Wednesday, 28th November 2018
Prosperity: Old Latin, pro spere “for hope”
Circular economics for BA students
The economy. You’d be forgiven for thinking of it as an autonomous quasi-beast that we all lie at the mercy of, like a human weather system that can be predicted and prepared for but not controlled. Whilst it’s true that the economy is an all-encompassing complex system, it is in essence entirely the work of humans and therefore possible for us to change. An effective economic model is one that serves the needs of the people and leads to prosperity.
Globally we have come to a turning point; the linear economic model has been exhausted and no longer serves us, it is doing more harm than good. The problem with the linear model (cradle-to-grave, or buy-use-bin) is that it relies on flawed assumptions that we have unlimited resources and unlimited ability for disposal. On top of this, it operates using the formula growth equals prosperity which encourages hedonisitc and unnecessary consumerism. This attitude may have been viable in the past but now it’s out-of-date.
Instead of linear, theorists believe we should be moving towards a circular model. In this model there is no end or beginning, resources are constantly flowing around the system, simply changing shape depending on what is needed: cradle-to-cradle not cradle-to-grave. Waste does not exist, everything is used; so-called ‘waste’ is transformed and utilised by those who need it, like when leaves decompose to form nutrient-rich soil that all surrounding plants need in a forest. It’s a fundamental shift in thinking from a simplistic, short-term view to a conscious, long-term one. Simples, right? Well yes if you don’t factor in the upheaval of the current linear system. As it stands it’s more cost effective to discard than reformulate; if we’re to move to a circular economy then this needs to change.
Two major shifts in the way our system operates need to occur. First, in design. Circular thinking needs to be inherent in designs. Designers need to create smart products that have the potential to easily flow through the circular system. That means products that are designed to last longer (avoiding transformative energy usage) made out of higher quality materials that can be easily extracted and reformulated when necessary.
Second, there needs to be less consumption full stop. In order to allow this we need to expand the service economy and reduce the manufacturing economy, so that people’s needs can still be served whilst reducing the use of resources. In other words, we should be choosing renting over owning and repairing over disposing and re-buying- using man-power to create value not energy.
The circular economy requires a collective shift in thinking and focus from individualistic, short-term gain to conscious, long-term interest. A society that celebrates diversity, smart altruism and collective prosperity. One which understands, respects and works with the needs of it’s environment and population: a synergistic relationship between our economy and our ecology.
In ‘Design’ we’re going to be giving you some examples of these ideas in play that are being developed around the world.
If you're interested in learning more about the circular economy The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is a great place to start. https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org