Approaching the Circular Economy Differently

«A real circular economy would expand the definition of the circular economy to one where its operating system is regenerative not extractive not only towards nature, but people; one where wealth is equitably circulated and shared.

 A truly circular economy would mean that the circular ethos is also reflected in our social systems, including our financial services, our business structures, and the political frameworks and cultural norms that influence human behaviour.»

 Sharon Ede (December 2016): The Real Circular Economy

The course on Cooperative Social Entrepreneurship (see course outline, Part 2) elaborates upon several aspects of the circular economy. Ede’s ‘real circular economy’ requires that we:

  • Set values first. Actions ought to be informed by values, to ‘do good’, not to do slightly less harm than in the status quo or baseline scenario. The promoted values are summarised on the front page and elaborated upon in Towards a Real Circular Economy  where overall goals for the circular economy also are linked with the values and principles of Economic Democracy and Reduced Inequality.
  • Understand the scope of the circular economy in light of the expressed values. To facilitate this understanding, this is how the issues are organized in the following webpages:

 1.  Limitations of the Conventional Circular Economy.  This presents some of the criticism head on and should make it easier to appreciate the subsequent webpage presentations.

2.  A Circular Industrial Economy, Stahel style. The circular economy is depicted as a set of cycles, for technical and for biological nutrients. Walter Stahel, of many seen as the originator of the circular economy concept, is focusing only on the industrial economy and technical nutrients.

Stahel compare the linear and (conventional) circular economy and distinguish between three forms of a circular economy. Focus is on the ‘Performance Economy’ (‘Products as a Service’), which (in its ideal form) retains ownership and liability throughout and beyond product-lives.

Building upon and adding to Stahel’s framework is Rau and Oberhuber (2023)[1] who argues that the separation of power and responsibility is the fundamental problem of our current economic system, -and, more importantly, suggest ways to address the problem. This clearly points to political level-solutions and may seem radical and difficult to accomplish. However, as shown by the Community Wealth Building Model, it is possible to level the playing field and increase the room to maneuver.

3.  A basis for the Biological Nutrients Cycles of the Circular Economy: Barry Commoner’s laws of ecology. Commoner is known as a forerunner of circular economic thinking. This page summarizes his four laws and relate them to other authors like Braungart and McDonough, including the latter’s ‘new language for carbon’.

4.  Agriculture as the other half of the circular economy. This particularly emphasize the potential of farming systems for radically increased carbon soil sequestration. It is elaborated upon in Towards a Real Circular Economy.

5.  Circular Business Models as Vehicles for the Circular Economy & A Business Model Template for the Circular Economy. The circular economy ‘can only be a reality for businesses if there are viable business models’, and Jonker and Faber’s (2021)[2] business model template is presented in the end of this page (elaborated upon in the said course).

[1] Thomas Rau and Sabine Oberhuber (2023): Material Matters. Developing for a Circular Economy.

[2] Jan Jonker , Niels Faber (2021): Organizing for Sustainability. A Guide to Developing New Business Models