2018, International Standards Organisation
A circular economy is about the economy
In this paper, I outline the scope and the potential of a ‘circular economy’ in the future, one which goes beyond a concentration on recycling and waste management. I argue that three key elements are paramount. The first, and most widely discussed, is its ‘circularity by design’ characteristics. Secondly, but rarely discussed, the intimate relationship between the materials cycle and money and finance systems. Thirdly, encompassing both but often ignored: the way in which a more holistic interpretation of the concept is attached to a worldview or ‘framework for thinking’. This last element is a perspective that understands the economy as less like a machine and more like a nested living system. This worldview includes a stock maintenance emphasis placed in relation to feedback-rich flows. It extends, ineluctably, to the regeneration of natural capital and the restoration of social capital. A systems perspective includes a renewed focus on creating a refreshed industrial or productive economy at all scales as opposed to an expanded extractive or ‘rentier’ economy which is parasitical. This is quite unlike the current, linear, economy which not only extracts and runs down natural and social capitals (or exchanges it for financial capital), but also sees surplus financial reinvested largely in existing assets rather than creating new ones. The opportunity exists to create a ‘systems aware’ circular economy, one which is consistent with our contemporary understanding of ecosystemic relationships, the maintenance of capitals or stocks, the interdependence of different scales and the clear distinction between effective and efficient.