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Transforming Business Models: Towards a Sufficiency-based Circular Economy

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Abstract

Business model innovation for a circular economy has become core to contemporary sustainability research and practice, but does it go far enough? While circular economy initiatives have closed and narrowed resource loops to some extent, overall consumption continues to rise offsetting much of the benefits. A further paradigm shift is necessary, going beyond existing solutions, towards a broader societal-wide approach to deliver a sufficiency-based circular economy. That is, a society where excessive levels of consumption (and production) are curtailed at their root cause to better satisfy the health and wellbeing needs of the individual consumer, broader society and global environment. We present sufficiency examples in the food and clothing sector and explore how such approaches can augment existing circular economy solutions. We present a framework to better understand how industry, society and policymakers might collaborate more effectively in designing and implementing long-term initiatives for moving towards a sufficiency-based circular economy.
1
Transforming Business Models: Towards a Sufficiency-based
Circular Economy
Nancy M.P. Bocken a, b, c* and Samuel W. Short d
a Lund University, IIIEE, Tegnérsplatsen 4, 223 50 Lund, Sweden, *nancy.bocken@iiiee.lu.se
b Delft University of Technology, Industrial Design Engineering, Delft, Netherlands.
c Visiting professor, Lappeenranta University of Technology, School of Business and Management
d Independent consultant and sustainability entrepreneur, sws1001@cam.ac.uk
<a> Introduction
We live in a world that champions consumerism, innovation and novelty to drive endless
economic growth. Life-spans of consumer goods lessen (Bakker et al., 2014; Ellen
MacArthur Foundation, 2018) because of, and despite, rapid advances in technologies
and capabilities. While companies might contribute to societal benefits few companies
question the spur for consumption. At the same time, governments and society encourage
growth to create wealth, employment, and generate tax revenues to support public
services and infrastructure investments. This focus on economic growth has led to a short-
term perspective with scant regard to the environment and long-term human wellbeing.
While there are promising exceptions—for example, Unilever stopping quarterly
reporting as part of its long-term sustainability goals (Bhattacharya & Polman, 2017) and
Patagonia experimenting with ‘zero growth’ (Chouinard & Stanley, 2013)—more work
needs to be done to challenge short-termism.
The ‘circular economy’ has been heralded as a driver for environmental gains through
encouraging the slowing, closing and narrowing of resource loops (Bocken et al., 2016;
Geissdoerfer et al., 2017). The question is whether the circular economy can mitigate
resource use and climate change to the extent that is needed (Zink & Geyer, 2017).
Scientists highlight the serious consequences of the path modern society has followed:
climate change, wildlife and biodiversity losses (IPCC, 2018), increasing waste streams
and extensive plastic waste pollution (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2016), inequalities
and rising economic migration (Royal Society, 2012), and an obesity epidemic while
others remain malnourished (Caballero, 2005). This suggests a need to move from a
consumption-orientated society towards a society based, not only on circular economy,
but on ‘sufficiency’, or in other words, a transition to a society where we manage with (in
some cases much) less. In a sufficiency-based society, everyone has enough for a good
life, but without the unnecessary excesses of the modern developed world
1
. Such a
transition represents a global mind-set shift towards a focus on health and well-being
rather than monetary outcomes; equality and fairness across society and environment; an
intergenerational perspective rather than short-termism; and perhaps most importantly, a
collective sense of commitment and responsibility. Awareness of the need for change is
1
Thailand has made ‘sufficiency’ part of its national development plans, See
https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/memberstates/thailand and
https://www.bangkokpost.com/news/general/1557462/20-year-national-strategy-comes-into-effect
2
increasing, but while global challenges are becoming increasingly pressing (IPCC, 2018),
shifting direction is far from easy, and requires change at all levels in society (Kemp et
al., 1998). While more conventional approaches to sustainability, such as efficiency and
productivity improvements may be largely firm-centric innovations, circular economy
and sufficiency initiatives by their nature demand a broader system-level approach, and
the participation and cooperation of actors across government, industry and civil society.
This chapter explores the topic of sufficiency and discusses how a multi-actor perspective
focusing on the interactions between actors (Fischer & Newig, 2016) might assist in
developing and implementing sufficiency-orientated business models. A review of the
literature and analysis of positive examples of sufficiency practices already undertaken
in the food and clothing sectors is presented, and this is then used to develop and discuss
a framework to gain a better understanding of sufficiency transitions. The chapter
concludes with discussion of some limitations with the framework at present, and
recommendations for future research to progress this field of research.
<a> What is sufficiency?
Sufficiency, in this chapter’s context, refers to the idea of having enough for a healthy
meaningful life, but without excess (Alexander, 2012). This is perhaps most easily
articulated with respect to food. A ‘sufficient’ diet or food intake is one that provides
adequate nutrition for a healthy and active life and minimises the potential for illness and
diseases. Evidence of exceeding a sufficient diet (i.e., consuming too much) can be seen
in the growing percentage of adults who are now overweight or obese (Caballero, 2005),
and in the numerous articles now making the link between environmental impact and diet
(e.g., Tilman & Clark, 2014). Equally, the effects of under-consumption and malnutrition
are clear.
Excessive consumerism is seen across the developed world from food, fast fashion
clothing (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2018; Jackson, 2009), to overly large cars and
homes, and extensive travelling (e.g. IATA, 2017). At the same time, in developing
nations, the problems of sufficiency are often reversed where populations suffer from
under-consumption and lack of access to basic needs. Despite awareness of the problems,
defining, agreeing and achieving sufficiency targets for major impact consumer
categories such as food, housing, clothing, transportation, and vacations (Druckman &
Jackson, 2010) is far from straightforward. Nonetheless, despite the challenges, a
sufficiency approach seems essential in moving towards a sustainable society, and
therefore a better understanding of how sufficiency can be integrated and implemented is
urgently required.
<a> Sufficiency and the Circular Economy
The circular economy (CE) seeks to enhance resource efficiency and reduce waste
through closed loop industrial systems that make use of recycling and reuse to keep
resources in play for as long as possible (Bocken et al., 2016; Geissdoerfer et al., 2017).
Manufacturers have sought to enhance efficiency and productivity since the earliest days
of industrial activity, but CE extended this focus beyond the individual firm or supply-
chain to bring a through-life perspective encompassing resource use, manufacturing,
consumption and disposal (Tukker, 2015). However, the CE does not automatically lead
to a complete solution to the problems of unsustainable consumption. Allwood (2014)
3
observes that closed-loop models cannot always be applied, e.g. some materials such as
cement cannot be recycled; while others degrade with recycling, and the economic costs
and energy demand of collection and recycling may outweigh the benefits. Moreover, in
a world of growing populations, rising living standards and increasing consumer
expectations, the demand for virgin materials outstrips availability of recyclable materials
(Allwood, 2014).
