Economic Development Series: Economy of 2016 Needs To Be Circular

Cir-Economy by Susan Rainier

There is a planetary emergency and doing little or nothing by staying with the same old approaches to our built world, the environment and the economy is irresponsible. We must act quickly to save our planet.

The circular economy is a generic term for an industrial economy that is producing no waste and pollution, by design or intention, and in which material flows are of two types, biological nutrients, designed to reenter the biosphere safely, and technical nutrients, which are designed to circulate at high quality in the production system without entering the biosphere as well as being restorative and regenerative by design.[1]

Founding principles

Waste is Food

Waste does not exist… the biological and technical components (nutrients) of a product are designed by intention to fit within a materials cycle, designed for disassembly and re-purposing. The biological nutrients are non-toxic and can be simply composted. Technical nutrients – polymers, alloys and other man-made materials are designed to be used again with minimal energy.

Diversity is Strength

Modularity, versatility and adaptiveness are to be prioritized in an uncertain and fast evolving world. In working toward the circular economy, we should focus on longer-lasting products, developed for upgrade, ageing and repair by considering strategies like emotionally durable design. Diverse products, materials and systems, with many connections and scales are more resilient in the face of external shocks, than systems built simply for efficiency.

Energy Must Come from Renewable Sources

As in life, any system should ultimately aim to run on ‘current sunshine’ and generate energy through renewable sources.

Systems thinking

The ability to understand how things influence one another within a whole. Elements are considered as ‘fitting in’ their infrastructure, environment and social context. Whilst a machine is also a system, systems thinking usually refers to nonlinear systems: systems where through feedback and imprecise starting conditions the outcome is not necessarily proportional to the input and where evolution of the system is possible: the system can display emergent properties. Examples of these systems are all living systems and any open system such as meteorological systems or ocean currents; even the orbits of the planets have nonlinear characteristics.

Understanding a system is crucial when trying to decide and plan (corrections) in a system. Missing or misinterpreting the trends, flows, functions of, and human influences on, our socio-ecological systems can result in disastrous results. In order to prevent errors in planning or design an understanding of the system should be applied to the whole and to the details of the plan or design. The Natural Step created a set of systems conditions (or sustainability principles) that can be applied when designing for (parts of) a circular economy to ensure alignment with functions of the socio-ecological system.

The concept of the circular economy has previously been expressed as the circulation of money versus goods, services, access rights, valuable documents etc., in macroeconomics. This situation has been illustrated in many diagrams for money and goods circulation associated with social systems. As a system, various agencies or entities are connected by paths through which the various goods etc., pass in exchange for money. However this situation is different from the circular economy described above, where the flow is in only one direction, that is until the recycled goods again are spread over the world.

Prices or other feedback mechanisms should reflect real costs

In a circular economy, prices act as messages, and therefore need to reflect full costs in order to be effective.[2] The full costs of negative externalities are revealed and taken into account, and perverse subsidies are removed. A lack of transparency on externalities acts as a barrier to the transition to a circular economy.

Toward the Circular Economy

In January 2012, a report was released entitled Towards the Circular Economy: Economic and business rationale for an accelerated transition. The report, commissioned by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and developed by McKinsey & Company, was the first of its kind to consider the economic and business opportunity for the transition to a restorative, circular model. Using product case studies and economy-wide analysis, the report details the potential for significant benefits across the EU. It argues that a subset of the EU manufacturing sector could realize net materials cost savings worth up to $630 billion p.a. towards 2025—stimulating economic activity in the areas of product development, remanufacturing and refurbishment. Towards the Circular Economy also identified the key building blocks in making the transition to a circular economy, namely in skills in circular design and production, new business models, skills in building cascades and reverse cycles, and cross-cycle/cross-sector collaboration.[3]

In January 2015 a Definitive Guide to The Circular Economy [4] was published by Coara with the specific aim to raise awareness amongst the general population of the environmental problems already being caused by our “throwaway culture”. Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE,) in particular, is contributing to excessive use of landfill sites across the globe in which society is both discarding valuable metals but also dumping toxic compounds that are polluting the surrounding land and water supplies. Mobile devices and computer hard drives typically contain valuable metals such as silver and copper but also hazardous chemicals such as lead, mercury and cadmium. Consumers are unaware of the environmental significance of upgrading their mobile phones, for instance, on such a frequent basis but could do much to encourage manufacturers to start to move away from the wasteful, polluting linear economy towards are sustainable circular economy.

