Over 600 people attended the Second Utrecht Degrowth Symposium: From Circular Economy to Circular Society on the 15th of May 2020. The event brought together scholars and practitioners from various sectors including government, NGOS, businesses and academia to discuss a circular future beyond economic growth.
The symposium included interventions by Dr. Sanli Faezi (Utrecht University), Martin Calisto Friant (Utrecht University), Dr. Kersty Hobson (Cardiff University), Ilektra Kouloumpi (Circle Economy), Joey Hodde (De Ceuvel), Dr. Socrates Schoutens (Waag), Martine Postma (Repair Café) and Dr. Ernst Worrell (Utrecht University).
The diversity of speakers and attendees allowed for a cross pollination of ideas and led to thought-provoking debates on what a degrowing circular society can look like and how it can be achieved.
One of the main topics of the symposium was the differentiation of a circular economy, seeking eco-efficient material and energy resources cycles with a circular society, which also seeks to circulate wealth, knowledge, technology and power in fundamentally democratic and redistributive manners.
The event therefore discussed the current challenges and critiques of the circular economy concept and the need to go beyond market-based circular solutions. Evidence presented in the symposium showed that circular innovations (such as product service systems and material recovery technologies) do not guarantee positive social and environmental benefits, especially if questions of scale, power and redistribution are no also addressed. This demonstrates the need to think of a sustainable, fair and equitable circular society rather than simply an eco-efficient circular economy.
The symposium also challenged the assumption that a circular future could be compatible with continued economic growth. Indeed, planetary boundaries and inevitable global resource limits force us to reconsider the current system’s addiction to growth and oblige us to imagine a degrowing circular society. As we have already overshot our planetary limits, degrowth is not only socially desirable (to create a new convivial world beyond individualism, utilitarianism, materialism, ethnocentrism, sexism and anthropocentrism) but also necessary for the very survival of human and non-human life on Earth.
In addition to this, the event discussed practical solutions and perspectives such as Amsterdam’s doughnut model used as a tool for circular, sustainable and regenerative urban planning. Other solutions were also presented such as repair cafés, cooperative housing models, and open source technologies.
The discussion also raised questions regarding the adoption of circular innovations in the Global South. This led for a fruitful debate showing that the Global North could, in fact, learn a lot from the diversity of circular and regenerative perspectives of the Global South such as Buen Vivir, Radical Pluralism, Ecological Swaraj etc. Instead of forcing western forms of circularity, a plurality of different circular societies can be imagined from many radically different epistemological and ontological frameworks.
Overall, the event was wake-up call regarding both the limits and potentials of circularity and the need to combine circular innovations with redistributive degrowth principles in order to ensure that the Earth’s ecological limits are respected and that the benefits and costs of a transition to a sustainable world are shared equally. Growth in a finite planet cannot continue, especially now that we have already grossly surpassed the world’s biocapacity. In this context, the second Utrecht degrowth symposium brought key ideas to avoid collapse and build de-growing circular societies, which are truly sustainable, fair and democratic.
Recordings of the symposium are available on the YouTube channel, click 'see recordings' above.
The academic paper on which the concept of circular society was based on for the symposium can be accessed here.