The CE literature has expanded exponentially over the past decade to now embrace a
wide range of sustainability initiatives (Geissdoerfer et al., 2017). Closed-loop recycling-
based business models are increasingly augmented with design for longevity, repair and
reuse, product service systems, and shared economy initiatives that seek to optimise use
of existing resources and assets (Tukker, 2015). Some of these CE initiatives, depending
on application, can already be considered good sufficiency initiatives - enabling
consumers and society to make do with less.
The literature suggests a series of paradigm shifts in industrial sustainability from initial
lean manufacturing, efficiency and productivity in the 1980s, through clean and green
production in the late 1990s, to today’s closed-loop circular economy initiatives (see e.g.
Blomsma & Brennan, 2017). Beyond CE, we propose the new paradigm of sufficiency is
now emerging and gaining relevance as shown in Figure 1. Each paradigm builds on its
predecessors to deliver more comprehensive and stronger sustainability outcomes, driven
in part by economic considerations, and increasingly by environmental and social
considerations.
4
Figure 1. Paradigm Progression in Industrial Sustainability
All four paradigms involve some degree of sufficiency, such as using less materials and
less labour and reusing waste materials. However, while the earlier paradigms could be
characterized as Making and doing more with less”, the sufficiency paradigm offers a
very different approach seeking to “Make do with less”. Using disposable plastic
packaging as an example to illustrate the difference in approach, a CE approach might
ask: “How can the waste stream of plastic packaging be recycled or reused to reduce
demand for new material and reduce waste to landfill and plastic environmental
pollution?”. In contrast, the sufficiency-orientated approach would ask: “How can we
reduce (and ultimately eliminate) the need and demand for disposable plastic packaging
altogether?”.
This distinction is important because, although the earlier paradigms have delivered
important benefits, they often lead to rebound effects that negate the sustainability
benefits they offer (Zink & Geyer, 2017). For example, efficiency improvements have
enabled increasingly cheaper production and products, which has vastly increased supply,
accessibility and demand. Moreover, the focus on recycling may move attention away
from more impactful issues, such as reducing the total number of products bought, living
car free and not flying, limiting meat intake, and even having fewer children (Wynes &
Nicholas, 2017; Stern & Wolske, 2017).
Figure 1. Paradigm Progression in Industrial Sustainability
Lean Manufacturing
Paradigm 1
(Products and
processes efficiency
focus)
Efficiency and
productivity
improvements
Waste reduction
Lean supply-chains
Clean/Green Production
Paradigm 2
(Products & processes
environmental focus)
Emissions and
pollution reduction
Green technologies
and Renewables
Green supply-chains
Circular Economy
Paradigm 3
(Product full llfe-cycle
focus on reusing
materials and waste)
Eliminate waste
through Reuse,
Repair,
Remanufacture,
Repurpose and
Recycle
Design for recycling
End-of-life producer
responsibility
Closed-loop business
models
Industrial Symbiosis
Sufficiency
Paradigm 4
Emerging
(Societal-wide focus
on consumption
reduction)
Health and wellbeing
focus
Extended product
life/ellimination of
planned obsolescence
Asset usage
optimisation (sharing
economy, product
service systems)
Choice Editing
5
The sufficiency paradigm goes further, seeking to offer a much broader societal-wide
approach to reduce absolute consumption per person and by society. This approach builds
on the earlier paradigms, but focuses on how to reduce consumption (and production) and
encourage societal behavioural changes to deliver the needed transition. Rather than
relying primarily on technology, product and process innovations, the sufficiency
paradigm will require greater policy interventions, education, civil society actions, and
new business models to reshape industry and society to tackle the root causes of
unsustainability.
<a> A broader perspective on Sufficiency
Business model innovation has received significant attention as a possible pathway to
enhanced sustainability outcomes. Sustainable Business Models (SBMs) are prevalent in
sustainability literature, and tools such as the business model canvas (Osterwalder &
Pigneur, 2010) are widely used by practitioners in designing new business models. Some
firms have designed and implemented business models (BMs) to drive a sufficiency
initiative (Wells, 2018). However, importantly, the BM concept lacks a broader systems
and transitions perspective: while transitions researchers may gain from understanding
BMs as inertia or enablers in sustainability transitions, business model researchers may
benefit from understanding the different actors and levels of change needed to scale up
(Sarasini & Linder, 2018). BMs are largely the remit of firms and their investors, but
transitions research suggests that societal transitions involve a much broader range of
stakeholders such as governments, academia, civil society, and consumers, and the
interactions between these groups to assist in designing and implementing the needed
innovations to deliver a paradigm shift (e.g., Kemp et al., 1998). Industry may play a key
part in formulating a transition plan (e.g. shaping Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable
Development Goals; Scheyvens et al., 2016). However, the transition may equally be
initiated elsewhere by other stakeholders. The interaction between business and other
actors may become a catalyst for industrial change, new technologies and innovative new
BMs. The transitions literature is conceptually diverse, but has discussed the role of
different actors (e.g. Fischer & Newig, 2016) in a CE context (Kirchherr et al., 2017;
Ghisselini et al., 2016).
<a> Method
To build a comprehensive view of sufficiency initiatives a series of examples are
assessed to understand the types of relationships and interactions between actors, and
the conditions enabling transitions towards sufficiency. In this chapter we use a
categorization of three simple clusters of actors for our analysis of the implementation
and scaling of these sufficiency initiatives: (i) government – policymakers; (ii) market –
firms and entrepreneurs; and (iii) civil society – the public, activists, etc (as described in
Fischer & Newig, 2016).
The food and clothing industry are analysed from a range of resources including press
articles and personal experience. The food industry was selected for this initial work as
sufficiency is conceptually easy to grasp, because the negative effects of under and over-
consumption are readily apparent. Moreover, food supply is arguably the most pressing
area of concern for humanity, and consequently sufficiency interventions are already
reasonably prevalent. Pressures for sufficiency in other sectors are different and hence
drivers for change and mechanisms for achieving a transition may also be different. The
6
addition of the clothing industry seeks to offer balance to the analysis, and is selected
because it is seen as one of the most polluting industries with often exploitive supply-
chains, and, it has experienced unprecedented growth in sales coupled with significantly
reduced wears per item before being disposed (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2016). This
has led to various industry and individual initiatives that could contribute to greater levels
of sufficiency. These examples are used to develop a conceptual framework. Through
brainstorming and consideration of other industry sectors the language for the framework
is generalised to ensure broader relevance to all sectors rather than being food and
clothing industry specific.
