Dr Janez Potočnik was born in 1958. He graduated with honours from the Faculty of Economics at the University of Ljubljana. He continued his studies at the same university where he did his master's degree in 1989 and a Ph.D. degree in 1993.
For several years (1989-1993), he worked as a researcher at the Institute of Economic Research in Ljubljana. In July 1994, he was appointed Director of the Institute of Macroeconomic Analysis and Development of the Republic of Slovenia. In April 1998, the Government of the Republic of Slovenia appointed Dr Potočnik Head of Negotiating Team for Accession of the Republic of Slovenia to the European Union. From June-December 2000, he was also the acting director of Government Office for European Affairs. In June 2001, he was appointed a Minister Councillor at the Office of the Prime Minister. On 24 January 2002, the Government of the Republic of Slovenia appointed him as the Minister without portfolio responsible for European Affairs.
From 1991 until 2004 Dr Potočnik has also been an assistant professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Ljubljana, where he lectured on statistics and economy.
Dr Potočnik became a Member of the European Commission on 1 May 2004. From 2004-2010 he was responsible for the Science and Research. In 2010 he took on a second mandate as Member of the European Commission responsible for Environment. The mandate ended 1 November 2014.
Still in 2014 he was appointed for a three-year term as a member and Co-Chair of International Resource Panel hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme. In the same month he was also appointed as a Chairman of The Forum for the Future of Agriculture and a Member of the European Policy Centre's Advisory Council. From April 2016, he is a Partner in SYSTEMIQ. From 2020 he is a the president of the ThinkForest.
In May 2008, he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Science by London Imperial College. In March 2009, he received the honorary degree from Ghent University (Belgium). In May 2016, he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Science in Economics and Business Administration by Finland Aalto University.
In September 2013, he received the United Nations' 2013 Champions of the Earth Award for the Efforts to Promote Resource Efficiency and Reduce Food Waste in European Union. In March 2014, the Catalan Association of research entities awarded him with The ACER Award for the visionary contributions and leadership that made possible the ERC (European Research Council). December 2014, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) awarded him the Twelve stars for the environment Award for his science-based approach to promoting environmental sustainability. In January 2015 during World Economic Forum he was awarded by the Circulars 2015, an initiative of the Forum of Young Global Leaders the Fortune Award for Circular Economy Leadership. In November 2015, the Carlowitz Society awarded him the Hans-Carl-Von-Carlowitz-Award 2015 for courageous, open minded, and international work for the idea of the circular economy in Europe.