Degrowth & Circular (Bio-)Economy

Aug 6, 2021 by

During the third session of AEMS Summer School 2021’s session on Wednesday, 4th August, we learned about several perspectives on Circular Economy, the LiLi Project, Degrowth, EU Green Growth, and other similar approaches to sustainability along with Gillian Foster and Halliki Kreinin. We were divided into groups to analyse each of the approaches by proposed questions. Part of them were, how the environment and the economy are related, the cause of the environmental crises, the solution to the environmental crises, categorizing the approach as a “strong” or “weak” sustainability approach, criticisms of the approach, and other things that may be left out. 

In preparation, there were two materials given beforehand. The first one was “Degrowth” by Julia Steinberger. Her research examines the connections between resource use (energy and materials, greenhouse gas emissions) and societal performance (economic activity and human wellbeing). The main take home messages were: (1) at this rate, it is highly possible that the Paris Agreement will not be achieved, (2) we need a radical reduction of consumption, but more research is needed to examine how consumption could be reduced while preserving well-being, and (3) the Living Well Within Limits (LILI) project shows that a world characterized by more equal distribution would be easier to decarbonize.

The second material was “Limitations and Potentials of Circular (Bio-)Economy” by Gillian Foster. Dr. Foster conducts quantitative and qualitative socio-economic analyses to investigate circular economy business models, ecological indicators of circularity, and design decision support systems. The main take home messages were: Circular economy refers to the goal and strategies for transitioning to a sustainable, low-carbon economy by employing an environmentally friendly manufacturing and consumption technique. Whereas, bioeconomy is an economy based on renewable biological resources. Unlike the approach of degrowth, the circular bioeconomy is a new conceptual framework for utilizing renewable natural capital, reducing waste, and managing ecosystem services with the objective of ensuring long-term sustainability and enormous prosperity.

A point that is especially interesting is the circular strategies within the production chain. Instead of only 3 Rs, we can expand it to 10 Rs. In order of the descending priority in a circular economy, these are R0 Refuse, R1 Rethink, R2 Reduce, R3 Re-use, R4 Repair, R5 Refurbish, R6 Remanufacture, R7 Repurpose, R8 Recycle, and R9 Recover.

It was pretty fascinating to discover several approaches presented during the discussion with Gillian Foster. We do agree that the main problem as Gillian noted during her speech is that these approaches are not mainstream to make a solid contribution to systemic change. The several ideas proposed in her lecture sound viable. For instance, that there is no need in employing any new technologies, but instead we need a consumption reduction.

We partly agreed with this point. It's true that the crucial step to make is to cut off consumption. However, it can be doubted that nowadays technologies are developed enough. As for us, it should be comprehensive cooperation and an approach from different perspectives - and technological progress is an integral part of it. The point is we do not need to suspend the development of new technology, but at the same time can not rely only on them, as the major change we need to face and successfully implement is the notion of wellbeing. Perhaps the problem of non-achievable wellbeing within planetary boundaries is partly because of a different understanding of what it is. 

Regarding the circular economy, we agreed that it doesn't mean sustainable. It is rather a framework that is defined by form but not by content. It is for us yet another point to support the need for a change of perception. 

Written by: Alifia Marina Syarfi and Anastasiia Yuzyk

Based on the lectures "Limitations and potentials of circular (bio-)economy" by Gillian Foster and "Degrowth" by Julia Steinberger and Halliki Kreinin during the AEMS summer school 2021.