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Is a circular economy the key to a sustainable future?

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Technology alone will not solve the world’s problems. But combining technological advancements with circular economy thinking could be our best shot at creating a sustainable industrialised future, argue Andy Kenworthy and James Griffin on Newsroom.

There are some wildly different theories on the role of technology in the coming era. Some suggest technology will overcome our global challenges like climate change (as described by Rohan MacMahon here at Newsroom recently), and may even take over our world. Some argue that nearly all our technology is unsustainable, and we will be forced to survive without it.

So how to navigate between these two extremes? The circular economy is one way of doing so. In a circular economy the lifecycles of materials are maximised. Their use is optimised. At the end of life all materials are reutilised. This radically new way of working would be driven by renewable energy and the ambition to restore our world.

But what would technology’s role be within it? Well to some extent we are already seeing it.

The re-emergence of the circular economy idea since the late 1960s helped to shape the sustainable business movement. The emergence of new technologies has combined with this thinking to disrupt entire industries in a number of ways.

Witness the host of online platforms like Uber and AirBnB. They are part of what is being called the ‘sharing economy’. Website, payment and social media technology has enabled people to maximise and optimise the use of resources like their cars and spare rooms . . . . . >