Although the development of a circular economy has the potential to alter existing economic trajectories in ways that are more favourable to the environment, the concept has been increasingly subject to critical evaluation. Some commentators see the circular economy as yet another manifestation of ecological modernisation, whereby technological change and appropriate environmental management techniques are deemed sufficient to address global environmental concerns. Thus “little has been said about the socio-political implications and possibilities for shifting current production-consumption-use-waste practices” (Hobson, 2016: 89), nor about the realities of the “messy world” of the circular economy beyond the ‘perfect circles’ of materials and waste envisaged by policy makers (Gregson et al., 2015). As with its predecessor concepts of industrial ecology and industrial symbiosis, the reality of implementation may be a long way from the neat conceptualisations envisaged in the world of policy documents and websites. Moreover, individual product and material cycles cannot be understood in isolation, but need to be viewed as part of a wider system influenced by both the individual elements at work and the context in which they operate. Life cycle thinking and systems thinking can provide a useful entry point into understanding these contexts in order to comprehend the way in which individual elements can impact upon evolution and promotion of a circular economy. The aim of this session is to bring together researchers approaching the concept of a circular economy from a wide range of perspectives in order to further understanding of the barriers to and implications of implementation. We invite a wide range of contributions from those concerned with, and researching into, the circular economy, the green economy, systems analysis, life cycle analysis, degrowth and alternative economy scenarios. We would welcome contributions addressing related issues including, but not limited to, following questions:
- What are the barriers to developing a circular economy beyond the dominant focus on the technological aspects of resource and material flow management? In particular, what are the institutional and regulatory barriers to change?
- What are the alternatives to a circular economy policy that focuses on improving technical efficiency without questioning current business and economic growth models? Are there alternative circular economy practices that align with other conceptualisations of production and growth, such as degrowth?
- What shifts in routines and practices are required to develop a circular economy and how can these be conceptualised? For example, how do various business and policy actors change their routines? Can we see the development of ‘communities of practice’ around circular economy initiatives?
- What are the broader socio-political implications of a circular economy agenda? Which forms of governance can encourage or facilitate the circular economy? What is the role of individuals and regulatory structures?
- The circular economy envisages the world as a set of interwoven systems, but how does a systems approach alter our perspective view of the economy and how do changes in one part of the system impact upon other areas?
- How can methodologies such as life cycle sustainability assessment be used most effectively to communicate the benefits and impacts of the circular economy to all sectors of society including decision and policy makers?
Please submit an abstract of no more than 250 words for consideration for inclusion in the session by October 7th via email to Helen Baxter (firstname.lastname@example.org), David Gibbs (email@example.com) or Pauline Deutz (firstname.lastname@example.org). Participants will be notified by October 17th if their paper has been accepted and will then need to register for the conference and provide their PIN to the organisers by October 24th in order to be included in the panel.
Written by Prof. David Gibbs, Dr Pauline Deutz and Dr Helen Baxter, University of Hull.