Circular futures: What Will They Look Like? – Thomas Bauwens, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht (The Netherlands).
The circular economy is argued to hold great promise for achieving sustainability. Yet, there is a dearth of research about what a circular future may look like. To address this gap, this talk proposes different plausible scenarios for a circular future, using a 2 × 2 scenario matrix method developed through a thought experiment and a focus group. Key drivers of change in this matrix are the nature of technologies deployed – high-tech or low-tech innovations – and the configuration of the governance regime – centralized or decentralized. From this, our study builds four scenario narratives for the future of a circular economy: “planned circularity”, “bottom-up sufficiency”, “circular modernism”, and “peer-to-peer circularity”. It delineates the core characteristics and the upsides and downsides of each scenario. It shows that a circular economy can be organized in very contrasting ways. By generating insights about alternative circular futures, these scenarios may provide a clearer directionality to policy-makers and businesses, helping them both anticipate and understand the consequences of a paradigm shift towards a circular economy and shape policies and strategies, especially in the context of so-called mission-oriented innovation policies. They may also provide a sound basis for quantitatively modelling the impacts of a circular economy.