Article I wrote for the Green Living Journal, www.greenlivingpdx.com September 2016
Sustainability has come a long way in the last decade but as we know, the current linear ‘take, make, and waste’ system of production is not working for social, economic, or ecological health. We are facing the consequences of over-extracting natural resources and living in a culture of consumption. As populations increase, we also need employment that is based on people owning only stuff they really need.
The circular economy is about moving toward a restorative and regenerative system where products are diverted from landfills and materials are used again. When people embrace thinking in more circular ways, all ‘economies’ on the planet - social, economic, and ecological - start to get healthier.
The Circular Economy is gaining popularity around the world because of its effective use of resources across many sectors. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, champion of the idea, defines the circular economy as a
“continuous positive development cycle that preserves and enhances natural capital, optimizes resource yields, and minimizes system risks by managing finite stocks and renewable flows. It works effectively at every scale.”
“The Circular Economy can be embedded into all sectors and especially business products, and services, so people don’t even realize they are choosing the ecological choice.”
Circular thinking inspires the components of the economy to work like nature by creating products, services, businesses, and processes designed from the beginning to be zero waste and multifunctional using reciprocal/symbiotic relationships that increase the opportunities for exchange. This creates money and jobs. As products reach an end of use, they can continue to support the health of the system through reuse as a feed stock in a new cycle of development.
The circular economy concepts work at every scale, from manufacturing to agriculture, or cell phones to vegetables. For example, zero waste in the technical cycle means the product is designed to have every component of it remade into another product. Increasing the use of the materials creates a need for material innovation, green chemistry, reverse logistics, and re- use jobs, to name a few. In the biological cycle, waste products of brewing beer, spent grain, could be reused by a neighbor- ing business to make bread and create electricity via biogas to bake it before what’s left is sent to the compost bin to build soil to grow grain.
The four parts of the circular economy include:
The Circular Economy can be embedded into all sectors, es- especially business products, and services, so people don’t even re- realize they are choosing the ecological choice. Once embedded, it is about appropriate user experience, cost savings, and fabulous whole system design behind the scenes, instead of marketing an (often more expensive) “green” option. This could take the guilt, behavior change, and eco-elitism out of the equation and invite all people, not just environmentalists, to participate in making healthy choices for the planet, people, and profit.
We have many reasons to shift from the wasteful linear pro- cess to circular operations: the rising cost of raw materials, the need for shifting niches to compete globally, and the need to create healthy living wage jobs globally. The Circular Economy is a way of thinking and connecting that creates value, zero waste, and relationships needed for us all to thrive.
Next issue, join me in reading about design inspirations for the circular economy.
Chelsea Peil is a Circular Economy advocate who helps businesses and organizations shift to circular operations. For more info: Ecocreativestrategies.com