<a> Results
Table 1 presents a range of sufficiency initiatives identified in the food sector, and Table
2 presents initiatives in the clothing sector. The examples have been selected to illustrate
the range and scope of approaches to sufficiency. The tables identify the primary actors
involved in initiating the innovation, categorized by Government, Market, and Civil
Society. Interactions between actors are identified, along with the sufficiency outcomes,
and BM implications. Examples where the business model builds upon a CE approach to
deliver sufficiency are highlighted with (CE).
<b> Sufficiency in the food industry
Table 1. Examples of sufficiency initiatives in the food sector.
(Note. BM refers to the business model, CE indicates a Circular Economy approach)
Example
Actors
Interactions
‘Loop’ initiative
by Terracycle 2
aimed at large
scale change
towards reusable
packaging
Market
Terracycle
engaging other
actors
Reusable food
container initiative
Terracycle
involving
manufacturers and
retailers and
engaging
consumers
Reusable
containers for
buying loose food
products and
‘plastic free
aisles’
Civil Society and
Market -
Grassroots
movement and
small retail
entrepreneurs
Engaging
consumers and
changing their
behaviours towards
single-use food
packaging
War on waste
Market - Media
Citizens and value
chains
Supermarkets
selling or using up
‘ugly’ vegetables
Market -
Supermarket in
France4, followed
Supermarkets,
citizens and media
2
Company Terracycle launching reuse initative for packaging. See: https://www.terracycle.com/en-US/pages/closed-
loop-solutions
3
Australian example on War on Waste episode on disposable cups: Sales of reusable coffee cups are up 78% - cafes
are offering discounted coffee if you bring your own “keep cup”.https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-
radio/2017/dec/03/war-on-waste-new-episode-peels-away-at-food-extravagance
4
See e.g.: https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/07/18/inglorious-fruits-and-veg_n_5598994.html
7
Example
Actors
Interactions
for soups or
discounting
by other examples
globally
Donation of
unsold food to
foodbanks
Civil society
groups targeting
social inequalities
Pressure on retailers
and hospitality in
collaboration with
charities
Revised food
labelling
guidelines
Civil society -
consumer action
groups targeting
health and waste
Pressure on
Industry and
policymakers to
implement new
standards
¨5 fruit and veg
per day¨
campaign
Government -
intervention based
on WHO report
Promotion through
media, education,
and healthcare
Sugar tax on soft
drinks
Government -
health chief,
government
intervention over
obesity costs
Taxation strongly
resisted by industry
and consumers
Advertising
restrictions
targeting children
Government -
policy,
Healthcare
profession
Restrictions on
media and industry
on advertising to
children
Altering the
corporate business
model for society5
like Ben & Jerry’s
climate justice
campaigns6
Market -
Business
community
offering
alternative
approach
Regions + countries
adopting benefit
corporation;
companies
following example
Slow food
Civil society
Promoting better
quality, local food
and quality over
quantity
Specialty,
premium foods
Market -
Business, like
Union coffee,
moving away
from commodities
Direct, close, long-
term connection
with suppliers,
offering quality
Health foods
Market - Industry
response to
changing societal
attitudes to
health/fitness
Promoted to
consumers through
ads and celebrity
endorsements
Fairtrade to tackle
supply-chain
exploitation
Civil society
entrepreneurs
Fairtrade
organisation works
with industry and
consumers
5
Benefit corporations; companies like Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s restructuring as benefit corporations
6
See: https://bcorporation.net/directory/ben-and-jerrys
7
Union coffee example: https://www.unionroasted.com/union_direct_trade.html
‘The farmer receives a fair, sustainable price. Always above minimum Fairtrade price, in 2017 on average over 50
per cent above’
8
Example
Actors
Interactions
Reduced
chocolate bar
sizes
Market - Industry
driven by
economic
pressures
Changes introduced
by stealth to
consumers
Choice Editing
Market -
Retailers shifting
attitudes to
corporate
responsibility
Eliminating
products that are
particularly poor
quality or
inherently
unsustainable from
stores
School Meals and
Nutrition
Education
Market -
Celebrity chef
campaign against
child obesity
Interaction with
policymakers to
influence education
policy
Master-chef TV
Market -Media
content providers
Media influence on
society promoting
cooking
Organic Foods
Civil Society -
Grassroots
movement against
industrial farming
Evolving from local
farmers markets to
grocery chains
organic labelling
Changes to in-
store product
placement (e.g.
healthy products,
vegetarian
options)
Civil Society -
Consumer action
groups
Government nudge
policies.
Voluntarily
undertaken by
supermarkets
<b> Sufficiency in the clothing industry
Table 2. Examples of sufficiency initiatives in the clothing sector
(Note. BM refers to the business model, CE indicates a Circular Economy approach)
Example
Actors
Interactions
Clothing
collection
schemes initiated
by business
Market -
Businesses like
M&S with Oxfam
and H&M (own
scheme)
collecting clothes
for reuse and
recycling
Pressure on other
business to start
similar initiatives,
and customer
awareness
Second hand in
branded stores
(e.g. Patagonia,
Fillipa K)
Market -
Branded clothing
(often premium)
in collaboration
with consumers
Pressure on other
business, generating
consumer
awareness
Clothing
collection
schemes
Civil society -
NGOs and
municipalities
Municipal pressure
to reduce waste to
landfill
9
Example
Actors
Interactions
concerned about
waste
Make, Not Buy
Civil society -
Greenpeace with
business around
Black Friday
Climate NGOs
interacting with
business and other
NGOs
Business
promoting
product longevity
and Buy better,
buy less9
Market -
business targeting
waste reduction,
counteracting fast
fashion10
Pressure on other
businesses,
generating
consumer
awareness
Business offering
long-life
warranties, on
products like
socks, backpacks
and outdoor gear11
Market -
Business
promoting quality
over quantity
Unique proposition
that may be
followed by others
Second hand
markets (flea
markets, eBay,
vintage)
Market - Market
makers seeing
value in second
(3rd, 4th etc) life
goods
Alternative to fast
fashion model;
value of vintage
Individual
initiatives to
boycott, or not
buy
Civil society -
Individuals with
environmental
concern13
Supported by
NGOs, wider
society
Warm Sweater
Day15 - Global
initiative to
campaign for
action against
climate change16
Civil society
engaging
individuals and
the market
Companies and
universities
engaging with the
initiative
Reframing the
corporate vision,
priorities and
business model
for environment
and society17
Market -
Business
community led
offering
alternative
approach
Regions and
countries adopting
B-Corp model;
Companies
following example
8
e.g. MUD Jeans ‘lease a jeans’, and take-back and discount system; companies charging premium
9
Birkenstock proud to show 2003 Birkenstock slippers in advert, MUD Jeans Slow living campaign, Ecoalf
boycotting Black Friday to promote recycling and repairs
10
See E.g. Wrangler’s messaging on Buy better, buy less:
https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2019/jun/05/wranglers-new-denim-process-eliminates-water-waste-
dye?CMP=share_btn_link
11
See e.g.: https://www.thepennyhoarder.com/deals/companies-with-lifetime-warranties/
12
Latter two being clothing specific
13
Example of an individual blog: https://www.greenpeace.org/international/story/6918/could-you-go-a-year-without-
buying-new-clothes/
14
See e.g.: http://lifeofavegetariangirl.blogspot.com/2012/02/capsule-wardrobe.html
15
See e.g. https://nltimes.nl/2018/02/02/turn-heat-netherlands-warm-sweater-day
16
See e.g. http://www.erikaknight.co.uk/warm-sweater-day-warme-truien-dag/
17
Companies like Ninety-percent donating most profits to good causes
10
Example
Actors
Interactions
Honesty and
transparency,
Puma
Environmental
P&L
Market -
Business seeking
to identify the true
impact of
business
Creating industry,
government and
consumer
awareness, driving
best practice and
new standards
Personal Carbon
Trading
initiatives19.
