Building back better

Building back better

Circular economy allows us to collectively reimagine and redesign our systems to ensure an ecologically safe and socially just space for us all.

By Martijn Lopes Cardozo

Times of global difficulties can lead to change. As we continue to navigate uncertain times, reshaping our systems to be resilient to future shocks is imperative. 

Covid-19 held a magnifying glass to the global economy’s flaws—flaws that have long been clear, but that society continued to press the snooze button on. For the first time ever, the amount of material consumed by our global economy also surpassed 100 billion metric tons, of which only 8.6% is being cycled back into the economy. 

Interdependent global supply chains, material extraction occurring at a faster rate than regeneration and an economic model focused on delivering profits and infinite growth at the expense of stability and resilience have been the hallmark of the ‘take-make-waste’ tradition. The pandemic only served to pull the curtains on these flaws.

Covid-19 has created a space on the global stage for the concept of ‘building back better’. This is an opportunity we must not fail to take. 

'Build back better' concept often couples the need to increase the resilience of our systems with the circular economy.

Two circular economy practices, in particular, build resilience. First, the use of secondary and renewable resources boosts resilience by increasing the diversity of feedstock available to industry. Second, decentralized value chains — a growing trend in circular economy developments — are less vulnerable to global shocks and support localized, and therefore swift, decision making.

A circular economy allows us to collectively reimagine and redesign systems to ensure an ecologically safe and socially just space for us all. The circular economy now has the opportunity and duty to further incorporate equality and resilience into this model.

How? We need to reintegrate with nature and the commons. Every time we speak about the circular economy, we are essentially calling for emulation of nature and in the natural world waste does not exist. Our industrial systems can mirror ecosystems, an ever more important concept as raw material scarcity increases. Equal access to and preservation of the commons such as air and water is also core to this. 

We need to balance the local and the global. As ‘normality’ resumes, we may see a persevering notion of ‘glocalization’ that is adapted to the local but with a globally cooperative ethic.

Only time can tell what the future holds, but as we look forward to a post-Covid-19 world, it’s important to take stock of our past. 


Please note that many of the ideas expressed in this article are inspired by previous articles written by Circle Economy colleagues.