Posted on: September 13, 2018 Posted by: admin Comments: 0

The concept of circular economy resonates strongly with me. The main reason is that it takes its roots in nature, rather the natural circle of life. There is no greater technology!


Because the basic model is so strong, it encompasses many aspects of the planet’s qualities. Being such a wide stretching concept the circular economy allows each of us to find our niche within the circle.

One level I am particularly interested in is LOCAL: at city scale, how can we make the structural transformations necessary for a transition towards a greener economy? How can urban development make the necessary changes to incorporate better mechanisms that respect a global equilibrium and nature’s resources? What solutions and lifestyle changes are available to us within the proximity of our neighbourhood? How can we support the community this way and build social well-being from this solidarity towards a common goal?

1. Founding schools and primary objectives

The concept can be defined in contrast to the linear economy: a linear economy relies on a make – use – dispose dynamic, while the circular economy aims to elongate the use of materials and reuse them in the making process rather than disposing of them. It depends heavily on the market to drive changes and on innovation coming from profitable companies.


The Ellen MacArthur Foundation takes on a historical approach by reviewing the different schools of thought that led to the elaboration of the concept. Broadly these revolve around:

  • considering waste as the social construct it is and eliminating it
  • re-categorising objects and re-assigning purpose based on a closed production cycle
  • awareness of nature’s natural resources and respecting their capacity as well as restoring them
  • imitating biological structures to reach zero pollution mecanisms
  • being mindful of material’s life cycles
  • taking on a holistic approach that links industry, agriculture, labour market and personal life style

Let’s make one thing clear, the natural analogy is not here to force upon us ideas of “natural order” but rather to pursue mindfulness towards a whole, taking its roots in a collection of concepts that share similar a philosophy. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) offers an overview of the schools of thoughts that led to the mainstreaming of the term.

  • The idea of taking inspiration in nature for instance is Biomimicry a term coined by Janine Benyus to define studying nature to replicate its technology while using it as guide and scale.
  • Industrial Ecology intends to close loops and use waste as a resource, looking at production processes so they become “close to living systems as possible” and integrated in their local context.
  • An open-source movement the Blue Economy also takes up ideas of creating value from waste, by presenting case studies it also explains how it leads to job creations and south/south cooperation
  • The idea of Regenerative Design applied to agriculture can be rather easily pictured, but what about other industries? John T. Lyle developed an academic field of research and a learning centre for this discipline
  • In the aim of transitioning to “a global economy in which business and environmental interests overlap” there is a need to recognise the interdependence of industry with natural capital. Natural Capitalism goes into details about ways to “eliminate the concept of waste” in order to boost the productive use of natural resources.
  • Cradle to cradle design is perhaps one of the most well known features of circular economy. It is a concept and a certification that focuses on materials being nutrients classified in two categories: technical and biological. Again it aims to eliminate the concept of waste and guide flows to boost renewable energy and build social consciousness.
  • Taking the angle of job creation and the evolution of work the Performance Economy model advocates shifting from selling products to selling services and explores possible innovations in already existing sectors that lead to job creation and the expansion of activities that mirror the four main goals: “product-life extension, long-life goods, reconditioning activities, and waste prevention”.
Justin Hofman

2. Implementation of framework

What makes circular economy interesting in the variety of applications it leads to: it is not meant to be an ideal or utopia. The intention is to create a usable framework, not only to preserve the environment but actually to boost social wellness in a concrete way: this is done through case studies and case by case analysis of circular economy concept application.

The EMF on the other hand finds four building blocks for practical implementation also accompanied of examples of companies, start-ups and agencies.

  • circular economy design: this is focused on products and establishing standards and techniques from material choice to “design to last” prototypes
  • new business models: this is quite self explanatory
  • reverse cycles: this stands for the development of tools and skills to insure that the re-integration of materials into the soil or as a new resource is effectively done
  • enablers and favourable system conditions: this means that external actors to the market such as government agencies, opinion makers and funding organisms can boost the usage of circular designs

To evolve towards a usable and framework there is need for a stable definition. The Amsterdam-based company “Circle Economy” rightfully points out that the concept definition tends to vary based on the audience or the context it is used. After mapping terms used by over 20 organisations (NGOS, Gov agencies, academia, consultancy,etc..) they have grouped seven main pillars of circular economy. This is a more practical take in cohesion with their work with startups and organisations that populate the field.

These key elements include aspects of the concept definition (respect natural resource, see waste as resource…) as well as implementation points (collaborate with non market actors, design according to lifecycle and in lasting way, business model…) while adding a particular emphasis on the place of digital technology. An important precision since digital technology offers flows of communication that open up new sharing opportunities. It also accounts for a wide share of job creation as niche technology require experts and builds bridges across professions.

All in All…

Technology is advancing, becoming more seamless and opening up opportunities to relocate time and energy. We still need to give it direction and ask ourselves the right questions. To use Circular Economy as a dynamic concept it is useful to focus on practical implementations of its founding principles. The idea is holistic and inspiring by taking inspiration from nature and opens up a field of solutions to live within the planet’s resources.

Stay tuned for #2: Circle economy in the Netherlands: A Case Study !


Leave a Comment