While mainly
applied to
household energy
use and travel, it
could work for
purchasing goods
like clothing too.
Civil society
Communities and
individuals with
environmental
concern20
Citizens, business
and local
government
<a> Discussion
<b> Proposed framework
Based on the examples in the food and clothing sectors, and applying the three clusters
of actors, Figure 3 presents a comprehensive framework for understanding sufficiency
governance and interventions. The framework illustrates the interactions between the
three groups of actors – Government, Market, and Civil-society, using arrows to
represents the direction of flow of influence or intervention. From the sufficiency
examples examined, there are also interactions between the actors within each cluster of
the framework, and these are represented by loops at each level.
18
See: https://bcorporation.net/directory/patagonia-inc
19
See: Fawcett, T., and Y. Parag. ‘An Introduction to Personal Carbon Trading’. Climate Policy 10, no. 4 (2010):
329338. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.3763/cpol.2010.0649
20
For example, Finnish towns adopting Personal Carbon Trading initiatives, see:
https://www.smartlahti.fi/citicap/
https://www.uia-initiative.eu/en/uia-cities/lahti
11
Figure 2. Framework for sufficiency governance and interventions
The framework offers a structure for better understanding how to go beyond the business
model concept and influence and change the landscape within which businesses operate
to facilitate sufficiency-orientated BMs. The framework is envisaged to serve two main
purposes:
Market Actors
Industry (Producers, Services, Retailers),
Entrepreneurs, Media
Industrial networks,
supply-chains and
partnerships,
Business Models.
Trade-associations,
Corporate governance.
Education, Legislation,
Regulations, Taxation,
Nudge strategies, Public
Health and Welfare Policy.
Public health campaigns,
Environmental initiatives,
Waste management and
recycling policy, Incentive
programmes and investment,
Influence on societal norms
and values.
Government Actors
Governance and Policy Makers,
Professional policy advisory bodies
(Domestic and International Institutions)
Civil-Society Actors
Individuals and Communities,
Activists, Advocacy groups,
Charities and NGOs
Industrial and Infrastructure
policy, Environmental and
Circular Economy policy
(EU), Health and Safety
policy, Public investment
and incentives, Regulations
and certifications, Tax
policy, Legislation.
Products and Services,
Marketing and Promotional
campaigns, Choice-editing,
Influence on societal norms
and values, Initiating new
social trends, Partnerships
with civil society.
Consumer demands and
preferences, emerging social
trends, expectations and
norms, consumer action and
boycotts, community
initiatives.
Lobbying, emerging
technologies, policy
consultation and
development, expert
advisors.
Societal norms,
values and
expectations,
Emerging societal
trends. Lobbying and
popular campaigns
from civil society.
External factors influence all levels and all actors to varying degrees, e.g.:
Environmental pressure (e.g. Climate, biodiversity loss, pollution, waste, resource constraint).
Economic constraints (access to investment funds, supply-chain costs, profitability, etc.)
Multilateral global governance policies (e.g. WHO, EU, UN, IMF, WTO, Climate accords)
Identifying unserved public needs, exploring
alternative lifestyles, individual and collective
initiatives, representation of minorities and
the environment, protest and campaign
Industry standards
and best practices,
Technologies,
processes and
information.
Identifying trends and emerging needs,
balancing competing stakeholder demands,
macroeconomics, overview-perspective
12
1. Mapping, analysing and understanding existing or historical sufficiency
initiatives in any industry sector. Users of the framework would identify the
initiation point(s) and then use the framework as a template for exploring the
evolution of sufficiency initiatives.
2. Design and implementation of new sufficiency initiatives. The framework
provides a structure to consider and experiment with alternative sufficiency
options. It is recommended to undertake a structured approach, exploring
opportunities with each actor at each level, in an iterative process of exploration.
<b> Designing the BM and creating the business case
As the examples presented in this chapter show, there are numerous opportunities for
sufficiency initiatives, albeit mostly niche applications at present and generally rather
small incremental steps to-date. Expanding on previous work by Bocken & Short (2016)
and Bocken (2018), a number of dominant and viable business models for sufficiency
emerge from these examples. These include: Promoting quality over quantity (e.g. using
premium pricing to cover durability, life extension, repair); Focusing on service delivery,
not product sales (e.g. pay per use); Giving products a 2nd (and 3rd, 4th etc..) life; Lower
cost frugal innovations (simple solutions focused on low tech, low resource use); and,
Offering alternative forms of consumption (and making the sustainable alternative more
appealing).
Sufficiency initiatives can sometimes be successfully initiated and driven directly by
industry (by market actors). This is perhaps not entirely intuitive as sufficiency seems to
imply selling less and de-growth (Wells, 2018); however, as illustrated, success is
possible where firms and entrepreneurs are able to identify new and profitable business
opportunities that capitalise on emerging societal trends, innovations, or changes in the
regulatory environment (e.g. Bocken & Short, 2016). Where a sufficiency initiative
creates a competitive advantage, it will displace existing firms and products which is
where the de-growth will occur.
