People at the center of the Circle

Everyone talks about the Circular Economy nowadays. Business fairs, academic events, and symposiums including speakers on the topic abound and not only in Europe, they have come to 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 their voices regarding this, 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 specifically talk about the Circular Economy, highlights very interesting elements regarding labour and ethics and how people end up providing free labour to companies and even paying for it.

This last example illustrates how relevant thinking of the role of people in new systems. Recent literature on the Circular Economy does not explore the topic of people understood not just as consumers but as citizens, performers of activities, as decision-makers, it focuses on companies and institutions and 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, at all dimensions, including all stakeholders, at all scales, that can’t be missed.

Such innovation includes transforming how we make things, but also reconsidering 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 the need to satisfy material needs. To do so, we have to integrate perspectives of the social sciences in the construction of an integrative alternative, we have to extend the knowledge and understanding of individuals and communities.

This understanding will help companies re-think their value creation process to meet their needs, people’s needs and nature needs.