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Thinking about circles: Outdoor Learning and the circular economy

Published on 05 May 2020

Thinking about circles: Outdoor Learning and the circular economy

Since beginning a 10-week circular economy course with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), I’ve started to think more about how Outdoor Learning fits within a wider push for positive economic change.

Yup, you read that correctly… I’m thinking about Outdoor Learning as one of the cornerstones for enabling widespread economic transition.  (Scroll down for resources linked to key themes discussed here.)

 What economic changes and how does this link with Outdoor Learning?

 By aspiring for a circular economy which, as described by Ellen MacArthur Foundation, “is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems” (1), we can create systems which mirror and are sympathetic to nature and natural cycles (rather than depleting them).

In terms of our sector, we can of course create and use products (whether equipment, clothing or other supplies) which follow a circular approach, but, it seems that there’s a massive underpinning value of Outdoor Learning to an economic approach which is reliant upon engaging, empowering and activating individuals and communities, to an environmentally aware mindset. 

These individuals and communities may play different roles, whether leaders, employees or users, within the financing, design, build, implementation, recycle, re-use and regeneration of products, but perhaps most importantly, they will need to be inspired to act as guardians for our eco-systems within this economic context. 

This is exactly where the value of Outdoor Learning to the circular economy emerges.

As a sector, we often talk, research and write about the value of Outdoor Learning to both people, and nature.  We discuss how by being connected to nature benefits our physical and psychological well-being, which in turn supports our awareness and understanding, as well as our protective and conservation instincts and actions, to the benefit of nature.  Although there is a lot to be said about these interconnections, including recognising a myriad of inequalities, one thing we can be sure of, is the potential for us all to transform how we live and work.  

Each one of us holds valuable social capital in our networks, whether at home, through leisure or in work, and if Outdoor Learning has helped shape how we experience, understand and act, it can also inform how leaders, designers, employees, consumers (etc) make the decisions needed for an economic system which is sympathetic to nature.

Things to think about?

 There are plenty of organisations already following or working towards a circular economy and with a growing pressure to make ecocide a crime, plus the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals (e.g. goal 12: responsible consumption and production) by all United Nations Member States, as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, fingers crossed, mass scale change is coming.

The key point, is that Outdoor Learning can definitely add value to these broader conversations about shifting economic priorities, and so, here are a few things we can think about as a sector:

How can we empower individuals to utilise the benefits of their outdoor learning through their networks (home, leisure, work) and into broader socio-economic contexts?  (For example, how can Outdoor Learning support decision-making around consumption and production?)

How can we introduce Outdoor Learning to existing key influencers and decision makers who are involved with the financing, design, build, implementation, recycle, re-use and regeneration of products? Perhaps there’s specific Outdoor Learning training for teams to support circular economy transformation? 

Although mentioned earlier in this post… we also need to ask ourselves…

How can our sector be more circular?  For example, is the equipment we use designed and produced using a circular model?  How can we learn from other sectors?

 What do you think?

I’m just starting to bring together these ideas, but I don’t doubt there’s plenty of readers who are already way ahead! It’d be great to hear your thoughts and examples.

In the meantime, here are some useful resources for the circular economy, ecocide and Outdoor Learning:


 Circular Economy:

For more information about the circular economy the Ellen MacArthur Foundation is a good place to start.  There are also case studies and other resources:

For information about the social circular economy:


For more details around ecocide have a read of these:




Sustainable Development Goals

For information and resources go to:


I’ve picked out just a few of the relevant articles from the last couple of magazine issues, but there are plenty more to be found in our archive

In Horizons H89 Spring 2020

Environmental theme:

•   Jack Lucas.  Eco-centres assemble! (environmental sustainability and conservation in Outdoor Centres).  Pages 13 to 16.

•   Dave Harvey.  Making a difference: From sustainable development goals to individual action.  Pages 23 to 25.

Benefits of Outdoor Learning:

•    Nathaniel Spring and Monika Celebi.  When the Outdoors meets technology (using Video Interaction Guidance).  Pages 26 to 28.

•   Matt Harder.  Thinking about R.I.E: Assessing resilience, independence and emotional awareness.  Pages 29 to 32.

In Horizons H88 Winter 2019/ 2020

Environmental theme:

•   Institute for Outdoor Learning.  Climate change and biodiversity statement. Pages 8 to 10.

•   Marcus Bailie.  Outdoors rising: steps towards sustainability.  Pages 23 to 25.

Benefits of Outdoor Learning:

•   Robbie Nicol.  Putting education into place and place into education.  Pages 13 to 15.

•   Christine Neville.  In the curriculum: embedding Outdoor Learning into a school curriculum.  Pages 31 to 33.

In Horizons H87 Autumn 2019

Environmental theme

•   Kirsty McCandlish.  LitterARTi: Turning litter into art using an app. Pages 10 to 12.

•   Marcus Bailie. The evidence is clear (climate crisis). Pages 16 to 18.

•   Darren Clarkson-King.  Lessons from the flow: The river teaches us many lessons. Pages 33 to 35.

Benefits of Outdoor Learning

•   Terry Harris-Ellis.  Can we have less cotton wool? (Supporting people to develop both interpersonal and practical life skills). Pages 31 to 32.



Dr. Carmen Byrne, editor of Horizons magazine, is a storytelling specialist who loves exploring different ways to create and share stories, in particular linked to equality, health, well-being and sustainability.  A top fan of co-productive projects she often uses visual storytelling and visual narrative research to empower individuals, groups and communities in sharing their stories and calls for social change.

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Author: Carmen Byrne

Categories: Outdoor learning outcomes


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