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The 'blunder' of circular economy in a book by the German Environmental Agency

11 Nov 2022
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ICTA-UAB researcher Mario Giampietro is one of the authors of the book The Impossibilities of the Circular Economy. Separating Aspirations from Reality, the fifth Factor X publication from the Federal Environment Agency (UBA), Germany, that provides an overview of the limits to the circular economy, emphasizing the relationship between integrated resource use and more systemic leadership-management approaches.


Mario Giampietro, an expert in integrated assessment of sustainability issues, is the author of the chapter 4, entitled The entropic nature of the economic process, in which he gives a scientific explanation of what he considers to be "the blunder of circular economy".

The 5th Factor X book examines what the promise of an endless circle can and cannot deliver. It provides a solid starting point to advance circular approaches to our economies (including industrial and social processes) at a more fundamental level. Thus, it allows the reader to see through the marketing and policy charade that sells the circular economy as a silver bullet. The reader will recognize the insurmountability of specific barriers and thus be prepared not to invest their time and money in "investment dead ends”.

To condensate the key ideas present in the different articles or chapters, a comic has been published. With engaging visuals, it shows the difference between possible and non-possible solutions for a more sustainable economy.

On a European level, the book ties into the recent European Green Deal and aims to empower actors across sectors and EU member countries to transition from existing linear models of value capture and expression to more systemic-circular solutions of value capture and expression. The volume provides a hands-on contribution towards building the knowledge and skill sets of current and future decision-makers who face these complex-systemic crises in their day-to-day business. The book further provides access to best practices from cutting-edge research and development findings, which will empower decision-makers to develop a more sustainable and equitable economy.

Providing solutions for a more sustainable economy, this book is essential reading for scholars and students of natural resource use, sustainable business, environmental economics, and sustainable development, as well as decision-makers and experts from the fields of policy development, industry, and civil society.

The chapter The entropic nature of the economic process A scientific explanation of the blunder of circular economy, written by Mario Giampietro, assumes that scientific advances in the field of non-equilibrium thermodynamics have shown that social-ecological systems belong to the class of complex adaptive systems, a subset of the class of open dissipative systems. A proper characterization of the mechanism allowing the reproduction and adaptation of these systems requires a distinction between flows metabolized inside the technosphere (secondary inputs produced and consumed by the economy, under human control) and flows exchanged between the technosphere and biosphere (primary flows stabilized by natural processes, outside of human control).

Adopting this scientific conceptualization, it becomes evident that in the process of production and consumption of goods and services, only secondary flows can be re-used inside the system (as tertiary inputs). On the contrary, primary flows, which are dependent on the existence of external supply and sink capacity provided by nature, and essential, cannot be recycled. By implication, the societal endorsement of the concept of circular economy today appears analogous to the societal endorsement of the concept of flat Earth in the Middle Ages.