Why the world needs a ‘circular bioeconomy’ – for jobs, biodiversity and prosperity, World Economic Forum, October 6 2020, Marc Palahi and Justin Adams
Towards an economy based on sustainable resources
There is no future for business as usual. Our current economic system, which arguably has succeeded in creating unprecedented economic output, wealth and human welfare over the past 70 years, has led to exacerbated social inequalities and loss of nature at an extent that threatens the stability of our economies and societies – and could maybe even lead to a collapse of civilisation as we know it.
To add some numbers: over 70% of us are affected by rising inequalities, a third of the world’s land is severely degraded, we are losing forests at an alarming rate (one football field of forests every six seconds in 2019), and up to 1 million species are threatened with extinction. Over half of the world’s GDP ($44 trillion) is threatened by such nature loss. The system is not working.
Through the WI lens
The focus of this piece is an initiative by Prince Charles to create a Circular Bioeconomy Alliance, and that body’s subsequent publication of a 10 point Action Plan for a Circular Bioeconomy of Wellbeing. Behind the jargon what this is really about is how we address the challenge of biodiversity under threat, move away from fossil materials like plastic and concrete, and use nature in a sustainable way, all of which could be summed up by “living in harmony with nature”. Biodiversity is at the heart of this because “it determines the capacity of biological systems to adapt and evolve in a changing environment”; it is crucial for the resilience and sustainability of those systems, in other words. And the move away from carbon-intense materials like plastic, steel, concrete and synthetic textiles is needed partly because of their effect on climate, which is so damaging to biodiversity, and partly because of their finite resources. Forestry figures heavily in the solution: whether through in the form of wood-based textiles or alternative building materials such nanocellulose (five times as strong as steel, five times lighter) or simpler engineered timber products that can replace concrete and steel. Why is this connected with wellbeing? The answer comes in so many forms: the fact that a sustainable economy can support sustainable livelihoods and in a way that is more egalitarian; the benefits that humans obtain from interacting with nature; the toxic pollution produced by carbon intense materials; and the economic benefits of recycling, to name a few. And of course it presents a huge diversity of business opportunities, from products made with sustainable natural materials to tourism that is driven by biodiversity. The focus is broadening from climate change to the very wellbeing of the planet itself.
What this article goes on to explain is how positive thinking – described here as ‘thriving’ – can counter the effects that come from the negativity outlined above, from reduced memory to diminished performance. Based on studying people in a series of organisations in different industries, one of the authors has found that people who attain this state are more resilient, experience less burnout, and are more confident in their ability to take control of a situation
“Behind the jargon what this is really about is how we address the challenge of biodiversity under threat, move away from fossil materials like plastic and concrete, and use nature in a sustainable way, all of which could be summed up by “living in harmony with nature”.”
“In the new ‘consensual contract’ between employer and worker, what’s required is a commitment from the employer to safeguard the wellbeing of their people, and a commitment in return from employees to take personal responsibility for their performance of their job.”
“Could loneliness not only be damaging our mental and physical health but also be making the world a more aggressive, angry place? And if so, what are the implications for a cohesive society and democracy?”
“On such fragile foundations are built the first steps towards a more ethical kind of business, and who knows what virtuous circles might result?”
“Scientific evidence recently emerged that, contrary to earlier beliefs, Covid-19 can be spread by tiny droplets that we breathe out when we respire, called aerosols.”
“Economic wellbeing is part of the story, but it is also about finding less stressful lifestyles, in which healthy diet figures as a meaningful measure of success.”
“The industry has every asset needed to be a guiding light in the shift toward personal health priority. Will that become a prevention legacy, a ‘phoenix rising’ from the Covid-19 ashes?”
“Looking at the bigger picture, putting the measures in this order represents a lost opportunity that the pandemic could have offered for a cultural pivot pivot towards getting people more focused on their health, a powerful statement of intent.”
“Employment is necessary to fulfil our most basic human needs such as food and shelter. Any significant increase in long-term unemployment will spell a retrograde step for human wellbeing like no other.”