I recently ran a workshop for students at Leeds Beckett University — an Introduction To The Circular Economy.
As I’ve explained in previous posts, (including this one on ownership models in the circular economy, and this one on movement building,) I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading and thinking on the circular economy and other related concepts over the last few months.
You can hopefully get a sense of what we explored in the workshop from the slides I’ve shared above.
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In putting the workshop together, I was keen to keep a practical, community focus. Most of the students on the course are either involved — or want to become involved — in social projects in their community. Whilst it was important that we explored the circular economy at a conceptual level, I wanted to spend a good amount of time applying some of the thinking to daily reality.
What does the circular economy mean in my community? What could it mean for the organisation that I run?
I like the concept of the circular economy — and I think looking at all the problems that are inherent in our traditional linear economy is really valuable.
And it seemed even more relevant this week given everything that is going on in the world, from the invasion of Ukraine to ever-increasing energy prices. The extractive, degenerative economy, based on cheap fossil fuels, has to end.
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Putting the workshop together also helped me to reflect on some of the issues I have with how the circular economy is often explored as a concept.
It seems to me that the primary focus for circular economy thinking is around big business. This has probably been driven in large part by the excellent work of the Ellen Macarthur Foundation — who clearly focus primarily on how big businesses, in sectors such as fashion — can adopt more circular business practices.
And that focus is incredibly valuable — as acting at that scale, with global brands, can achieve impacts at a scale and pace that we need as we try to respond to the Climate Emergency.
Yet I think that we also need a greater focus on what the circular economy means at a more local level. At a community level. For cities, small businesses, neighbours.
That’s the stuff that really interests me — and it relates to what I wrote about here about movement building.
We have to make a more circular, regenerative economy more relevant to people’s lives. It has to make a tangible difference to people. Make their lives better. And for that to happen, they have to play a part in making it happen.
So this is why, in our workshop, we explored four levels at which action needs to take place.
What can you do as an individual? What can we do together as a community? What can businesses do? And what can local and national governments do?
I’d argue that there’s often not enough focus in discussions about the circular economy on themes around social justice. And this is why Doughnut Economics is so interesting — with its focus on meeting our human needs — whilst living within planetary boundaries.
Both, obviously, matter, and there’s no future in exploring one without the other.
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I enjoyed the workshop, and I was heartened by how deeply the students are engaging with some of the big issues they are exploring through their course.
Naturally, running workshops and seminars is something we are keen to do more of — so if you would be interested in our social enterprise working with you to explore themes around the circular economy, please get in touch.