April 03, 2020

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2012 in Retrospect: Are We ‘Chasing Our Own Tail’ On The Circular Economy?

Despite sector growth that bucks the recession trend, not only is the green economy uncompetitive when pitched against the brown economy, it is not a serious enough rival to other green issues such as street litter.


Editor's Note: It's that time of the year again and we're ready to wrap up 2012. Like last year, we've assembled an impressive lineup of thought leaders and experts who will examine the year that was, guide us on what might be ahead and offer their advice on how our business, social and environmental consciousness continues to converge. They will spotlight achievements, highlight trends and activate the change makers among us in our end of the year CSR & Sustainability 2012 series. Consider this series a call to action.

Today's editorial is by Philip Monaghan, founder & CEO of Infrangilis and a writer and strategist in the fields of economic development and environmental sustainability.


Wow. What a seminal year for CSR and sustainable development it has been, for bad and good.

The corporate scandals came thick and fast – ranging from News Corporation hacking the phones of victims of serious crimes to a manipulation of market interest rates by Barclays at a time of tax-payer funded bank bailouts. Political power brokers continued to fail to strike a deal when the world needed them most – with the earlier disappointment of Rio+20 in Rio de Janeiro being followed by them kicking the can down the road once more at COP18 in Doha.

But some ‘big ticket’ initiatives continued to gain momentum.

One notable campaign is for the business community to step up and fill a leadership void by supporting the switch to a Circular Economy in order to reverse unviable patterns of consumption, organized by the Aldersgate Group and Ellen Macarthur Foundation. Another is the ongoing promotion of the Smart Cities concept by organizations like The Climate Group and LSE Cities to ensure an age of rapid urbanisation is sustainable. Both have a common thread in their focus on stronger resource efficiency being able to save the day.

But will we look back again in 12 months and curse another missed opportunity? In short, are we chasing our own tail when it comes to solutions such as the circular economy?

For The Common Man, Climate Protection is Not a Priority

The cold hard truth is that, despite sector growth that bucks the recession trend, not only is the green circular economyeconomy uncompetitive when pitched against the (heavily subsidised) brown economy, it is not a serious enough rival to other green issues such as street litter. How so?

Because at the end of the day, there is a marked difference between what is important and what is a priority. Yes, adapting to extreme weather or tackling food supply shortages at some point in the near or distant future is important. But it is not as important as paying your mortgage or ensuring your kids go to the best school and have a better life than yourself. In fact, for many, climate adaptation tomorrow is not as important as a clean street is today. 

So what has this got to do with the circular economy and smart cities?

Their well-intentioned focus on stronger resource efficiency may be seriously misplaced. Yes, avoiding industrial waste through closed loop product engineering or reducing energy demand through smart grid infrastructure makes best use of scarce resources.

But so what?

Saving money, process innovations or boosting resource security should not be confused as the end goal. These are all important, but only as pathways to the real priority outcome: creating more desirable livelihoods.

To succeed, these campaigns need to make the connection between stronger resource efficiency, quality housing and sanitation in slums, creating job opportunities for the unemployed youth, and boosting neighbourhoods’ capacity for self help.

A Circular Economy Connects The Dots 

When we can successfully link the circular economy and smart city concepts to close to home issues like these, only then can we rewire our currently flawed economic framework and construct a new, resilient model.

For CSR and sustainability practitioners in 2013, this means being able to see the synergies and navigate the connections between the circular economy, sustainable urbanisation and the practical needs and hopes and dreams of everyday people. Failing to do so means these great ideas will go the same way as the Sinclair C5 car or the Betamax video recorder – relics we point at and laugh about in the museum.

Old-fashioned, they'll say.


Read the rest of our series: 2012 in Retrospect: CSR and Sustainability News, Views & Trends

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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