Critique of Circular Economy as Delusional Storytelling Discourse

 

Antenarrative Blog Post by David M. Boje Aug 1 2019

Why the Circular Economy Narrative is Delusional Storytelling? It is delusional storytelling discourse because circular economy assumes that economic growth can happen while exceeding the nine planetary limits of life support systems. Sadly, the circular economy narrative and the logic of circularity that needs to be challenged as ‘circular reasoning’ have colonized both the United Nations Agenda 2030 and the European Union Agenda 2030.

What is the circular economy? “A circular economy (often referred to simply as “circularity” is an economic system aimed at minimizing waste and making the most of resources. In a circular system resource input, and waste, emission, and energy leakage are minimized by slowing, closing, and narrowing energy and material loops; this can be achieved through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuseremanufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling” (Wikipedia.com/Circular_economy). The advocates of ‘circular economy’ are consulting firms such as McKinsey, attempting to convince their clients: “a sustainable world does not mean a drop in the quality of life for consumers, and can be achieved without loss of revenue or extra costs for manufacturers.”

I just put in this critique of circular economy in the wikipedia webpage.

Critiques of circular economy (posted as change Aug 1 2019) t

“The logic of the ‘circular economy’ narrative and discourse: business can be as profitable as it has been in the linearity model of grow now, clean up later (focus on short-term gains at expense of long-term externalities). While it is possible to somewhat reduce, reuse, and recycle, in its circularity the circular economy is all about sustainable economy, and sustainable development without limits to growth, that can keep placing more demands for additional natural resources, evermore growth, and does not account for exceeding nine planetary limits on the carrying capacity for all life on planet Earth. Circular economy uses the same logic as ‘triple bottom line’ and therefore merits the same critique. Triple Bottom Line (3BL) of people, planet and profit (aka economic prosperity or by the economic, equity and environment (aka, Triple Bottom Line or 3BL), puts profit/economic ahead of people/equity and planet/environment. As with 3BL, circular economy has robust measures of profit/economic variables but not much on the people/equity or planet/enironment. The premise of the Circular Economy is a set of boundary conditions that ensure all activity translates to contributing toward positive impact for the Triple Bottom Line (3BL) people, planet and profit (aka economic, equity, & environment)

‘Given the all too obvious social and environmental crises associated with out-of-bounds growth capitalism, the circular economy has been one of the main references for rebuilding and reforming a political economy of sustainable growth’ (Valenzuela & Böhm, 2017: 23)” (wikipedia.com/Circular_economy).

I will elaborate by deconstruction of circular economy and put this consultant’s strategy to co-opt the EU and UN into historical perspective.

“In January 2012, a report was released entitled Towards the Circular Economy: Economic and business rationale for an accelerated transition. The report, commissioned by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and developed by McKinsey & Company, was the first of its kind to consider the economic and business opportunity for the transition to a restorative, circular model” (Wikipedia.com/Circular_economy).

The fallacious logic is that circularity narrative is that business can be as profitable as it has been in the linearity model of grow now, clean up later (focus on short-term gains at expense of long-term externalities), which is pretty much status quo business model of late modern capitalism. My assessment is that the narrative self-deconstructs: While it is possible to somewhat reduce, reuse, and recycle, in its circularity the circular economy is all about sustainable economy, and sustainable development without limits to growth, that can keep placing more demands for additional natural resources, evermore growth, and does not account for exceeding nine planetary limits on the carrying capacity for all life on planet Earth. Two clients for circular economy (aka circularity) consulting are the United Nations and the European Union.

Agenda 2030 began with In June 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, more than 178 countries adopted Agenda 21, a comprehensive plan of action to build a global partnership for sustainable development to improve human lives and protect the environment.

The 8 Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations, initiated 2000, to reduce extreme poverty by 2015,spanned the period between 2000 and 2015.

United Nations gathered in 2015, in New York City, to adopt 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that rely on more than 150 specific targets. SDGs explicitly address the impact of a tidal wave of economic change, which we are witnessing at a global level.

The UN Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development was adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015. It provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. … The MDGs were replaced by 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300).  On 10 October 2018, ECOSOC and the Second Committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations held a joint meeting on Circular economy for the SDGs: From concept to practice.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is an action plan known as the Triple Bottom Line (3BL) of peopleplanet and profit (aka economic prosperity). There are 17integrated and indivisible goals, which balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economicequity and environment (aka, Triple Bottom Line or 3BL).

