When we talk about the transition towards a circular economy, we quite often hear the term mindset. We need to shift our mindsets, away from monetary and materialistic growth and towards material and product loops where there are no waste and emissions.
There is another mindset shift much needed, but not often mentioned: the shift from thinking in terms of “us” and “them”. On the one hand, we have the GDP rich countries, and on the other hand you have the GDP poorer countries. As money means power in today’s way of measuring wealth, it also means that the GDP rich have more say in the world – an imbalance that has frequently been pointed out, yet an imbalance that keeps growing.
If we are to succeed in building up a global circular economy, it will require getting rid of these imbalances. As the brilliant Donella H. Meadows (systems thinking and known for “The Limits to Growth” in 1972) pointed out, many of our global problems, such as poverty is a system problem. One we can only overcome, according to Meadows, when we start seeing the system as the source of the problems. Our current (linear) system seems to make the undesirable imbalance bigger over time.
If a new (circular) system is to be successful, balance between continents, countries and people should be considered at an early stage. Say now.
Balance beyond GDP
To do this, we need to shift our mindsets from the superiority of the GDP rich and use a larger basket of indicators than GDP, one where we all contribute with the diverse richness that exists. There’s plenty of work being done in this field, from happiness indexes to doughnut economics – the Wellbeing Economy Alliance has put together a nice overview of all the different initiatives, summarizing the common features: “Aspects like health, education, household work, volunteering, social relationships, climate change, air quality, crime and biodiversity are nearly always included in Beyond-GDP alternatives.”
Looking at these indicators from the perspective of performance across the globe, it becomes clear that many countries scoring relatively poor in terms of GDP, will have a strong performance when it comes to indicators such as biodiversity, social relationships and climate change. If these aspects, and there are more to think of, such as natural resources (while often explored by others), are taken fully into account while paying less attention to the very limited measurement GDP, we will get a much more balanced view of the world.
Learning from each other
Taking it one step further, we need to shift our mindsets enough to not only recognize “them” as equal partners in the equation, but to actually open up to the idea of “us” learning from “them” (and here the “us” refers explicitly to GDP rich countries). Think about it, initiatives such as a sharing economy or keeping products in use longer are much more prevalent in GDP countries where communities play a stronger role than in GDP rich countries. While transferring one community in terms of how it works as a system from one part of the world to another part of the world will not be possible, there are undoubtedly many aspects within existing communities that we can learn from when setting up circular business models.
All we need to do is recognize that these examples are out there and keep an open mind. And start looking at and treating all people as equals. Different, but equal.
In SCUPER, the Straight Circles Universal PERspectives learning from what’s out there is called “mimicry”: learning from nature (biomimicry) or as described in this text, from other cultures.