Where the immediate business case is weak or negative, industry and investors may be
unwilling or unable to lead. In these instances, sufficiency requires going beyond the
business model, to enabling (or forcing) industry and consumers to adopt a different path,
for instance through incentives and regulation which make it attractive to do so. Such
initiatives may be driven bottom-up by grass-roots activists, or philanthropic investors,
or top-down by government policy interventions. Media providers can also be powerful
initiators of social change and social media now enables trends and societal norms to
evolve from all parts of society and spread at unprecedented rates.
Many of the sufficiency examples analysed in this chapter, particularly in the clothing
sector, build upon current CE related business models, and so, some may argue that these
are simply part of the CE paradigm. However, analysis suggests that sufficiency-
orientated initiatives are distinct, characterised by a difference in the underpinning
philosophy and objectives. Although some CE initiatives may deliver sufficiency
outcomes, most initiatives need to be specifically conceived and designed to do so, and
even seemingly compelling CE examples may ultimately undermine sufficiency through
failing to tackle the root causes of the problems, through rebound, or other unintended or
unforeseen system-level effects (Zink & Geyer, 2017). Equally, as demonstrated in the
food sector examples, a CE approach is not always necessary at all to deliver sufficiency
13
outcomes. As such, sufficiency offers an important augmentation to CE but it is also
observed to be a distinct paradigm in itself.
<b> Implementation patterns
In the presented cases five implementation patterns recur (Figure 3). The examples in the
clothing sector are predominantly represented by (i) grass-roots or civil-society initiatives
that involve neither the market nor government policymakers, such as peer-to-peer
clothing sharing; and (ii) market initiatives driving or responding directly to consumer
needs (e.g. where a business case can be made without policy intervention). Although
pattern (i) is not so evident in our food sector examples, initiatives such as organic and
local produce started out as peer-to-peer relationships until market actors recognised the
scale up opportunity. Pattern (ii) is also seen in the food sector. However, in contrast to
the clothing sector, the food sector initiatives are predominantly represented by Figure 3
(iii) illustrating policy interventions driven by government, or more frequently (v) where
policy is formed in response to pressure from, or in collaboration with civil society actors.
Figure 3. Interaction loops observed in the sufficiency examples
The difference between the approaches in the food and clothing sectors is quite
pronounced within the presented examples. In part this may be an artefact of the selection
of cases, but it seems reasonable to suppose that there is a real difference reflecting
different dynamics in each of the sectors. In the food sector health and wellbeing are the
primary considerations and the rapidly rising state costs associated with healthcare
Government
Actors
Market
Actors
Civil-Society
Actors
ii. New business and industry
standards initiated by firms and
entrepreneurs, in response to, or in
collaboration with civil society and
consumers
i. Consumer to consumer
initiatives such as peer-to-peer
sharing (possibly organised by
civil society organisations)
iii. Policy intervention initiated
directly by government (and
possibly transnational policies)
iv. Government policy
intervention initiated by or in
collaboration with industry
vi. Business to business
(e.g. supply-chain initiatives)
v. Government policy
intervention initiated by or in
collaboration with civil society
vii. Civil society and industry work
in partnership with policymakers to
drive new regulation, legislation and
other policy interventions
(Framework
from figure 2)
theoretical
patterns)
(i-v patterns observed in the cases)
(vi-vii additional theoretical patterns)
14
provision have shone a spotlight on the effects of dysfunctional consumption.
Consequently, regulation and other policy interventions are more pressing and more
readily accepted. In contrast, the clothing sector does not create the same health and
wellbeing issues in the developed world (albeit there are significant issues in overseas
supply-chains), and this may explain why policy intervention has to-date been limited.
Based on these observations we can hypothesize that there is a timeframe dimension to
be considered along with the maturity and urgency of sufficiency initiatives in the sector
that determine the appropriate approach. To give a couple of examples:
1. A transition from (i) grass-roots initiative, to (ii), entrepreneurial activity, and then
perhaps to (iv) as industry works with policymakers to redefine regulations to give
preferential treatment for their emerging business models, and from there back to
(ii) where industry takes the lead in broader scale-up.
2. Or, local-level community initiative (i), until a critical mass is reached and pushes
policymakers to act to expand the initiative to a national level through policy
intervention to create a functioning marketplace (v), and from there industry can
then engage with consumers directly (ii).
Reviewing the interaction patterns, it is apparent that additional patterns are possible. The
most feasible of these are added as (vi), representing a business to business loop purely
within the market actors – such as a supply-chain sufficiency initiative. Option (vii)
represents all three levels, civil society and market actors working collaboratively in
partnership with government policymakers to drive system change.
<a> Conclusions
In this chapter we have introduced the subject of ‘sufficiency’ in the circular economy
and argue that sufficiency needs to become front and centre in future sustainability
initiatives. Climate change, resource constraints, and social pressure are anticipated to
push society, industry and governments progressively in this direction, and we propose
that sufficiency potentially represents the next major paradigm in industrial sustainability.
There are significant challenges in implementing sufficiency-orientated solutions at scale,
not least push-back from industrial and other vested interests, policy resistance of
consumers, and the fiscal and political ramifications of slowing or shifting current
consumption-based economies. However, there are positive examples, and we have
presented an analysis of successful sufficiency initiatives in the food and clothing sectors
to explore the dynamics, the actors and the interactions to understand how such initiatives
are instigated and propagated. A multi-actor perspective from transitions literature is used
and based on this a framework was proposed. The framework provides insights into the
complexities of implementing the sufficiency paradigm, and the need for a more
comprehensive system-level perspective than earlier industrial paradigms required.
This work is preliminary, based on just two sectors. Future work is needed to expand this
research to explore and refine the applicability to a broader range of sectors. In addition,
practical application of the framework for developing new sufficiency initiatives will be
aided through the building of a comprehensive catalogue of BMs, actions and
mechanisms for change based on historical cases. A potential barrier to sufficiency is the
difficulty in definition and agreement of sufficiency targets. Future research is
15
recommended to explore the needed sufficiency levels in greater depth. The framework
and the suggested catalogue of examples can support practitioners, policy makers, and
civil society organisations in designing and implementing future sufficiency initiatives.
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... 2 In this cover essay, I will use the terms scaling and amplification interchangeably. and the extent to which it is aligned with sufficiency or efficiency (e.g., Hobson and Lynch, 2016;Bocken and Short, 2020;Bauwens, 2021;Rask, 2022). I also intend to engage with this debate. ...
... Hence, at the micro-level, it is not always easy to decide which specific measure should be assigned to which sustainable consumption approach (Fischer and Grießhammer, 2013). Furthermore, there is a growing strand of academic literature that seeks to develop the circular economy approach in a more critical direction to make it compatible with sufficiency and other related perspectives (e.g., McLaren, Niskanen and Anshelm, 2020; Bocken and Short, 2020;Bauwens, 2021;Rask, 2022), further blurring the lines between sufficiency and the circular economy. In Chapter 5, I return to a discussion of how my thesis seeks to critically engage with debates on the circular economy approach, using the findings from Papers III and IV. ...
