Expanding perceptions of the circular economy

In 2016–2019, we developed three distinct collaborations at different geographic and organizational levels – facility (local circular economy at The Plant with partner Plant Chicago), city (food waste and sustainability in Chicago with partner the Chicago Food Policy Action Council), and region (Calumet regional regeneration with partner the Calumet Collaborative).

Our approache and methodology was publised in an article in the journal of Resources, Conservation, and Recycling . The article “Expanding perceptions of the circular economy through design: Eight capitals as innovation lenses” results from the collaboration with  Dr. Weslynne S. Ashton and  Dr. Carlos Teixeira. In this paper, we share our continuing work in identifying emergent value models for a new era. We argued that:

Redesigning production systems to meet the demands of a growing global population presents complex and ambiguous challenges that require not only more sustainable management of material and energy, but also the recognition of different types of resources and values shaping current economic transactions.

Combining our hallmark approach in systems thinking with participatory design methods and multi-level systems design, “Expanding perceptions” integrates the three case studies—all projects shared in the Contribution section of this website —to offer concrete examples of how design can help chart new ways forward for communities and organizations open to innovation.

This paper aims to…expand the CE [circular economy] discussion by leveraging systems thinking to recognize and incorporate consideration of multiple capitals sustaining contemporary economic activities.

We integrate considerations of the concept of CE, systems thinking approaches, design methods and community capitals framework…in order to increase the circularity of resource use and benefits to participants.

We develop a systems thinking framework using eight capitals, and apply it in multi-level contexts in the Chicago region to demonstrate how they provide new insights and critical pathways for the transition to the circular economy.

Support and seed research funding came from the Chicago Community Trust. If you are interested, you can read the full paper published by Resources, Conservation, and Recycling.