Circular economy, operational eco-efficiency, and sufficiency. An integrated view

Frank Figge, Andrea Stevenson Thorpec

Researchers have proposed different approaches to reduce the use of natural resources to a sustainable level. Operational eco-efficiency, circular economy, and sufficiency are three prominent examples that follow their own specific logics. So far, these approaches have been almost exclusively discussed in isolation, with the assumption that they are independent of each other. This paper brings all three approaches together in one coherent model. Our model shows that individually each approach can reduce the use of natural resources to a sustainable level. Yet, our model also reveals how various effects arise as a direct result of combining approaches, i.e. one approach affects another when executed in tandem. Our model identifies operational eco-efficiency and circular economy as ‘no regret’ approaches, while sufficiency constitutes a ‘regret’ approach. By way of example, we show that increasing operational eco-efficiency increases the costs or ‘regret’ of sufficiency approaches, reducing their effectiveness. Sufficiency approaches and increasing operational eco-efficiency risk interfering with the careful balance that is required for optimal circularity. We find that these interactions must be carefully considered if the three approaches are to be effective in reducing resource consumption to a sustainable level.

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