The way we do business affects our society and environment. Historically, economic growth has been at odds with environmental sustainability. The degradation of our finite resources and social inequality has translated into an unbalanced growth with long-term consequences. Recently, we have seen features of the COVID-19 pandemic show how these precipitate. As businesses closed and shelter in-place orders were mandated across the globe, we saw air pollution take a significant dip.
Coastal regions are affected by rising water levels, causing looming migrations into already dense urban areas. A new and balanced approach to economic success is necessary in order to prevent massive destruction that paralyzes our future generations. There are new economic models, such as the circular economy, which incorporate long-term goals with short-term economic objectives. This type of whole system approach is a novel approach and becoming more widely adopted as businesses, governments and agencies accept the responsibility of the impact their work has on our society beyond current GDP indicators.
Our focus should be on new technologies for creating clean and sustainable economic chains, rather than “cleaning” dirty industries. Extraction rates, which is the rate of extraction of our finite natural resources, have increased in the last decades, driven by an increase in the global population and per capital extraction rates. The economic system needs to be transformed in order to achieve dematerialization goals (Kallis 2017). Decoupling economic growth by reducing negative impacts on the environment significantly reduces the rate of use of our resources and boosts economic growth, contributing to sustainability goals.
In brief, in order to achieve eco, social and technological progress under ecological boundaries, a redefinition of current understanding regarding domestic material consumption and development is required (Oberle et al 2009).
Industrial ecology is the means by which humanity can deliberately and rationally approach and maintain sustainability, given continued economic, economic, cultural, and technological evolution. The concept requires that an industrial ecosystem be viewed not in isolation from its surrounding system, but in concert with them. It is a systems view in which one seeks to optimize the total materials cycle from virgin material, to finished material, to component, to product, to obsolete product, and to ultimate disposal. Factors to be optimized are resources, energy and capital.
—Graedel and Allenby, 2002
The Blue Economy consists of the preservation and utilization of our marine waters. Oceans protect biodiversity, provide jobs, food, drive economic growth, keep the planet cool, and absorbs about 30% of global CO2 emissions (World Bank). The blue economy represents all economic activities related to our oceans, seas or coastal areas. Industries related to the blue economy consist of fisheries, shipbuilding and tourism as well as emerging industries, including ocean energy and biotechnology. The coronavirus pandemic has significantly affected the blue economy; coastal and marine tourism, as well as fisheries and aquaculture, are severely affected. The blue economy as a whole presents a huge potential in terms of its contribution to a green recovery.
With the responsible development of ocean management, sustainable renewable energy sources, and the integration of social and environmental aspects, our blue economy can double in a sustainable way by 2030. The value of the blue economy vary, with Africa valuing its marine water at an estimated $1 trillion dollars. However, the true value of our marine waters should be considered outside of their direct energy, aquaculture, fisheries, tourism, and shipping value. Our marine waters store a substantial value of ecosystem services that is essential for our planetary growth and success.
The Circular Economy
The United Nations (UN) World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainable development as a trajectory where future generations are secured the same level of welfare as present living generations. As the number of middle class rises, our natural resources are required to support population expansion and will rapidly decrease at current trends. Waste generated by high income countries is currently estimated at 3.5 million tonnes per day, and is growing in proportion to the growth in middle-class populations. In addition, 2 billion tonnes of solid waste are produced each year by the world’s cities. Sustainable industrial initiatives are necessary to stabilize our environment and society and decrease the depletion of our natural resources, reduce emissions, and stimulate regeneration of our natural ecosystems.
The circular economy refers to an industrial economy that is restorative by intention. It aims to rely on renewable energy and features include minimizing tracks and hopefully eliminating the use of toxic chemicals. The CE model aims to eradicate waste through careful design. The concept of CE is grounded in the study of non-linear, particularly living systems.
The circular economy promotes a healthy and balanced approach to our global economy by addressing the shortcomings of linear economics which do not consider end-of-life cycles. CE is feedback-rich and promotes an approach that incorporates reducing or eliminating waste and decoupling material consumption from economic growth.
This principal promotes systems thinking and is regenerative by design. CE model includes take-back systems, energy flows and throughput, waste management, traceability, and environmental and social impact.
This economic principle start with the design process, with a focus on action and investment in a framework that is tailored for each company and culture. The design process spurs innovation and is truly individualized for each organization.
Some models of CE include permaculture which is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems, which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems.
Biomimicry is another design approach to CE, where design is meant to use nature as a model, measure and mentor. Biomimicry is the study of ecological systems to find solutions to humans’ problems. To model patterns for industry, agriculture, and human habitats. Just as in nature, organic and synthetic materials are not only metabolized (used) but also metamorphosed (changed) into another vital elements of a closed system.
Circular economies promote a cradle-to-cradle philosophy in design, where products and services are equipped for full lifecycle instead of a take-make-waste cycle. CE promotes resource efficiency, biometric modes of production, services rather than goods, and reinvesting in natural capital. Circular economy stimulates innovation and technology for climate action.
Categories for products in a circular economy model includes material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship and social fairness.
Restorative and Regenerative
The circular economy promotes maximization of performance and is a holistic approach to the way we do business. CE focuses of future success and the long-term objectives of our planet through design and implementation.