The Circular Industrial Economy in a nutshell - ‘The Circular Economy – a user’s guide

Guest Blog by: by Walter R. Stahel is the Founder-Director of the Product-Life Institute (Switzerland), the oldest established consultancy in Europe devoted to developing sustainable strategies and policies. He is Visiting Professor in the Department of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Surrey, and a full member of the Club of Rome. He was awarded degrees of Doctor honoris causa by the University of Surrey (2013) and l’Université de Montréal (2016).

Circularity is how Nature works, and a Circular Economy is as old as humankind. But in the beginning it was a barter economy and circular sharing society driven by necessity, and characterised by a scarcity of shelter, food, materials and objects. This situation is still dominant in some world regions and regularly resurfaces after major disasters.
The industrial revolution enabled society to overcome scarcity by producing objects made of wool, timber, stone, leather and few metals. These did not become ‘waste’ because they had a re-use value or were compatible with Nature’s circularity.
A break point was reached in the mid-20th century with the invention of synthetic (man-made) materials, such as plastics, agrochemicals, pharmaceuticals and metal alloys. Manufactured products embodying these new materials are long-lived and, together with industrial mass production, lead to a society of abundance. Policymakers overlooked the importance to close the liability loop for these new substances; waste has no more re-use value and is no longer food for Nature: witness plastic in the oceans.
A Circular Economy in a society of abundance is driven by motivation and legislation, not necessity. Municipalities became waste managers by default as the final phase of the linear industrial economy. But if used manufactured objects and materials have no value for man or Nature, then only returning them to their producers creates a circular industrial economy, where waste prevention is in the interest of all.
The Circular Industrial Economy is about economics, innovation and liability! Municipalities should not have to pay for the end-of-pipe waste created by profit-making industrial producers. My new book is about this Circular Industrial Economy of manufactured objects and materials and identifies six major challenges and solutions:

  1. CARING: motivate owner-users of objects to enjoy the use and take care of their assets and belongings as long as possible, through reuse and repair. 
  2. Technical innovation into processes and technologies to recover the atoms and molecules of the synthetic legacy waste of the Anthropocene through de-bonding processes to retain the highest economic value, 
  3. Policy innovation to extend the Producer Liability for used objects without value nor liable owner, return to producer. 
  4. Spreading the technical and economic knowledge of the Circular Industrial Economy and its societal benefits to all classrooms, boardrooms, parliaments.
  5. DARING: promote scientific innovation into novel materials, components and systems solutions, such as a circular chemistry and circular metallurgy of re-useable molecules, to strengthen the Circular Industrial Economy. 
  6. SHARING: a Performance Economy selling performance, and goods as a service, demands a stewardship by producers and users – no sharing without caring.

Tackling the six challenges presented in the book is a holistic task as they should be tackled simultaneously. This needs political vision and action combined with entrepreneurship and systems thinking in Science and industry, breaking up today’s silos. 

The Circular Economy: A Users Guide is available from here.
Chapters on the book are:

  1. Circularity, Sustainability and Labour in the Circular Economy 
  2. The Circular Industrial Economy: New Opportunities in Changing from Producing Objects to Producing Services 
  3. The Loop of Stocks of Physical Objects: The Era of ‘R’ 
  4. The Loop of Stocks of Materials: The Era of ‘D’ 
  5. The Significance of the Point of Sale or Factory Gate 
  6. The Invisible Liability Loop and the Role of Policy 
  7. The Performance Economy 
  8. Radical Innovation: Injecting Innovative Ideas, Systems, Components and Materials into the Stocks 
  9. The Circular Economy: Roots, Context and Outlook


Reviews
"There are no limits to stupidity. This is the only way to explain the utterly wasteful economy we live in. If the world had had the courage to listen to Walter Stahel long ago, the linear production model would long be gone in favour of circular material flows. His most recent book is a wonderful introduction into the Performance Economy and an economy in the service of life."

Anders Wijkman, Chairman Climate-KIC and Honorary President of the Club of Rome.

"Walter, one of the 'fathers' of the circular economy concept, makes crystal-clear that we need a cultural shift, moving us from ownership to stewardship. This book will serve students as much as decision makers to understand the CIE concepts, its mode of operations based on nodes of industrial relations and its advantages for society."

Nathalie VERCRUYSSE, Scientific Officer for Foresight, European Commission, DG Research & Innovation.

"Lots of questions concerning circular economy need more convincing answers. But one thing is certain - when a book is written by Walter and edited by Ellen McArthur Foundation, it is a must-read. Walter was a pioneer with a vision well ahead of the rest of us, and who understood the importance of the concept and introduced it into the world of policy making."

Janez Potocnik, European Commissioner for Science & Research (2004-2010); European Commissioner for Environment (2010-2014) in charge of preparing the EU Circular Economy Package. Since Co-Chair of the UN International Resource Panel (IRP).

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