Thesis
Full-text available
Various researchers have pointed out that avoiding further catastrophic consequences related to the deteriorating ecological state of the planet, brought about by unsustainable production and consumption patterns, requires not only technological innovation and efficiency in production processes, but also absolute reductions in energy and material use (i.e., sufficiency). The rapid expansion of research on ideas such as sufficiency and post-growth indicate an increasing realization that fundamental societal change is needed if we are to avoid devastating environmental effects and social inequities. Using a theoretical perspective consisting of the literature on sustainable consumption, sufficiency politics and policies, and scaling sustainability initiatives, this thesis aims to contribute to our knowledge about social-ecological transformations from the perspective of sufficiency, specifically addressing (un)sustainable consumption. Sweden serves as the case with, on the one hand, its strong civil society, policy and business promotion of sustainable development and, on the other, high per-capita levels of unsustainable consumption of resources. This thesis comprises four separate articles and a cover essay. Article one explores how environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) are framing different sufficiency activities—ranging from those that can be applied within the current market arrangements to others that deal with social relations and non-commercial values beyond market exchange—as a way to attract a wider audience. Article two analyses the individual motives for working less and the socio-ecological outcomes of Gothenburg City’s ‘right to part-time’ policy. The third article contrasts the visions and discourses of ‘community repair’ with the mainstream circular economy discourse by analyzing the ENGO campaign ‘Fix the Stuff’ and the open Do-It-Yourself repair spaces ‘Fixotek’ in the City of Gothenburg. Article four explores how different business forms impact upon the social and ecological sustainability dynamics of the changing Swedish second-hand clothing market. Sufficiency is an approach that remains peripheral in the public debates on how to enable social and ecological sustainability. Nevertheless, the research in this thesis provides concrete examples of how sufficiency practices can be scaled, not only through bottom-up and grassroots movements, but also via more conventional actors, such as municipalities, established ENGOs and firms (Papers I–IV). It therefore contributes to knowledge about how sufficiency can extend beyond an individual strategy towards low-impact lifestyles, and thus can involve various societal actors and amplification processes, ranging across scaling out, scaling deep and scaling up. In addition, I illustrate how the scaling of sufficiency practices is also coupled with various challenges and tensions, which risk undermining some of the key aspects of the sufficiency approach. Furthermore, through the lens of the sufficiency approach, this thesis also advances the debate on sustainability transitions and circular economies (Papers III and IV). In particular, it draws attention to how the mainstream circular economy discourse has overlooked questions relating to the roles and powers of citizen-consumers and corporations, as well as the control of materials, skills and resources. Moreover, there are social-ecological issues related to which market actors have access to used clothing, how these materials flow and how profits are eventually distributed that have yet to receive much attention in the current circular economy debate. Together, these issues have important implications for who benefits from the transition to a circular economy and in what ways.
... A socio-technological transition will only be effective if technological advancements are combined with lifestyle changes in affluent societies (Bjørn et al., 2018;Rogelj et al., 2018;Wiedmann et al., 2020). These lifestyle changes will have to include absolute reductions of consumption levels (Bocken and Short, 2020;Spangenberg and Lorek, 2019). ...
... Although the sharing economy has gained increasing attention during the last years, it does not automatically contribute to sufficiency (Frenken and Schor, 2017;Sandberg, 2021). Rather, we must combine consistency and sufficiency strategies (Bocken and Short, 2020), assess the effects of sharing practices on a case-to-case basis (Sandberg, 2021), considering possible rebound effects (Reimers et al., 2021). ...
Article
Meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement requires absolute reductions of consumption levels, which implies changing consumption behavior toward more sufficiency-oriented practices. So far, these practices have mostly been researched in the areas of mobility and household-related activities. Therefore, this paper reviews sufficiency-oriented practices in other areas of consumption. A configurative literature review rendered eight relevant studies investigating nine different sufficiency-oriented consumption practices, seven of which related to clothing consumption. By aggregating and structuring the practices’ elements, insights into the materials, competences, meanings, and rules connected to sufficiency-oriented lifestyles could be made. In the area of clothing especially, high quality, durable, and repairable products as well as the ability to reflect critically on one’s consumption behavior are the basis for engaging in sufficiency-oriented practices. Tools and shared spaces as well as community events facilitate practices that encourage modal shifts of consumption or contribute to product longevity. The meanings behind these practices stretch from altruistic, environmentally conscious motivations such as a great concern for the environment to more egoistic or economic-related motives such as saving money. First implications of using social practice theory as a heuristic to research consumption behavior indicate that sufficiency-oriented practices offer various angles and opportunities, not only through consumer education but also by providing the right materials, spaces, and skills, to support more environmentally friendly “Lifestyles of Enough”.
... The CE concept is currently being embedded in policy and business practices across Europe and globally, but needs critical examination to achieve its goal of significant resource conservation and climate impact reductions. Building on the concept of CE, we propose a complementary perspective: the Sufficiency-based Circular Economy (Bocken and Short, 2020). ...
... Previous work has conceptualized sufficiency in business (Bocken and Short, 2016) and empirically investigated solutions, e.g., in relation to food , clothing (Tunn et al., 2019;Freudenreich and Schaltegger, 2020), washing machine use and multiple high-impact sectors (Niessen and Bocken, 2021). However, while recent conceptual studies have raised the importance of sufficiency transitions (Sandberg, 2021), making these more prominent in the circular economy discourse (Bocken and Short, 2020;Godelnik, 2021), empirical studies at the transitions level are lacking. Moreover, although research has included business cases (Bocken and Short, 2016;Gossen et al., 2019;Freudenreich and Schaltegger, 2020;Niessen and Bocken, 2021), it has lacked a comprehensive approach linking business practice to the wider economic and societal transition. ...
Article
Full-text available
The circular economy has become a popular paradigm in the business and policy spheres. It can support sustainable development by aiming to safeguard the resources to mitigate negative impacts on the climate and the environment and to sustain our current and future generations. Yet, despite progress with circular economy initiatives, there is a risk of focusing on incremental innovations with little real impact, and possibly even creating serious negative rebound effects. This study suggests that the concept of “sufficiency” is inadequately represented in the current circular economy discourse and innovations, and this may be undermining real progress. In this paper, the Sufficiency-based Circular Economy paradigm is introduced. We investigate the following questions: What is the role of business in the sufficiency-based circular economy? What are the institutional limitations to the role of business as a driver for the transition and how might these be overcome? We conduct a “practice research” by analyzing company cases of sufficiency practices in a business context. We analyse 150 business cases to identify how their organizational strategies support sufficiency and what type of innovations they exemplify within this transition. We investigate seven core business elements for economic transformation (purpose, ownership, governance, finance, networks, scale-up and impact) of these businesses to understand how they drive the value propositions and their impact on the wider transition. This is followed by a discussion on a broader business and policy perspective of the Sufficiency-based Circular Economy.