The premise of the Circular Economy is a set of boundary conditions that ensure all activity translates to contributing toward positive impact for the Triple Bottom Line (3BL) peopleplanet and profit (aka economic, equity, & environment). Therefore the 17 goals, and the associated 169 targets and 232 (non-repeating) indicators, represent a strategy plan framework to measure and evaluate the benefits and costs of the Circular Economy.

UNITED NATIONS AND CIRCULAR ECONOMY NARRATIVE TOOK ROOT IN THE LAST FEW YEARS

“Circular Economy for the SDGs: From Concept to Practice General Assembly and ECOSOC Joint Meeting  Draft Concept and Programme for the joint meeting of the Economic and Financial (Second Committee) of the 73 UN General Assembly and the UN Economic and Social Council” accessed Aug 1 2019 at https://www.un.org/en/ga/second/73/jm_conceptnote.pdf

“In recent years, the circular economy has gained increasing prominence as a tool which presents solutions to some of the world’s most pressing cross- cutting sustainable development challenges. By addressing root causes, the concept of a circular economy, an economy in which waste and pollution do not exist by design, products and materials are kept in use, and natural systems are regenerated provides much promise to accelerate implementation of the 2030 Agenda”

The EU Agenda 2030 is a commitment to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development by 2030 world-wide, ensuring that no one is left behind (Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” including its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets was adopted on 25 September 2015 by Heads of State and Government at a special UN summit).

Screen Shot 2019-08-01 at 10.19.24 AM.png

At the heart of the UN 17 SDGs is the ‘circular economy’ strategy to give a new boost to jobs, growth and investment and to develop a carbon neutral, resource-efficient and competitive economy. According to the circular economy narrative, plotline, “Products and services designed in a circular way can minimize resource use and foster materials’ reuse, recovery and recyclability down the road” https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1551871195772&uri=CELEX:52019DC0190#footnote2

The problem as I discussed in previous posts is that biosphere is the foundation of life on earth, not profit/economics. These SDG’s are fundamental to life on earth.

biosphere sdgs

 

These social SDGs are important and necessary

society sdgs

These economic ones are Not foundational to continued life on the planet.

economy sdgs

In short, circular economy puts SDGs 7, 8, 9, and 12 as the priority, when what needs to happen is deconstruct the whole narrative monologic that sustainable development is possible if the nine planetary limits are being transgressed (Rockström et al, 2009).

December 2015, the Commission adopted a Circular Economy Action Plan (REPORT FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS on the implementation of the Circular Economy Action Plan

COM/2019/190 final accessed Aug 1 2019 at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1551871195772&uri=CELEX:52019DC0190#footnote2).

In the EU, “ In 2016, circular activities such as repair, reuse or recycling generated almost €147 billion in value added while standing for around €17.5 billion worth of investments” (https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1551871195772&uri=CELEX:52019DC0190#footnote2).

I would love it if circular economy were an actual plan to reduce plastic production and consumption, plastic pollution, and actual generate zero growth in the plastic production, distribution and consumption.  It is voluntary! It is oriented to the small and medium sized corporations, not the plastic giants, and to consumers volunteering to change their plastic consumerism habits and plastic lifestyle.

“The strategy also identifies key actions enabling multi-stakeholder engagement and collaboration along the value chain. For instance, the call from the Commission on stakeholders to make voluntary pledges triggered strong momentum in the industry to boost the uptake of recycled plastics in products. However, as identified in the accompanying document assessing these pledges, more efforts are necessary to reach the objective set out in the strategy, namely to ensure that 10 million tones of recycled plastics find their way into new products by 2025” (https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1551871195772&uri=CELEX:52019DC0190#footnote2).

For more critique of Circular Economy see the following:

Lazarevic, D., & Valve, H. (2017). Narrating expectations for the circular economy: Towards a common and contested European transition. Energy research & social science, 31, 60-69.

Milne, Markus J.(2005). “From soothing palliatives and towards ecological literacy: A critique of the Triple Bottom Line.” Accessed Aug 1 2019 at https://ourarchive.otago.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10523/1551/From_soothing_palliatives_and_towards_ecological_literacy.pdf

Norman, W., & MacDonald, C. (2004). Getting to the bottom of “triple bottom line”. Business ethics quarterly, 14(2), 243-262.

Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, Å., Chapin III, F. S., Lambin, E. F., … & Nykvist, B. (2009). A safe operating space for humanity. Nature461: 472-475.

Valenzuela, F., & Böhm, S. (2017). Against wasted politics: A critique of the circular economy. ephemera: theory & politics in organization, 17(1), 23-60.Accessed Aug 1 2019 at http://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/30441/1/PubSub8234_Valenzuela.pdf

 

 

 

Advertisements