What does an ecologically sensitive and socially just CE look like? (Part Two)

An equitable, Inclusive, and Environmentally Sound CE Open Forum, May 13, 2020

Patrick Schroder, Promoting a Just Transition to an Inclusive CE, Clatham House (Report): The ‘just’ transition concept is not new; it comes from climate change and climate justice movements (…) many social and political issues have been neglected in planning for the CE transition (…) a just transition framework for the CE can identify opportunities that reduce waste and stimulate product innovation (…) low- and middle-income countries that rely heavily on ‘linear’ sectors and the export of these commodities to higher-income countries are likely to be negatively affected by the shift to circularity (…) there is a need for new international cooperation programmes and a global mechanism to mobilise dedicated support funds for countries in need (…) COVID19 has shown that global emergencies have fast forwarded processes that otherwise may take years (…) three points: a. CE is necessary for both long-term resource security and short-term supplies of important materials, b. there is a need to improve the working conditions of the informal CE (waste pickers etc) and c. global supply chains will be radically changed (…)

What does an ecologically sensitive and socially just CE look like? (Part One)

An equitable, Inclusive, and Environmentally Sound CE Open Forum, May 13, 2020

Cindy Isenhour, Department of Anthropology, Climate Change Institute, University of Maine | CRITIQUE I: CE cannot be just about efficiency and technological improvement alone within the confines of a global economic system (…) in fact, success of CE has been hindered in part by carbon leakage to developing countries, off-shorial waste or by other means of shifting environmental burdens and market externalities (…) for some critics, high levels of total material throughput emissions and consumption have cannibalised a great deal of the gains (…) evidence that CE has helped us to decouple growth from environmental degradation is sadly hard to come by still (…) critics claim that despite CE success is not solely dependent on regenerative design (new packaging materials, industrial symbiosis, nutrient cycling technologies or recyclable polymers), but it is also about a fundamental shift, in global societal organisation and cultural frameworks (…) these have the power to renegotiate the meaning of ownership-property-economic value on materials and how we measure the successor our economic system (…) Can CE be capable of cultural change?| CRITIQUE II: CE scholarship is focused on rational choice theory and ecological modernisation and based on cost-benefit analyses (…) however, economic decision-making is highly contextual and social (…) consumers don’t want to alienate themselves from their peer groups and their neighbours (…) there is a necessity of coordinated approaches and collective action between social actors, so as to build trust and possibility of collaboration (…) How do we implement a CE that recognises the sociality of the economy? | CRITIQUE III: CE represents a new commodity frontier (…) sustainability programming can often capture the resources for those segments of society that are already more fortunate leading to economic exclusion (…) How can we broaden participation in CE as well as its conceptualisation and operationalisation to ensure equity and justice?

Investigating culture in LCAs

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(…) one could argue that culture is integrally tied into the notion of environmental sustainability (UNESCO 2009) given that human beings (and the societies within which they exist) have a relationship with the natural environment that transcends biophysical definitions (…) Chan et al. (2012b) argue that to value cultures entirely in economic terms “cannot reflect the full extent of their differences from other ecosystem services” and risks the unintended interpretation that different cultures can be bought or sold (…) There are a few examples of tools specifically designed to assess only cultural values (…) However, Alonso and Medici (2012) emphasise that the lack of assessment tools that specifically include cultural aspects alongside environmental, economic and social aspects directly contributes to the marginalisation of culture, particularly regarding development policies (…) “values are the building blocks of culture” (…) the notion of ‘value’ is arguably just as ambiguous as ‘culture’ (…) The role of values in the process of undertaking LCA studies has been recognised in relation to defining the problem, goal and scope; the selection of impact category indicators; the optional weighting element at impact assessment; and interpretation of results (…) values have an important—if largely unrecognised—role to play in influencing these choices about the inclusion of different processes on the basis that they are judged as more or less relevant to the decision situation (…) Accounting for differences in cultural perspectives will, in theory, help to “establish the seriousness” of environmental impacts (…) “broadening LCA towards social, cultural and economic aspects would move LCA from environmental towards sustainability assessments” (…) future research should focus on opportunities for the development of (a) a culturally inclusive LCSA process and (b) additional cultural indicators and/or dimensions of existing LCSA indicators that represent cultural values (…) Presenting decision makers with information about economic, social, environmental and cultural aspects will allow them to simultaneously consider a range of impacts associated with a given process

