A Circular Economy: Where Will It Take Us?
Jim Hart & Francesco Pomponi
Circular Economy and Sustainability
9 March 2021
The avalanche of environmental challenges, from local to global and back, has prompted responses at all levels from personal to inter-governmental. The results of these responses have fallen in the range between useful and counterproductive, with many examples on each side, but the scale of the overall challenge continues to escalate. Moving towards a zero-carbon global economy through absolute reductions in fossil fuel usage is a sure way of mitigating climate change, and a range of environmental, social and economic benefits would follow. The case for a Circular Economy (CE), however, is less clear. Whilst some CE initiatives may lead to the decoupling of economic growth from resource extraction, this does not necessarily equate to reducing the rate of extraction. Thus, the contribution of CE to the achievement of environmental objectives globally cannot be taken for granted. In terms of social impact, the best that can be said is that CE might be neutral. Technologies that promote the ‘sharing economy’ for instance, often suggested as a crucial CE strategy, create opportunities for individual wealth accumulation, but are also a route to the gig economy and the casualisation of labour. CE is arguably a business imperative, but definitive evidence to support the idea of a circular economy that meets social and environmental goals needs development.