Living an eco-friendly lifestyle used to mean we recycled and reduced waste, but does that take it far enough now? Today, the answer is no, we need to be working towards circular living. But what does that mean?
We can work towards achieving circular living on both a personal level and as a society, nation, or even globally. To engage in circular living, we need a circular economy, which is:
“A model of production and consumption which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials as long as possible” (Source: Wikipedia)
It sounds great, and we most probably engage in some of this already, but wouldn’t it be great if we could live collectively like this? So many of the world’s problems would be addressed, from climate change to poverty.
To make a move towards more circular living we need to delve further into sustainability…..
Starting with social sustainability
What is this? a good question, as there are plenty of different definitions floating about on the web. The definitions vary according to whether the social sustainability is being discussed in relation to the environment, economics, or society in particular.
In a nutshell, though, social sustainability is a reference to the social ‘well-being’ of people, and it is impossible to see that as a separate thing to economic and environmental factors. They are intertwined.
A key aspect of social sustainability is that any decisions have to consider future impacts as well as the present. A good example are the various national parks and beauty spots around the world which are often closed to the public for some of the year. We may feel we would benefit from having full access to them but the impact of human visitors would be detrimental to the flora and fauna in the future. You may have seen reports of wildflower fields in Siberia being destroyed by Instagrammers taking pictures, and Dutch flower farmers have had to fence off their tulips to stop them from being crushed by visitors.
It’s interesting to think about what makes us have a feeling of social well-being. For me, it’s feeling like I live in a safe and healthy environment, with access to clean water and fresh food, green spaces, people I know nearby, and availability of work and facilities. Further down the list comes luxuries such as nice places to eat and drink, interesting shops, opportunities to do activities and explore. Thinking about it makes me realise that where I live does, on the whole, give me a sense of social wellbeing. And it also makes me consider how many people in the world are sadly not anywhere close to this.
How do we live in a more socially sustainable world?
Essentially it’s about us making the needs of today and tomorrow equally important.
The infrastructure of the systems, organisations, and processes people need and use have to balance with the needs of the environment
Replenishing the resources we consume is vital because this helps lead to a circular economy, where we conserve resources mindfully by keeping them in circulation as long as possible – this means we make more resources available for others, protect the environment and reduce waste.
For example, if we had towels we no longer wanted or needed but which weren’t good enough for the charity shop we could take them to the tip, where they would likely end up in landfill, or we could donate them to animal shelters, or use them for crafting or cut them up for cleaning cloths.
Social sustainability makes us feel good, and when we feel good about something we want to extend that to all parts of our lives, our business, the manufacturers we buy from, and the environment we live in. This leads us naturally onto circular ecology.
To get a truly circular ecology, there has to be balance and harmony between three types of sustainability: social, economic, and environmental.
Check out these definitions from circularecology.com
- Environmental Sustainability: means that we are living within the means of our natural resources. To live in true environmental sustainability, we need to ensure that we are consuming our natural resources, such as materials, energy fuels, land, water…etc, at a sustainable rate. Some resources are more abundant than others and therefore we need to consider material scarcity, the damage to the environment from the extraction of these materials, and if the resource can be kept within Circular Economy principles. We need to aspire to net-zero carbon and then move beyond it, to ultimately achieve climate-positive principles. Environmental sustainability should not be confused with full sustainability, which also need to balance economic and social factors.
- Economic Sustainability: Economic sustainability requires that a business or country uses its resources efficiently and responsibly so that it can operate in a sustainable manner to consistently produce an operational profit. Without an operational profit, a business cannot sustain its activities. Without acting responsibly and using its resources efficiently a company will not be able to sustain its activities in the long term.
- Social Sustainability: Social sustainability is the ability of society, or any social system, to persistently achieve a good social well-being. Achieving social sustainability ensures that the social well-being of a country, an organisation, or a community can be maintained in the long term.
There’s so much to think about here, and so much that is outside the scope of this short blog, but it’s clear to see that we need a harmonious balance of social, economic, and environmental sustainability for truly circular living. This is a great aspiration to live our daily lives by, both personally and in business, and as a member of society.
The Circular Ecology webpage lists some great day-to-day tips for living a more circular life, check it out and see what changes you can make!