Pizzirani et al, 2014


Pizzirani, S., McLaren, S. & Seadon, J. (2014). Is there a place for culture in life cycle sustainability assessment? The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 19, 1316–1330, DOI: 10.1007/s11367-014-0722-5

The Amsterdam City Doughnut

 The Amsterdam city portrait was created by Doughnut Economics Action Lab, in collaboration with Biomimicry 3.8, Circle Economy, and C40. Photograph: Doughnut Economics Action Lab/ Image available here

The Amsterdam City Doughnut is intended as a stimulus for cross-departmental collaboration within the City, and for connecting a wide network of city actors in an iterative process of change, as set out in the eight ‘M’s: mirror/ mission/ mobilize/ map/ mindset/ momentum/ monitor/ mmm!

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The Doughnut’s ecological ceiling comprises nine planetary boundaries: ozone layer depletion/ climate change/ ocean acidification/ chemical pollution/ nitrogen & phosphorus loading/ freshwater withdrawals/ land conversion/ biodiversity loss/ air pollution in order to identify Earth’s critical life-supporting systems and the global limits of pressure that they can endure.

The classic image of the Doughnut; the extent to which boundaries are transgressed and social foundations are met are not visible on this diagram. Graphic via Wikipedia.com/ Image available here

The inner ring of her donut sets out the minimum we need to lead a good life, derived from the UN’s sustainable development goals and agreed by world leaders of every political stripe. It ranges from food and clean water to a certain level of housing, sanitation, energy, education, healthcare, gender equality, income and political voice. Anyone not attaining such minimum standards is living in the doughnut’s hole. The outer ring of the doughnut, where the sprinkles go, represents the ecological ceiling drawn up by earth-system scientists. It highlights the boundaries across which human kind should not go to avoid damaging the climate, soils, oceans, the ozone layer, freshwater and abundant biodiversity.

Between the social foundation and the ecological ceiling lies a doughnut-shaped space in which it is possible to meet the needs of all people within the means of the living planet – an ecologically safe and socially just space in which humanity can thrive (…) The Doughnut’s social foundation, which is derived from the social priorities in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, sets out the minimum standard of living to which every human being has a claim. No one should be left in the hole in the middle of the Doughnut, falling short on the essentials of life, ranging from food and water to gender equality and having political voice.

The scheme was based on the concept of doughnut economics as explained in 2017 Kate Raworth’s book: “Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist.” Raworth, who is part of the team responsible for this initiative commented: “Who would expect in a portrait of the city of Amsterdam that you would include labour rights in west Africa? And that is the value of the tool.”


The Amsterdam City Doughnut, full report available here

Amsterdam to embrace ‘doughnut’ model to mend post-coronavirus economy, full article on Guardian available here

LCA-LCI-LCIA according to EN ISO 14040:2006

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Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) can assist in:
identifying opportunities to improve the environmental performance of products at various points in their life cycle
informing decision-makers in industry, government or non-government organizations (e.g. for the purpose of strategic planning, priority setting, product or process design or redesign),
the selection of relevant indicators of environmental performance, including measurement techniques, and
marketing (e.g. implementing an eco-labelling scheme, making an environmental claim, or producing an environmental product declaration).

There are four phases in an LCA study:
a) the goal and scope definition phase: The scope, including the system boundary and level of detail, of an LCA depends on the subject and the intended use of the study. The depth and the breadth of LCA can differ considerably depending on the goal of a particular LCA.
b) the inventory analysis phase: The life cycle inventory analysis phase (LCI phase) is the second phase of LCA. It is an inventory of input/output data with regard to the system being studied. It involves collection of the data necessary to meet the goals of the defined study
c) the impact assessment phase: The life cycle impact assessment phase (LCIA) is the third phase of the LCA. The purpose of LCIA is to provide additional information to help assess a product system’s LCI results so as to better understand their environmental significance.
d) the interpretation phase: Life cycle interpretation is the final phase of the LCA procedure, in which the results of an LCI or an LCIA, or both, are summarized and discussed as a basis for conclusions, recommendations and decision-making in accordance with the goal and scope definition.

