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In the Loop

Biodiversity and the circular economy


Making its way to the top of global agendas and the bottom of balance sheets, biodiversity recently has risen through the ranks of planetary priorities. As a result, I’ve noticed a growing number of organizations calling to connect the dots between the circular economy and biodiversity, so I thought it worthwhile to consider their relationship — one that I instinctively felt to be a bit of a stretch. 

Although fundamentally aligned in their overlapping aims to address resource extraction, water scarcity, energy generation, toxicity and climate change, in practice circular economy strategies and biodiversity preservation seem to be one step removed. 

For example, repairing or reselling a pair of jeans does not directly preserve biodiversity. But done at scale, product life extension and keeping materials in use for as long as possible does reduce the need to extract the same quantity of natural resources, and therefore reduces the strain on our ecosystems. The same can be said for climate change mitigation, given that climate change contributes to 11 to 16 percent of biodiversity loss, and circular economy strategies can reduce carbon emissions

A central aim of the circular economy is to curb the extraction of finite resources and to regenerate living systems — two strategies that support the preservation of biological diversity, but only if they are done right. 

No one framework or priority is intended to stand alone or address every problem in the world.

As companies champion the $7.7 trillion potential of the bioeconomy by 2030, a gradual move away from nonrenewable (and often petroleum-based) inputs has made manufacturers and materials scientists alike turn to bio-based materials as ideal inputs to more circular systems.

One example is the nuances of bioplastics, which are often produced through monoculture farming in deforested areas and use synthetic fertilizer. This actively decreases biodiversity and contributes to the 90 percent of biodiversity loss created by the way that we extract and process materials, fuels and food. 

I think the Dutch consultancy Circle Economy posed the question best: "You need biodiversity for a circular economy, but do you need a circular economy for biodiversity?" 

Personally, I don’t care. Connecting the dots between biodiversity and circularity isn’t necessarily additive, although it certainly can’t hurt.

Whether a company’s primary lens is sustainability, regeneration, net-zero, biodiversity, the circular economy or something else, what matters most is an aligned orientation of these solution sets to make sure we’re moving in the right direction. Neither the circular economy nor biodiversity preservation are ends unto themselves. These are means to move us towards a clean and resilient economy, equitable and prosperous communities and a healthy planet. 

No one framework or priority is intended to stand alone or address every problem in the world. 

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