The new report highlights the need for fundamental systems change to address sustainable development challenges
Today, at the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact Summit in New York, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford launched a new report exploring the features of a circular economy, the challenges it presents to organisations seeking more sustainable routes to market, and presenting a framework for successful systems change.
A circular economy is one in which products and services are traded in closed loops or ‘cycles’. Designed to keep parts or materials in use and eliminate waste, growth is regenerative and restorative and removes the need for products or services to be dependent on finite resources. Underlying the concept of a circular economy are complex, wicked problems that cannot be addressed by an individual company or individual country in isolation. The solutions lie in fundamental systems change and will require different kinds of organisations and industries to collaborate.
‘It’s a new world and we need to think in new ways about the sustainable development challenges we’re facing. The climate crisis, biodiversity loss and deforestation for example are all deeply interconnected. Developing solutions requires different types of collaborations to foster new connections,’ said Aoife Brophy Haney, Departmental Research Lecturer in Innovation and Enterprise at Oxford Saïd and co-author of the report. ‘But it’s very difficult to design collaborations in a way that will lead to systems change. So we’re trying to provide some guidance on how you can overcome some of the challenges of working across private/public sectors and working with competitors in your own industry.’
In creating the conditions for organisations and industries to collaborate in order to change systems, the team took inspiration from living bridges. These bridges, found mainly in India, have emerged over the years from the weaving together of the roots of living trees which become increasingly intertwined as they grow, creating bridges that are strong, resilient, and flexible to shifting conditions.
Using this living bridge as a central metaphor for the level of collaboration needed, the team developed a number of case studies of organisations that are all members of PACE (the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy), incubated by the Forum and now led by the World Resources Institute. The platform convenes public and private sector collaborations for the circular economy, with projects on plastics, food and electronics.