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Peter D. Brandon

Economic inequality is often equated with income inequality. But income inequality is only one form of inequality, wealth inequality is another. Despite its critical importance to understanding economic inequality, wealth inequality has received less attention until recently. Now, because the distribution of wealth is so concentrated among the few, it is actively studied and constantly debated among legislators, scholars, and citizen groups. The heightened focus on wealth inequality has also generated many questions: What is the most accurate definition of wealth inequality? What methodologies and data best measure the concentration of wealth? What causes wealth inequality and what are its effects? Should governments tax the wealthiest? But, there is a deeper question that is fundamental to understanding wealth inequality and its perpetuation: Why do societies accept wealth inequality rather than avert its continuation? In this chapter, this essential question is addressed alongside related questions about wealth inequality.

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Sebastian Weingartner, Patrick Schenk and Jörg Rössel

When deciding to purchase a particular car, for instance, most consumers will consider the price and technical equipment of various alternatives. But apart from this, consumers might also reflect on their design and/or eco-compatibility. Put differently, consumption decisions are not only a function of economic or functional value, but also of aesthetic and ethical considerations. They are influenced by evaluations as to which products are beautiful and good, or ugly and bad. While sociology has paid increasing attention to the aesthetic and ethical underpinnings of consumption and lifestyles in recent decades, for the most part, research has either dealt with their formal-aesthetic or the ethical-moral aspects, without much cross-fertilization. In this chapter, we argue, in contrast, that lifestyles are structured by both aesthetic and ethical orientations. The impact and overlap of each of these two orientations, however, is likely to vary between different domains of consumption. Therefore, we theoretically analyze the connections between ethical and aesthetic orientations, consumption, and lifestyles. We locate the debate on aesthetics and ethics in the two classical sociological accounts of consumption, put forward by Max Weber and Pierre Bourdieu. Further, we discuss recent empirical findings on the aesthetic and ethical underpinnings of consumption and lifestyles. Finally, we provide a quantitative analysis of the relative importance of aesthetic and ethical orientations for a broad range of consumption behaviors, including cultural consumption, media consumption, food, sports, and housing. We find that the majority of these behaviors are collectively shaped by aesthetic and ethical orientations, although aesthetic orientations are the dominant structuring factor of consumption.

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Petrus Kautto and David Lazarevic

The transition to a circular economy is high on the European Union’s policy agenda. The systemic and disruptive changes required for such a transition will not take place without significant changes in existing regulatory structures. In this chapter we aim to provide a broad overview of the European Union’s circular economy policy goals and different policy instruments available to Member States to steer change towards a more circular economy. Many different policy instruments have been adopted to promote more sustainable resource use, including areas of waste, product and chemicals policy. However, these are often scattered, weak and disproportionately divided along economic sectors. We show that whilst there are policy instruments available, to address the fundamental socio-economic metabolism changes required, key policy failures need to be addressed in order to make real progresses toward the circular economy.

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Kersty Hobson

The consumer undoubtedly has a pivotal role to play in mainstream frameworks of the Circular Economy. This entails being willing and able to respond to market signals about new products and services; to internalise some of the work that being a consumer in the Circular Economy requires (e.g. repairing, returning goods for remanufacturing etc.); and to participate in the forms of collaborative consumption (or Sharing Economy). As yet, the uptake by consumers of Circular Economy practices has been slow, with research detailing the barriers and challenges. This chapter aims to consider why that is, examining how being framed and treated as a Consumer—as a specific, historical subject, and form of transactional relationship—may delimit the reach and impact of the Circular Economy, as a larger transformative project.

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Annette Cowie

Bioenergy refers to energy products (heat, electricity, biogas and biofuels) derived from biomass such as forestry residues, purpose-grown crops and organic wastes. Bioenergy can play a key role in advancing circular economy objectives related to resource use and waste management. In the conventional linear system virgin resources are applied to farmland, produce is harvested, processed and consumed, and waste goes to landfill or is dispersed in the environment, depleting land fertility, jeopardising future production, and discarding valuable resources. In the circular economy bioenergy technologies process waste into energy products and capture nutrients for application to farmland, closing the nutrient loop, maintaining productivity and preserving nutrient resources. For example, slow pyrolysis of biomass produces combustible gas and biochar for use as a soil amendment. Circular economy principles are translated for application to bioenergy, to guide the design of bioenergy systems that maximise circular economy objectives. It is recommended that performance of bioenergy systems is assessed using circularity indicators complemented with footprint indicators that quantify key environmental flows, including indirect effects. Sustainable bioenergy systems that advance the circular economy and decarbonisation of energy supply can be encouraged through enabling policy that ensures sustainability of biomass supply, applies a systems approach to management of biomass residues, and facilitates synergies between the land and energy sectors.

