Future scenarios of Circular Economy

In fall 2017, Finland Futures Research Centre organised a series of three futures workshops in TRY OUT! project. These workshops contributed to the environmental scanning of circular economy. The goal of the workshops was to gather diverse practical and empirical knowledge and understanding on the possible and preferable futures of circular economy.

In the first workshop (08/2017) participants identified different drivers and phenomena that influence the futures of circular economy. Reflecting these results, the participants in the second workshop (10/2017) outlined scenarios for desirable, probable and avoidable circular economy in 2030. This resulted in altogether six scenarios, which are provided below. In the third workshop (11/2017), participants constructed roadmaps and action plans for the preferable and probable scenarios.

All results and the environmental scanning are described in detail in the report (in Finnish):

Kaskinen, J. & Parkkinen, M. (2018) Kohteena kiertotalous. TRY OUT! -hankkeen tulevaisuusprosessin tulokset Tutu e-julkaisuja 4/2018, Tulevaisuuden tutkimuskeskus, Turun yliopisto. 34 s.

Further information: Project specialist Marjukka Parkkinen, Finland Futures Research Centre, University of Turku, firstname.lastname@utu.fi


Six scenarios of futures of circular economy 2030


In 2030, people are active, influential and demanding consumers and supporters of circular economy and they adapt and use new technologies skilfully. We have reached a situation, where circular economy continuously provides new and profitable business solutions. The risks of circular economy have decreased compared to 2010’s. Recycling is profitable for people, public corporations and businesses. Life cycle thinking is incorporated in all design and decision-making processes. Decision-making is long-term and futures-oriented. The most important decisions as well as implementation related to circular economy occurs on the local level and citizens can influence decisions that have an impact on their lives.

Preferable future 2: SHARING ECONOMY WORKS!

Companies profit from taking responsibility for the platforms of circular economy and developing them. In addition, the popular demand and public decision-making system push companies to foster platform economy. Artificial intelligence advances profitability: for example, the sorting of material is faster and increases effectivity. In design processes, AI assists in material selection and optimisation of practices. The culture of sharing and consumption of services has increased a lot during recent years since the significance of ownership has decreased. The modes of sharing economy are easy to adapt and responsibilities are clear. This has accelerated the shift in ways of thinking. Furthermore, green values support the change. The aspiration for effectivity supports the popularity of shared use. Some people accumulate possession in order to provide others with items or services. At the same time, they bear the responsibility for the organisational challenges and risks of ownership. The allocation of time has changed since 2010’s, and free time is well appreciated. This supports sharing, and at the same time, shared services and products support the differentiation of how people use their time. Work is done in a flexible manner: people can arrange their work and leisure freely. New service providers enter the market due to high demand. Someone has to offer easy-to-use sharing economy services.

Probable future 1: SLOWLY BUT SURELY

Technologies and resources that advance circular economy have reached new domains during past decades. Even though the profitability is important, it is not the only value that drives the development of circular economy. The principles of circular economy have slowly started to spread to new industries and sectors. However, the activists among the field consider that the change is too slow. Different time spans are mixed in decision-making, which results in plans and strategies addressing both short and long term, depending on the topic. Consumer groups are varied and their attitudes towards circular products differs. Decisions concerning circular economy are steered by EU directives. Each country contests for their own national advantage. Thus, Finland aspires for what is best for Finland.

Probable future 2: SNAIL’S PACE

The development of circular economy is unsteady. Some industries have adapted functional circular models. Yet, nothing has radically changed during the past ten years. AI solutions have slightly increased their profitability in e.g. waste sorting. Small, grass roots companies are pioneers of circular economy. Large global companies take little responsibility for developing circular economy. Due to the continuing uncertain global economic situation, it has not been remunerating for small countries advance or support expensive solutions of circular economy. Therefore, there have been no significant infrastructural changes in these countries during the past ten years. However, there has been some progress. For example, collaborative use is still increasing, even though the majority of actors are not part of this development. Individual industries develop, but on a global scale, circular economy has not advanced throughout domains. Due to logistic challenges, large countries such as Finland have not been able to improve the recycling of raw materials during the past decade.

Avoidable future 1: MENTAL STANDSTILL

Circular economy prevailed active for a decade, but is now in a deadlock, partly due to the complexity and impracticality of technologies. The societal and economical profitability of circular economy is endangered. Cheap products provided by the global markets worsen to the situation, as their manufacturing processes do not acknowledge the principles of circular economy. Decision-making is short-sighted and driven by fast profit and purely opportunistic national interest. Consumers have no power. They are mostly passive receivers and consumers of bulk products.

Avoidable future 2: NO, NO, NO

Disposable culture prospers. The high hopes that people had for artificial intelligence were not met. Self-learning systems are not yet able to process topics that are relevant for circular economy, e.g. identification of different materials in recycling or managing production. The AI applications of circular economy make decisions that do not match the regulation and attitudes. Behaviour and circular economy do not match. Citizens have not adapted practices of circular economy in e.g. recycling of waste, consumption and sharing economy. In 2030, green values are manifested through individual choices: each consumer can choose, whether s/he supports circular solutions or not. The prevailing ideologies do not support circular economy, and end users cannot advance it with their choices. Furthermore, the societal infrastructure is not supportive of circular economy. Forced sharing of some products and services decreases choice.