The Infinite Resources Of The Circular Economy
One of the greatest challenges in making our economy more sustainable is to continue to reuse the raw materials available to us. This is essentially what the circular economy is about: finding solutions to circumvent the finite nature of natural resources before we have used them up and to develop the right economic, institutional and organizational context for this. For this reason, wind and solar energy have an important role in the realization of the circular economy: they symbolize that if we make smart use of natural resources, finiteness need no longer be an issue.
In thinking about the circular economy, the natural resources that the earth provides, the composition of materials, material flows and the organization of cycles of these, are central. At its core, then, the circular economy is a technical-organizational concept. This is a common criticism of the circular economy: just as in cradle to cradle (C2C) you have to be a chemist to dissect products and understand the possibilities of upcycling instead of recycling, the circular economy requires advanced materials knowledge and expertise in material flows. But although the circular economy is often presented as a technical issue, it is precisely the "human side" that should play a crucial role in the circular economy. That side has at least three dimensions.
First, it is about behavior. Our current socio-economic system is heavily based on traits of human behavior such as self-interest, short-term perspective, status orientation, copying behaviors we consider the norm, and our focus on immediate sensory experiences. Evolutionary psychologists argue that these traits have become ingrained from the days when humans still roamed the African savannah and that sustainability against this prehistoric background noise has little chance. Despite Rousseau's image of the noble savage, unsustainability is in our genes. It is precisely these traits that have made humans successful for a long time - until, especially since the agricultural revolution, they began to work against us and produced a mismatch with the modern environment. We have to somehow get the circular economy to be based on our shortcomings. To do this, reverse thinking is called for: it should be possible to make circular solutions play precisely on these inherent human characteristics instead of letting them limit us. The circular economy is likely to thrive a lot better if it is clear that it pays off in the short term, if it can appeal to a sense of status, and if there are more appealing good examples that are easy to copy.
A second perspective on the human side is that the circular economy requires new thinking. New thinking that is based on a good understanding of complex systems in which many interrelated factors come into play and the formulation of scenarios based on expert insights. Circular thinking is rooted in a different paradigm - one that is non-linear, where economic and non-economic variables influence each other, and where uncertainty trumps all. It is the type of thinking on which the Club of Rome's "Limits to Growth" report was based and which we need now more than ever. Only in this way can we get a grip on the interwovenness of economic value and non-economic value and form an idea of how we can bring these values together in a symbiotic relationship.
There is a third "people side”. We have at least three inexhaustible resources at our disposal that we can use to make the circular economy a reality: trust, talent and entrepreneurship. Trust is essential if you want to collaborate to connect material chains, make all the difference at the design level in production processes and develop the right organizational configurations for the circular economy. We need talent to discover application possibilities of materials and make sustainability smart with circular intelligence. Talent is also related to resourcefulness: where the circular economy at its core calls for the use of less resources, we need resourcefulness just as much. Entrepreneurship, finally, we need to use to identify and exploit market opportunities offered by circular thinking and to find creative solutions to, for example, legislative and regulatory constraints that are holding back the circular economy. But for now, it is unclear whether coordination within the circular economy should be organized along market rules, or whether we should look for alternatives.
Trust, talent and entrepreneurship are resources that we can continue to use. They are our weapons in the fight against the finiteness of the economic model that we have relied on since the industrial revolution. The nice thing is that their use actually increases them - in quantity and quality. Trust creates trust. Talent develops. Entrepreneurship is contagious. Talk about upcycling! And we don't even have to do our best to mine these resources - they can be found on the surface.
It is the "people side" of the circular economy that ensures that the circular economy has a real chance of success. With Circulix, we strive to make use of our own infinite resources to connect partners, build trust, learn from each other, and use entrepreneurship to find solutions for the future.