... Although a universal definition is lacking, sufficiency implies avoiding overconsumption while reducing the use of scarce natural resources and fossil fuel-based energy ( Gorge et al., 2015 ;Princen, 2005 ). It can complement efficiency and consistency effort s on a policy, business and, individual level ( Bocken and Short, 2020 ;Reichel et al., 2018 ). As the actual impact and possible rebound effects of sufficiency-promoting activities are not yet sufficiently researched ( Reimers et al., 2021 ), our study follows the current research assumption that sufficiency-oriented strategies can lead to an overall reduction of resource and energy consumption ( Reichel et al., 2018 ). ...
... In extreme cases, this backfiring effect may even overtake potential savings ( Santarius et al., 2016 ). Circular economy activities can also lead to macro-level rebound effects, e.g., through price mechanisms or because of the limited ability of secondary products to substitute primary products ( Bocken and Short, 2020 ;Zink and Geyer, 2017 ). On an individual level, sufficiency-oriented consumption can lead to rebound effects, by partially or fully offsetting the achieved (financial) savings in one life area with adverse behavioral responses in another ( Santarius, 2016 ;Sorrell et al., 2018 ). ...
Article
Full-text available
The outdoor industry is highly exposed to the impacts of climate change and resource scarcity since its business models generally rely on an intact ecosystem. Companies in the outdoor apparel and gear industry actively implement sustainability strategies based on efficiency, consistency, and more recently also sufficiency. Sufficiency aims at an absolute reduction of consumption levels and entails strategies such as decreasing purchases, modal shifts, product longevity, and sharing practices. Outdoor companies increasingly use marketing to advocate sufficiency-oriented consumption. This exploratory study investigates outdoor companies’ sufficiency-promoting marketing strategies and activities. The study includes primary and secondary data of six outdoor companies. The analysis focuses on the companies’ sustainability visions, their marketing objectives and channels, and their marketing mixes. Following a social practice theory approach, we found evidence that our case companies supported all forms of sufficiency-oriented consumption practices with a strong focus on product longevity. Another central finding of our study is the emphasis placed on product and promotion policies to foster sufficiency-oriented consumption practices. Solely relying on these strategies will not suffice, however, to change unsustainable consumption practices. Achieving that change requires at least two further steps. First, companies will have to find an answer to the conflict between promoting sufficiency-oriented practices and economic growth. Second, the companies should start understanding consumption as a social practice, which would open new opportunities to create and steer their communities of practices. By changing elements or links of practices and attracting new members to their communities, companies in the outdoor industry can be drivers towards more sufficiency-oriented consumption practices. Further research should assess the impact of sufficiency-promoting marketing on consumer practices to estimate its potential for sustainable change.
... Extending product lifetime with the production of long-lasting products or by offering repair and reuse options are typical decelerating strategies (Reichel, 2013). Strategies from the disentangling category consist of local supply chains (Dewberry et al., 2017;Bocken and Short, 2020) or stakeholder collaboration (Griese et al., 2016). Finally, decommercialization operates outside of market logics, by providing tools or instruction for self-production (Dewberry et al., 2017;Freudenreich and Schaltegger, 2020), or by developing open-source processes (Wells, 2018;Robra et al., 2020). ...
Article
Full-text available
Sustainable transformation toward a circular society, in which all ecosystems and livelihoods are protected and sustained, requires the integration of sufficiency in circular production and consumption practices. Beyond the technological promises to decouple resource use from economic growth, sufficiency measures to reduce production and consumption volumes in absolute terms are necessary. Businesses integrating sufficiency act as agent of change to transform current unsustainable practices along the entire supply chain. By observing the operationalization of sufficiency in 14 pioneer businesses, this study identifies dimensions and practice elements that characterize sufficiency in business practices. This study observed that the sufficiency in business practices mainly represents a rethinking of business doings on three dimensions: (1) rethinking the relation to consumption; (2) rethinking the relation to others; and (3) rethinking the social meaning of the own organization. Sufficiency practitioners understand production and consumption as a mean to fulfill basic human needs instead of satisfying consumer preferences. They co-create sufficiency-oriented value with peers in a sufficiency-oriented ecosystem and they redefine growth narratives by envisioning an end to material growth. Additionally, this study revealed that care, patience and learning competences are essential characteristics of sufficiency in business practices. Sufficiency practitioners reshape their business doings by caring for others and nature; they demonstrate patience to create slow, local, and fair provision systems; and they accept their shortcomings and learn from mistakes. Integrating elements of care, patience and learning in business practices reduce the risks of sufficiency-rebound effects. Ambivalences between the sufficiency purpose and growth-oriented path dependencies persists for sufficiency-oriented businesses. Further research should investigate pathways to overcome these ambivalences and shortcomings that sufficiency practitioners experience, for instance, by exploring political and cultural settings that foster sufficiency-oriented economic activity.
... In other cases it happens with increasing affluence, to display wealth beyond the point where it adds to social and individual well-being (Wiedmann et al., 2020). Sufficiency-based approaches are emerging in Circular Economy literature which advocate for eliminating excessive consumption and production in global society (Bocken and Short, 2020), but the reduction of 'redundant' or 'unnecessary' construction is still under-represented in research. ...
Article
Full-text available
Concrete is the world's most widely-used anthropogenic material, and Circular Economy strategies will be key to addressing the myriad challenges that face its use today and into the future. Despite a rapid growth of research interest in developing Circular Economy strategies for concrete, this has mostly focussed on technical and environmental issues at the material and product scale. Holistic approaches considering wider social and political aspects as well as system-scale perspectives have been relatively neglected. This article uses a narrative review to investigate three outstanding questions to help address this gap: how concrete's material, product and system-scale attributes influence the interpretation of Circular Economy principles; how the full range of Circular Economy strategies can be implemented for concrete; and what the likely implementation issues will be when integrating different Circular Economy strategies (such as design for durability, component reuse and material recycling). From a product-scale perspective, it is argued that greater specificity is needed around the growing diversity of concrete materials and products in Circular Economy discourse - their properties are often distinct and hence specific strategies are not necessarily universally applicable. At the same time, a solely product-centric Circular Economy perspective is insufficient for concrete, and that only joint consideration of structural and systemic perspectives will yield satisfactory solutions. ‘Soft’ perspectives of social, political and legal aspects cannot be viewed simply as an added bonus, but are essential to reconciling the ‘hard’ issues of technical, environmental and economic aspects that dominate discussions. Whilst concrete can and should have a key role in a Circular Economy, its success will require more than just extensions of linear economy thinking.
