People at the center of the Circle

Everyone is talking about the Circular Economy. Business fairs, academic events, and symposiums on the topic abound, not only in Europe, but also in the developing world. And this is good, the idea of a different economic system needs to be spread everywhere. However, what is being presented is a partial elaboration of what the Circular Economy is. A few authors have been raising this issue. For example, Kersty Hobson and Nicholas Lynch wrote an article questioning the radicalness of the concept. Kathryn Wheeler, and Miriam Glucksmann wrote another article that, although doesn't talk about the Circular Economy, it highlights very interesting elements regarding labour and ethics and how people end up providing free labour to companies and even paying for it in the new 'DIY' and so-called sharing economies.

This last example illustrates how relevant it is to consider the role of people, community and society in new systems. Recent literature on the Circular Economy does not explore such topic, it mainly focuses on companies and institutions and people. A few publications have raised the issue but only addressing people as complacent customers.

If the Circular Economy wants to challenge how we make things, it must open a space to reconsider how people participate and define the economic system. It is a great opportunity to innovate at the system level, in all dimensions of the economic system, including all stakeholders, at all scales that can't be missed.

Such innovation includes transforming how we make things, but also how people participate and define the economic system. For example, although the main driver of companies is profit and the Circular Economy should provide that, for people, it has been proven that materiality does not make the trick by its own. The question then is how can the Circular Economy generate profit for companies, while providing people with the means to satisfy material and non-material needs, individual and collective and at the same time decouple it from material use and environmental impact.

To answer that question, people as me, working on the Circular Economy need to understand better how circularity could be relevant for people in a broad sense, beyond consumption. To do so, we have to integrate perspectives of the social sciences in the construction of an alternative answer, we have to extend the knowledge and understanding of what individuals and communities want, how do they fulfill such desires and needs and how can we better approach these through circular solutions. This understanding will help companies and policy makers better design their business models and policies to support the transition.