The social value of a circular economy – easy slogan or tangible improvements in human wellbeing?

The upsurge in popularity of the circular economy concept has been accompanied with a variety of propositions for the creation of economic, environmental and social value. Driven by the willingness to convincingly enter business and policy agendas, however, the discussion has so far primarily focused on technocentric discourses aimed at the creation of economic value (i.e. resource efficiency, economic competitiveness, cost savings and new revenues streams).

While the environmental claims of such practices still need, in many cases, to be properly measured and verified—especially in a long-term, systemic, global scenario—when it comes to the social dimension there have been few in-depth discussions concerning how the circular economy paradigm can create tangible and distributed social value. The main argument in this sphere has focused on the potential for job creation. But, if this is to be the only token for social value, what about the track-record of a linear economy in creating jobs, while exploiting and destroying the environment?

To provide evidence able to back up the social value proposition, we definitely need more than that. This is exactly the starting point of a new journey we recently embarked on to discover if and how the circular economy can create social value for communities and citizens around the world. With this spirit, we initiated an open and participatory journey to discover it together, through visions, theories and tangible examples.

In this expert series, we ask a diverse ecosystem of researchers, entrepreneurs, businesspeople, experts and community leaders engaged with the circular economy to share their perspective on one overarching question:

How can the circular economy mindset and practices help us create distributed social value?

February 2021

Facilitated by Emanuele Di Francesco