Article
Manufacturers are often identified as agents of change to conserve resources. The circular economy is the paradigm of the societal operation model that aims to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation through a system of efficiency measures. However, a growing body of literature reported the failure of efficiency measures to conserve energy and resources in the current socio-economic environment. Several complex compensatory mechanisms called the rebound effect were reported to offset efficiency gains and resulted in higher resource use. In this paper, we addressed the lack of data on the microeconomic one-company rebound effect investigation by presenting the case study of a medium manufacturer from the US that implemented energy, water and material efficiency measures. While the company qualified as a top-performing “circularity developer” according to the published self-assessment questionnaire, it retained its linear business model. Energy efficiency and renewable energy measures resulted in a short-term rebound effect of 161% or backfire. In the long term, the rebound effect of 25% was calculated. The drivers and barriers that the company encountered when implementing efficiency measures were identified. In conclusion, it was found that the system focused exclusively on efficiency was incapable of conserving resource use and delivering on CE decoupling promise. Wider societal acceptance of sufficiency measures was suggested to improve resource-saving capacity in manufacturing.
Article
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Introduction for the special issue
Article
With its promise of decoupling economic growth from resource use, the Circular Economy is gaining momentum in policy and businesses. But to live up to this promise, the gap between intention and implementation must be negotiated.
Chapter
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There is no easy way out or single solution from the current rather linear economic system. The sustainability impacts of resource production and use are highly interlinked. Even renewables that deliver zero carbon energy depend on the use of critical materials and takes up precious space and land , while land use change, climate change and changing weather patterns, as well as biodiversity loss are already affecting food production. The Circular Economy, representing an alternative sustainable development pathway, is often seen as a panacea for sustainability issues. However, with high expectations and much at stake, there needs to be a strong and widespread understanding of how to operationalise the concept. Solutions cannot solely rely on technical advances or top-down policy implementation, but also require individual responsibility and changes in consumption patterns coupled with appropriate policies and business responses.
Article
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The circular economy concept has gained momentum both among scholars and practitioners. However, critics claim that it means many different things to different people. This paper provides further evidence for these critics. The aim of this paper is to create transparency regarding the current understandings of the circular economy concept. For this purpose, we have gathered 114 circular economy definitions which were coded on 17 dimensions. Our findings indicate that the circular economy is most frequently depicted as a combination of reduce, reuse and recycle activities, whereas it is oftentimes not highlighted that CE necessitates a systemic shift. We further find that the definitions show few explicit linkages of the circular economy concept to sustainable development. The main aim of the circular economy is considered to be economic prosperity, followed by environmental quality; its impact on social equity and future generations is barely mentioned. Furthermore, neither business models nor consumers are frequently outlined as enablers of the circular economy. We critically discuss the various circular economy conceptualizations throughout this paper. Overall, we hope to contribute via this study towards the coherence of the circular economy concept; we presume that significantly varying circular economy definitions may eventually result in the collapse of the concept.
Article
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Wynes and Nicholas (2017 Environ. Res. Lett. 12 074024) claim that some of the most important actions individuals can take to mitigate climate change have been overlooked, particularly in educational messages for adolescents, and estimate the potential impact of some of these, including having fewer children and living car free. These estimates raise questions that deserve serious analysis, but they are based only on the technical potential of the actions and do not consider the plasticity of the behaviors and the feasibility of policies to support them. The actions identified as having the greatest potential are lifestyle changes that accrue benefits over a lifetime or longer, so are not realistic alternatives to actions that can be enacted immediately. But presenting lifestyle choices and the relative impacts of different actions as discussion starters for adolescents could be promising, especially if the discussions highlight issues of behavioral plasticity, policy plasticity, and time scale. Research has identified design principles for interventions to achieve the strongest emissions reductions at time scales up to the decadal. Design principles for achieving longer-lasting changes deserve careful analytic attention, as well as a stronger focus in adolescent textbooks and messages to the general population. Both adolescents and researchers would do well to think carefully about what could promote the generational changes needed to reach a climate change target such as 'well below 2 °C'.
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Current anthropogenic climate change is the result of greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere, which records the aggregation of billions of individual decisions. Here we consider a broad range of individual lifestyle choices and calculate their potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries, based on 148 scenarios from 39 sources. We recommend four widely applicable high-impact (i.e. low emissions) actions with the potential to contribute to systemic change and substantially reduce annual personal emissions: having one fewer child (an average for developed countries of 58.6 tonnes CO2-equivalent (tCO2e) emission reductions per year), living car-free (2.4 tCO2e saved per year), avoiding airplane travel (1.6 tCO2e saved per roundtrip transatlantic flight) and eating a plant-based diet (0.8 tCO2e saved per year). These actions have much greater potential to reduce emissions than commonly promoted strategies like comprehensive recycling (four times less effective than a plant-based diet) or changing household lightbulbs (eight times less). Though adolescents poised to establish lifelong patterns are an important target group for promoting high-impact actions, we find that ten high school science textbooks from Canada largely fail to mention these actions (they account for 4% of their recommended actions), instead focusing on incremental changes with much smaller potential emissions reductions. Government resources on climate change from the EU, USA, Canada, and Australia also focus recommendations on lower-impact actions. We conclude that there are opportunities to improve existing educational and communication structures to promote the most effective emission-reduction strategies and close this mitigation gap.
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In this article, we use Hirsch and Levin’s notion of umbrella concepts as an analytical lens, in order to articulate the valuable catalytic function the circular economy (CE) concept could perform in the waste and resource management debate. We realize this goal by anchoring the CE concept in this broader debate through a narrative approach. This leads to the insight that whereas the various resource strategies grouped under the CE’s banner are not new individually, the concept offers a new framing of these strategies by drawing attention to their capacity of prolonging resource use as well as to the relationship between these strategies. As such, the CE offers a new perspective on waste and resource management and provides a new cognitive unit and discursive space for debate. We conclude by discussing research opportunities for the industrial ecology (IE) community relating to the concept’s theoretical development and its implementation. Specifically, we pose that reinvigorating and growing the social science aspects of IE is required for both. After all, it is in understanding and facilitating the collective implementation of any idea, also the CE concept, that the potential lies for shaping our material future.
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