), greenlist ships them directly to an eager new customer.

The demand for circularity is soaring. According to McKinsey & Company, “products making [sustainability] claims averaged 28 percent cumulative growth over the past five-year period, versus 20 percent for products that made no such claims”. The growing market for sustainable and circular goods can be attributed to the growing concerns regarding climate change and environmental degradation. 

To recap, materials following linear pathways start as a resource and end up as waste, whereas materials following circular pathways are continually and repeatedly loved and repurposed. Not only are circular practices the most sustainable use of resources, they are also the most efficient and profitable.

Circularity is the future and greenlist is proud to be pioneering this transition. Greenlist invites you to explore our technology that enables peer-to-peer returns, which is a vital piece of the circular economy puzzle. Fill out our contact form to unlock the benefits of sustainable returns and share this blog post with business leaders that are motivated to make decisions with the planet in mind. To learn more about circular economy, visit

Written by Jess Owens

Founder & CEO at Greenlist