Skip to main content

Hope Theory offers a vision for the circular economy

These three steps can help apply hope to the cause of advancing circularity.

Can hope be something we plan for and achieve together?

Can hope be something we plan for and achieve together? Image via Shutterstock/melitas

I was speaking with a mentor of mine a few weeks ago about something I’ve struggled with for years: my pessimism. Negativity (and the sarcasm that tends to follow) has been a hallmark of my personality, however unwanted, for as long as I can remember. In digging deeper, one thing we discovered is that I have a fraught relationship with hope. 

For some reason, the idea of hope has always rubbed me the wrong way. When I hear the word, I instinctively conjure up images of someone wishing something will happen, but doing nothing about it. It has always felt very passive, and that’s definitely not the way I operate.

On that note, I wanted to share what I’ve learned about hope since, and how it is helping me stare down the mountain of work there is for us to achieve a more circular and sustainable future. 

A (very) brief history of hope  

It seems as though the word may have originated between 1200 and 1300 C.E. and derived from the Old English word hopian. In those early days, people often thought of hope through a religious lens, and hopian was defined as trust in God’s word. The definition has remained largely the same, but its use now spreads well beyond the spiritual. As an example, just a few days ago my 4-year-old said, "I hope I can have ice cream after dinner."

A lot has been said about hope throughout time, from the positive all the way to the painfully saccharine. Martin Luther King Jr., for example, said, "We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope." Aristotle, for his part, said, "Hope is the dream of a walking man." Finally, in one of my least favorite (and most nausea-inducing quotes), Victorian abolitionist lawyer Robert Green Ingersoll once said, "Hope is the only bee that makes honey without flowers."

Hope Theory

This brings me to the thing that actually changed my mind about hope, a psychological theory. 

Hope Theory, as I understand it, is attributed to C.R. Snyder, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Kansas. Of some importance to this story, I think, is a passage from Snyder’s 2006 obituary that describes him as an "uncommonly good man (who) tirelessly worked to help many others become the uncommonly good people he foresaw that they could be."

Snyder’s Hope Theory argues that three things make up hopeful thinking:

  1. Goals — Approaching life in a goal-oriented way.
  2. Pathways — Finding different ways to achieve your goals.
  3. Agency — Believing that you can instigate change and achieve these goals. 

Described this way, hope takes on a whole new meaning. It is no longer a passive wish for things to get better, but instead something to plan for and achieve. Wow! All these years I frowned upon hope (and those that held it) simply because I was ignorant of what it could be. Frankly, I’m a little bit ashamed.

Applying hope to the circular economy  

Thought of in this three-step structure, hope provides a pathway for us, as circular economy practitioners and enthusiasts.

Step 1: Goals

Let’s face it, we all need goals, and I’d venture to guess we all have goals for moving our organizations toward a more circular future. This is the easy part, IMHO.

Step 2: Pathways

This is really where the rubber meets the road. Will your pathway include product or packaging redesign? New business models? Reverse logistics and product takeback? It seems like this is where a lot of our collective work in the circular economy is hung up right now, and unlocking pathways toward circularity will be key to moving forward.

Step 3: Agency

This step is really what changed hope from something I shrugged aside to something I’m trying to embrace. Without agency, hope is nothing more than a wish for a better future. If we can all recognize our creativity, welcome new forms of cooperation and be steadfast in the righteousness of the cause, then agency follows naturally. 

To sum it all up, I think we can all, through the power of hope, work to be uncommonly good and help the organizations we work for be uncommonly good in the process.

More on this topic