EN ISO 14040: 2006 available here

Notes from Peder Anker’s ‘The closed world of ecological architecture’

Whole World Catalogue Magazine, editor Stewart Brand, a firm believer in colonizing space. The image of Earth as seen form outer space allowed the ability to it as a whole. Image available here

astronauts’ cabins as models for environmentally responsible landscape design and architecture/ space colonization has been the underlying ethic/ living in harmony with Earth’s ecosystem became a question of adopting space technologies, analytical tools and ways of living/ their aim was to escape industrial society/ life in a future ecologically designed world was focused on biological survival at the expense of wider cultural, aesthetic and social values of the humanist legacy/ their work was based on diagrams of energy flows as input and output circuits in a cybernetic ecosystem/ construction of self-efficient closed ecological systems within submarines and underground bomb shelters/ the turn towards space ecology emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the light of of alarming reports such as The Population Bomb (Paul Elrich, 1968) and Limits to Growth (Club of Rome, 1972) reinforced by the 1973-1974 Arab oil embargo/ a way of designing which fed on its own ideas and gradually closed itself off
from developments in the rest of the architectural community. Its followers sense of self-sufficiency resulted in a sect-design for the believers whose
recycling of resources and ideas led to a lack of interest in an outside world simply described as ‘industrial’ and thus not worth listening to

ecological design is inspired by a biologically informed vision of humankind embedded in an Arcadian dream of building in harmony with nature

Chermayeff/ Alexander, Community and Privacy (1963): advocated for self contained ecological capsules, ecologically autonomous buildings to stop exploitation of natural resources/destruction of natural scenery. Buckminster Fuller, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (1969): cabin ecology as a model for understanding life on earth/ Earth as a huge mechanical ship travelling in space/ Doxiadis, Ecumenopolis: humanity was heading towards a universal city/ Ian Mc Harg, Design with Nature (1969): science-based modernist architecture and planning with respect for nature/ ecological crisis was caused by reckless laissez-faire economy, industrialization, greed chaotic urbanization, social structures fragmentation and lack of planning/ he pointed to the holistic ecology of the ‘Orient’, human would build and settle in a space buoy located between the Moon and the Earth/ one should make an ecosystem inventory of an environment, investigating its changing processes and then attribute values to the ecological aspects and determine a. what changes would be permitted and prohibited and b. identify indicators of stability and instability/ (influenced by) John Phillips, Ecology in Design issue of Via Journal (1968): holistic approach to architects and region planners/ they ought to include all forms of life in their designs/ John Todd & William McLarney, New Alchemy Institute and From Eco-Cities to Living Machines: Principles of Ecological Design (1980/ 1984/1994): how to survive an impeding catastrophe, closed ecological life boats that would keep afloat/ New Alchemists aimed at solar-heated and wind-powered greenhouse-aquaculture buildings/ Grumman Corporation, Grumman Lunar Module (1960s): they also developed other household system prototypes: a waste disposal system inspired by space recirculation technology, a sewage system inspired by the astronaut’s lavatory, and an energy efficiency system for homes that incorporated solar cells/ Lockheed Missiles and Space Company in California also developed related technology/ Integral Urban House (1972)/ BioShelter/ Alexander Pike: austerity in place of plenty/ his aim was to use ambient solar and wind energy, to reduce energy requirements, and to utilise human household and waste material/ Brenda &Robert Vale, Autonomous House, a shelter for the coming doom/ Kenneth Yeang: by imitating processes in nature, architects could find new environmentally
friendly designs for human life/ biological analogies for optimum survival/ a building was to be sealed off both environmentally and culturally from industrialism/ Phil Haws, Biosphere 2 in Arizona (completed in 1991): the first fully enclosed ecosystem, tested for a period of over a year

Grumman Lunar Module. Image available here

Anker, P. (2005). The closed world of ecological architecture. In Journal of Architecture, Vol. 10, no.5. DOI: 10.1080/13602360500463230

