Chapter 2: Breaking the stalemate of sustainable consumption with industrial ecology and a circular economy
We are living in times of great societal turmoil exacerbated by multiple environmental problems, ranging from climate change and the resource crunch to increasing levels of pollution. The assimilative capacity of our planet is reaching its limits (Rockström et al. 2009), and we are running out of some critical resources (UNEP 2012). We seem to be ‘locked in’ by the industrial system that emerged when natural resource limits were unknown and planetary sinks could still cope with the level of pollution and waste stemming from human activity (Beddoe et al. 2008). As a result of technological progress improving the efficiency of industrial processes, labour productivity has increased by a factor 20 in the last 150 years (Lehner et al. 1999), whereas natural resource productivity has improved much less (Bleischwitz 2001). Although the environmental impacts per unit of product have decreased, growing consumption levels and the linear nature of the economic system have led to increased aggregate environmental problems. In the linear system, the fast replacement of goods is stimulated by advertising and marketing by businesses whose profits are directly linked to the volumes of sales of mostly material goods (Røpke 1999).
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