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Jack Barrie and Wisdom Kanda

The transition to a circular economy requires deep structural change of entire production-consumption systems. Such a systemic transition will inevitably be hampered by poor knowledge and resource transfer between various levels of society. It is therefore proposed in this chapter that a circular economy requires well-functioning ecosystems of intermediaries who can broker knowledge exchange and collaboration between different societal systems as well as geo-political scales. Sustainability intermediation has been recognised as being critical for lubricating the machinery of societal transitions, however, little is known with regards to the ecology of intermediaries required to achieve a global transition to a circular economy. In light of the challenges surrounding the effective governance of a circular economy transition, the questions this chapter seeks to explore is: how do we begin to nurture adequate ecologies of intermediaries that can facilitate the transition to a circular economy?

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David Lazarevic and Miguel Brandão

At the turn of the 21st century, the ‘circular economy’ was a relatively unknown term. Twenty-five years later, it is hard to find a policy document, at least in Asia or Europe, related to the environment or natural resources that does not mention the circular economy. The circular economy is the linguistic antonym of the ‘linear economy’; it has been presented by some as a solution to reconcile economic growth with the unsustainable use of natural resources and the negative environmental impact of today’s production and consumption systems. This chapter provides a general overview of what this circular economy is and what it aims to achieve. The circular economy is framed by many of its promoters as a strategy to deliver the decoupling of resource use and environmental impact from economic growth. This aim is discussed from an ecological economic and industrial ecology perspectives.

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Jouni Korhonen

Circular economy systems (CES) constitute of physical flows of materials and energy and the actors, organizations and communities affected by and affecting the physical flows. The flows are inter-organizational, inter-sectoral and international. They cross administrative, organizational and national boundaries and borders. CES qualify as complex adaptive systems (CAS). Self-organization, turbulence and surprise are common characteristics in CAS. However, general patterns of behaviour are visible. The chapter shows that four basic CAS principles/properties are fruitful for CE development: Material cycles (and energy cascades), diversity in the actors involved, interdependency in their relations and locality in the system’s products’ life cycles. Amplifying feedback loops among the four principles, i.e., development where the four principles are mutually reinforcing are observed. The understanding of the various types of relationships in CE systems may mitigate the risks of problem displacement and problem shifting and contribute to a complex adaptive sustainable system.

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Nicolas Buclet

In France, circular economy in its current meaning was adopted and then shaped by national institutions as a substitute to the scientific term of industrial ecology. This chapter is describing the process which led to this situation and analyzing it through the theory of the economy of conventions. Is firstly presented the way industrial ecology emerged in France during the 2000s. We will then explain how French institutions adopted the circular economy concept, and in doing so modified the meaning of industrial ecology substantially. This leads to lose the green references originally included in the industrial ecology and substitute them with industrial references and a main objective of optimization of the existing system, without questioning its principles and references.

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Jason Maier, Roland Geyer and Trevor Zink

The circular economy, in other words, the reuse or recycling of products, components, or materials, has been shown to have significant environmental potential. The environmental benefits of reuse and recycling are calculated as the difference between the incurred impacts of collection and reprocessing and the avoided impacts from displaced production processes and avoided landfill. In other words, reuse and recycling create environmental benefits only to the extent that they displace primary or other production activities. Since displaced production is market-mediated, it may not occur on a one-to-one basis. This phenomenon is called circular economy rebound and reduces the environmental benefits of circular economy activities. This chapter explains the mechanisms behind displaced production and circular economy rebound. It presents methods available to quantify both effects and also discusses potential tools and approaches to avoid, or at least reduce, circular economy rebound.