The circular economy: find out what it means, how it benefits you, the environment and our economy.
A circular economy is an economic system of closed loops in which raw materials, components and products lose their value as little as possible, renewable energy sources are used and systems thinking is at the core.
What is a circular economy?
The circular economy is a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products if possible. In this way, the life cycle of products is extended. In practice, it implies reducing waste to a minimum. When a product reaches the end of its life, its materials are kept within the economy wherever possible. These can be productively used again and again, thereby creating further value.
This is a departure from the traditional, linear economic model, which is based on a take-make-consume-throw away pattern. This model relies on large quantities of cheap, easily accessible materials and energy.
Looking beyond the current take-make-waste extractive industrial model, a circular economy aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits. It entails gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources and designing waste out of the system. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds economic, natural, and social capital. It is based on three principles:
- Design out waste and pollution
- Keep products and materials in use
- Regenerate natural system
The fundamental need for an alternative to the traditional linear model of growth has led to the emerging debate about circular economy, described as an economy with closed material loops.
Sustainability is a complex concept. The most often quoted definition comes from the UN World Commission on Environment and Development: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”.
Sustainability means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In addition to natural resources, we also need social
and economic resources. Sustainability is not just environmentalism. Embedded in most definitions of sustainability we also find concerns for social equity and economic development.
In 1983, the United Nations tapped former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland to run the new World Commission on Environment and Development. After decades of effort to raise
living standards through industrialization, many countries were still dealing with extreme poverty. It seemed that economic development at the cost of ecological health and social equity did not lead to long-lasting prosperity. It was clear that the world needed to find a way to harmonize ecology with prosperity. After four years, the “Brundtland Commission” released its final report, Our Common Future. It famously defines sustainable development as: development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
The Commission successfully unified environmentalism with social and economic concerns on the world’s development agenda. Sustainability is a holistic approach that considers ecological, social and economic dimensions, recognizing that all must be considered together to find lasting prosperity.
Three pillars of sustainability
What would a sustainable world look like?
Universal human rights and necessities are attainable by all people, who have access to enough resources in order to keep their families and communities healthy and secure. Healthy communities have just leaders who ensure personal, labour and cultural rights are respected, and all people are protected from discrimination.
Human communities across the globe can maintain their independence and have access to the resources that they require, financial and other, to meet their needs. Economic systems are intact and activities are available to everyone, such as secure sources of livelihood.
Ecological integrity is maintained, all of earth’s environmental systems are kept in balance while natural resources within them are consumed by humans at a rate where they are able to replenish themselves.
The motivations behind sustainability are often complex, personal and diverse. It is unrealistic to create a list of reasons why so many individuals, groups and communities are working towards this goal. Yet, for most people, sustainability comes down to the kind of future we are leaving for the next generation. Sustainability as a value is shared by many individuals and organizations who demonstrate this value in their policies, everyday activities and behaviours. Individuals have played a major role in developing our current environmental and social circumstances. The people of today along with future generations must create solutions and adapt.