Without revising old ways to the new knowledge ways will not be able to sustain our world. We need an alternate space with an alternate vision.  The alternate vision is one of respect for all living things, diversity, fairness and love of the planet we are given to be stewards of.  We need a budget that is not based on GPD. What kind of development are you talking about when people are sleeping on the ground as homeless?  We must have the Gross National Happiness Index meaning sustainable development; social justice and conservation of nature must be the best practice.  On the basis of this, translating this into what can be revenue and expenditure, this is a budget that questions the budget paradigm. The existing values create a gap between the halves and the halves not with poor becoming poorer and only occupying a few positions. Sustainable Development, Equality and Peace in a world where we live in harmony with nature. Where inequality is absent from every country based on class, gender and race. Lets have a world where the basic needs become the basic rights for all.  Let’s have a world where poverty and all forms of violence are eliminated.  Let’s have a world where we do not cut the trees, pollute the air, and pollute the water. Let’s have a world where through the very respect for nature, as stewards we live in the circular economy with communities thriving in abundance, health and happiness, peacefully.

Nishi is not following the intent of the Davis General Plan and is not sustainable at the level needed and is not a new way of thinking, alternate way.

Policy is only as good as the people implementing it.

Vote No on Nishi. It is Not Healthy, Not Infill, Not Equitable, and Not Good for the Economy.  This development is the same old developer sprawl business as usual.

We can do better than this.  We must do better than this.

  1. “Circular Economy”. Retrieved 23 March 2016.
  2. Ken Webster, The Circular Economy: A Wealth of Flows, (2015)
  1. Towards the Circular Economy: an economic and business rationale for an accelerated transition. Ellen MacArthur Foundation. 2012. p. 60.
  1. Definitive Guide To The Circular Economy. Coara. 2015.

Editor’s note: following the decision by Mace Ranch Innovation Center to put its pending project on hold, the Vanguard decided to re-start a community discussion on the future of economic development in Davis.  As such, we are reaching out to a very diverse group of people and starting May 1 we are hoping to publish one op-ed a day on this subject.  We are pleased to announce that so far we have over 40 commitments and counting. Beginning today, we will publish one article per day for the month of May into June.  If you would like to add your voice – please submit your piece on the future of economic development in Davis (800 to 1000 words).

May 1: Robb Davis

May 2: Elaine Roberts Musser

May 3: Dan Carson

May 4: Matt Williams

May 6: Peter Bell

May 7: Bob Fung

May 9: Rob White

May 16: Alan Humason

May 17: Mike Hart

May 18: Judy Corbett

May 19: Mark Braly

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Tia Will

    There is much in Susan’s article with which I agree.

    I am an advocate of a “circular economy”. I fully believe that we should be striving to move rapidly away from our current disposable, materialistic, “more and newer is better” view of the world. I believe that we should instead repair, reuse, repurpose and recycle as much as we can. I am an advocate for healthy living and reduction of as much pollution as possible notably in the form of decreased use of the private automobile which would have both immediate and long term beneficial health and environmental impacts.

    However, we part company when she comes to her conclusion that Nishi should be rejected on this basis. What Susan has not pointed out in her article are the benefits of the Nishi location. The walkability index of the Nishi site is 94 out of 100 meaning that almost all work, school, shopping and entertainment needs are within an easy walking distance. This was a major consideration for me when deciding where I wanted to downsize and live during my impending retirement. I would have found this site, although perhaps not its likely residential mix, very inviting. The location with its lack of need for a car will be attractive to many students and employees of the university and will also be convenient for those who work downtown and of course for the significant overlap of UCD students who also work downtown and therefore could avoid driving back and forth completely. For me, less car trips while providing access to both jobs and housing speaks in favor, not against the project and I disagree that Nishi is not compatible with a “circular economy”.


    1. Ron

      Tia:  “The location with its lack of need for a car . . . “

      I realize that you’re referring to the proximity of the site to the University, and downtown.  However, since cars are “not needed”, why not then eliminate the (approximately) 1,500 parking spaces planned for Nishi, and motor vehicle access to Olive Drive?  (Not to mention the unknown impacts of motor vehicle commuters to the commerical component of Nishi, and the unknown effects of providing more motor vehicle access to the University, itself.)  All of which has to pass through existing, already-impacted intersections (e.g., Olive and Richards).



      1. Tia Will


         why not then eliminate the (approximately) 1,500 parking spaces planned for Nishi, and motor vehicle access to Olive Drive?” 