Schoonschip Amsterdam

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Schoonschip (space&matter) consists of a total of 30 water plots, with 46 unique water dwellings for more than 100 residents (…) Each separate house is insulated and equipped with solar panels. Water pumps extract heat from the water in the canal to heat the homes. There is only one connection to the national energy grid, through which residents of Schoonschip trade their generated solar power. Each home has a battery which stores the energy surplus. Waste water from toilets and showers is treated separately and converted back into energy. Many homes also have a green roof, where residents can grow their own food (…) Schoonschip is not only sustainable in an ecological sense, but also socially: the residents work closely together to realize their residential area and coordinate their plans. They have agreed to renounce their personal cars and instead share electric cars together. The group also made a conscious search for diversity in the composition of residents. On that note, there are two ‘kangaroo houses’ in Schoonschip, where two households live together on one boat. Meanwhile, the houses are connected by a ‘smart jetty’ that serves as a pavement and meeting place (…) The district is connected with a smart grid, which is linked to a blockchain. With their own crypto coin – the Jouliette – the Schoonschip residents can trade the solar power that they generate with the neighbourhood’s 500 solar panels. They can also pay with it in other places around the Buiksloterham area, such as the cafe and restaurant at De Ceuvel, a circularity incubator which Space&Matter also initiated, developed and designed.

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Denmark's plan for going circular

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In September 2016 the government launched a Utilities Strategy promoting, among others, better utilisation of waste. Thus, the Utilities Strategy constitutes a key contribution to creating a more circular economy. The Strategy for Circular Economy, therefore, must be seen in close correlation with – and as a follow-up to – the Utilities Strategy (…) the government has decided to expose waste incineration and management of recyclable waste to competition (…) local authorities must put out for tender their household waste suitable for incineration (…) this way all parties have equal access to the waste (…) the in its Utilities Strategy the government has proposed a full competition exposure for the treatment of recyclable waste streams.

In regard to CE there are six areas of effort: 1. Strengthen enterprises as a driving force for circular transition/ 2. Support CE through data and digitization/ 3. Promote CE through design/ 4. Change consumption patterns through CE/ 5. Create a proper functioning market for waste and recycled raw materials/ 6. Get more value out of buildings and biomass

Category 3. Promote CE through design in particular, entails 2 of the 16 initiatives taken: a. incorporating circular economy into product policy and b. boosting Danish participation in European work on circular standards:

The design of products is crucial for the transition to a circular economy, since choices in the design phase of, e.g., materials and chemicals are decisive for the lifetime of the product, and whether components and materials can be used again with a high value (…) The eco-labels (Nordic Swan & EU flower) thereby make it easier for consumers, enterprises, and public authorities to purchase in a circular manner thereby contributing to a market-driven transition to a more circular economy.

An enhanced Danish effort in this standardisation work will make it possible to communicate knowledge from the European working groups on standards for circular economy to Danish enterprises who may be interested in having influence on the standardisation work.

Category 6 is also related to the construction industry through initiatives 13 & 14:

The building sector is challenged by a relatively high consumption of new raw materials for the production of construction materials and contents of substances of concern in buildings. The limited traceability of construction materials deteriorates the opportunities for recycling and reuse of high value. The embedded energy for new buildings can constitute up to 50 percent of the energy consumption over the entire life of the building. Today, no requirements are made for including construction materials’ so-called “embedded energy” – i.e. the sum of all energy used for production and waste management – in buildings’ energy calculation. If at some point of time an international building passport is developed, it will give better opportunities for the recycling of construction materials and a reduction of costs for maintenance and renovation.

Already today enterprises have an obligation to source-separate their waste so it can be recycled. But far from all enterprises comply with the rules. In fast and relatively unplanned demolitions construction materials are often mixed, which makes it difficult to separate the valuable parts of the waste. It also increases the risk that substances of concern are recycled or recovered instead of being managed safely in a landfill. Where existing rules focus on recycling, so-called “selective demolition” leads to a higher focus on the reuse of construction materials.

The Danish Government: Strategy for Circular Economy: More Value and Better Environment through Design, Consumption and Recycling, September 2018. Full Report available here

The Circular Economy Concept in Design Education


This is an experiment in the framework TU Delft led Horizon 2020 Project called REPAiR: two MSc courses were transformed to integrate aspects of different fields of expertise. Students were introduced to two resource flows that were previously identified as key flows by the local stakeholders: food waste, and construction and demolition waste and were expected to show a deep understanding of CE and its spatial implications

(…) incorporating the concept of CE in an integrative manner in urban design and planning courses is challenging because of its metabolic and complex nature (…) (1) the city is a complex, self-organizing system, where economy is an important factor, but not the dominant one; (2) the focus of CE approaches on the production side of the value chain and the under-representation of the need for sustainable consumption patterns as crucial aspect for the transition towards a CE; (3) the exclusion of land as a resource although it is one of the most valuable resources of regions; (4) the neglecting of infrastructure, both as a resource, but also as an instrument to steer circular policies; and (5) that the dominant approach ignores the importance of different scales for closing resource loops (…) overcoming these inadequacies requires the integration of expertise on resource flows and industrial processes.

Challenges of integrating practices of circular economy in education were overcome by collaboration with researchers in a situated environment that allowed: “an enhanced problem definition, a substantial participation of societal partners in education and an enhanced valorisation of student work via partner institutes.” Supporting course elements were also integrated such as lectures; workshops and tutor preparation. An overall of 200 students participated in the courses whose work was later evaluated as to the integration of CE principles and resources flows.

One clear effect of the integration of the CE concept into teaching was that the students understood that they needed to address challenges from a systemic perspective rather early into the design process.

References: Wandl, Alexander, Verena Balz, Lei Qu, Cecilia Furlan, Gustavo Arciniegas and Ulf Hackauf. “The Circular Economy Concept in Design Education: Enhancing Understanding and Innovation by Means of Situated Learning.” Urban Planning 4, no. 3, (2019): 63-75. DOI: 10.17645/up.v4i3.2147, full article available here

CLIC: Circular models Leveraging Investments in Cultural heritage adaptive reuse

Info derived from the website: CLIC’s is an EU funded program currently running between 10 countries and 15 different partners. Its aim is to implement a European model of circular economy and circular city-region centered on the regeneration of cultural and natural capital. CLIC is a trans-disciplinary research project whose overarching goal is to identify evaluation tools, implement; validate and share circular financing, business and governance models for systemic adaptive reuse of cultural heritage and landscape. Among its many objectives is to develop and test innovative governance tools; to analyze hybrid financing; and to contribute to the operalization of the management change of the cultural landscape. For more click here

The Hannover Principles

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  1. Insist on rights of humanity and nature to co-exist in a healthy, supportive, diverse and sustainable condition.
  2. Recognize interdependence. The elements of human design interact with and depend upon the natural world, with broad and diverse implications at every scale. Expand design considerations to recognizing even distant effects.
  3. Respect relationships between spirit and matter. Consider all aspects of human settlement including community, dwelling, industry and trade in terms of existing and evolving connections between spiritual and material consciousness.
  4. Accept responsibility for the consequences of design decisions upon human well-being, the viability of natural systems and their right to co-exist.
  5. Create safe objects of long-term value. Do not burden future generations with requirements for maintenance or vigilant administration of potential danger due to the careless creation of products, processes or standards.
  6. Eliminate the concept of waste. Evaluate and optimize the full life-cycle of products and processes, to approach the state of natural systems, in which there is no waste.
  7. Rely on natural energy flows. Human designs should, like the living world, derive their creative forces from perpetual solar income. Incorporate this energy efficiently and safely for responsible use.
  8. Understand the limitations of design. No human creation lasts forever and design does not solve all problems. Those who create and plan should practice humility in the face of nature. Treat nature as a model and mentor, not as an inconvenience to be evaded or controlled.
  9. Seek constant improvement by the sharing of knowledge. Encourage direct and open communication between colleagues, patrons, manufacturers and users to link long term sustainable considerations with ethical responsibility, and re-establish the integral relationship between natural processes and human activity.

Principles available here

The Hannover principles were commissioned by the City of Hannover, Germany, as design principles for Expo 2000, The World’s Fair held under the theme: “Humanity, Nature and Technology”