        I personally would love to. However, Tim Ruff did not specifically consult with me on this point ; ). I suspect that we are not at the point where a developer can simply design a project for completely carless living. I only know of one family that has achieved that goal. But that does not mean that we should not accept small steps in the right direction which is how I see Nishi.


    1. The Pugilist

      This is where I start seeing contradictions.  Yesterday, you stated “The downtown needs help, and soon.”  Helping the downtown of course will bring more cars into the downtown furthering gridlock.  Building the campus bypass may diminish downtown.

  2. Yes on A Fan

    The Downtown Davis Business Association does indeed support the project. Perhaps they realize that increased business will come from those living and working on Nishi who will all likelihood walk or bike – leaving parking open to others with cars.  I also see restaurants downtown offering delivery service on bikes. There have been articles recently on the vitality of downtown as an economic development strategy which I think is appropriate and Nishi is a piece of the puzzle.

  3. nameless

    Without revising old ways to the new knowledge ways will not be able to sustain our world. We need an alternate space with an alternate vision.  The alternate vision is one of respect for all living things, diversity, fairness and love of the planet we are given to be stewards of.  We need a budget that is not based on GPD. What kind of development are you talking about when people are sleeping on the ground as homeless?  We must have the Gross National Happiness Index meaning sustainable development; social justice and conservation of nature must be the best practice.  On the basis of this, translating this into what can be revenue and expenditure, this is a budget that questions the budget paradigm.

    I question the entire premise of this article.  Shall we not economically or residentially develop at all, because a proposed project might have some sort of downside or because it would not address every conceivable problem a city has, including the homeless?  Nor does this article really explain how we get to this “alternate vision” it espouses, from a practical standpoint.  A GNHI (Gross Nat’l Happiness Index)?  Happiness is an extremely illusive and subjective concept, and means many different things to various people. Remember the “free love” movement and how well that worked out – think AIDS, STDs, teen pregnancy rate.  This article is long on idealistic visions but woefully short on specifics, other than Vote No on Nishi based on the list the No on Nishi campaign continually trots out and that doesn’t hold up very well under logical scrutiny.

    No on Nishi because it is not healthy – because Dr. Cahill says so.  Yet Dr. Cahill had no problem supporting New Harmony which is right next to the freeway.  The opponents have advocated an all housing project at Nishi and the opponents have advocated for more affordable housing at Nishi – in direct contradiction to their inconsistent position there should be no housing at Nishi.

    No on Nishi because it is not infill – because the Nishi opponents have decided in their own minds the only definition of infill can be land developed inside city limits, even though reputable dictionaries/authorities define infill to include adjacent parcels to a city limit line.

    No on Nishi because it is not equitable – because it does not provide affordable housing, even though it is exempt from the affordable housing requirement yet is still contributing $1 million to the affordable housing fund. To vote against Nishi means there will be no $1 million into the affordable housing fund!

    No on Nishi because it is not good for the economy – even though it is projected by the Finance & Budget Commission to bring in as much as $1.4 million in tax revenue to the city, $400,000 to the DJUSD, new jobs, much needed R&D space, and new business to the downtown.

  4. Tia Will

    Yes on A Fan

    Unlike you, I do not question the premise of the article. I agree wholeheartedly that future projects should have environmental considerations as a major factor to be weighed along with others. And, while this particular article is short on practical suggestions on how to live more lightly, lower our carbon footprint and move away from out disposable view of our possessions leading to unnecessary waste, many others have contributed articles over the years on this subject. Michelle Millet has written a series of such articles, Don Shor has made contributions on wise landscaping and land usage, darelidd is a strong advocate for alternatives to the use of the individual automobile, Robb Davis and his family offer one  model of how to live successfully without cars.

    My disagreement is not with the premise, which I find sound. Nor do I have difficulty with the scope of the article since David had suggested a word limitation for this series. Where I differ is that I consider Nishi, while imperfect on a number or points, a step in the right direction.

  5. Richard McCann

    This is another case of making demands but being unwilling to put one’s resources behind a better idea. Where are these critics financing and developing these wonder projects? Basically, because they can’t be financed under the terms demanded. Until they show that their demands are financially viable, we have to dismiss their demands for capitulation.

  6. Alan Miller

    “Alan Miller”?  REALLY!

    What makes YOU so F-ing special?

    Well, I give my whole, real name for one.   And I’m awesome.

    Did I miss the memo where anonimoids get to run the asylum again?

    Or did the Vanguard taser system lose electricity due to the high winds yesterday?

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