Towards an Education for the Circular Economy

As humans, we shape our world through the way we think - which is formed through our many years of learning. It is repeatedly argued that education brings changes in knowledge, behaviours and lifestyles. The same is required to make our economies transit from the linear ‘take-make-waste’ model to the circular economy model. There is a dire need to evolve our values and actions as an individual and at a societal level to think circular.


The “Doughnut”: The green ring represents a sweet-spot where our socio-economic systems should be placed, such that they respect (external) planetary boundaries, and fulfil (internal) societal needs.

The concept of CE was proposed outside Government and till date is driven mainly by the private sector, scholars and NGOs. The role of the private sector has been explicitly highlighted since the past few years. Many companies and industries started it out with the concept of sustainability, slowly, diving into the concept of the circular economy. However, the transition towards the CE cannot be solely driven by industries and businesses. Teachers and lecturers can play an imperative role in this transition as they will be the sources of knowledge for the future leaders belonging to various sectors who will be subsuming environment and sustainability awareness into decision making.


Since the early 1970s, environmental education has been a part of college and university curricula all across the globe. Sustainability education, the successor of environmental education was instilled in the curricula during the 1990s. The time period from 2005-2014 was declared as the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development by UNESCO. With time, many journals were developed focusing on the themes of environment and sustainability. Till date, research on education in CE is limited, however, a few private and public institutes including Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Sitra - a Finnish think tank, Circular Economy Club have introduced various themed courses on CE.


It is crucial to invest in education that looks into the concept of sustainability along with understanding the inter-relation between human life and the environment. Not limiting environmental education to only lectures but rather involving children into discussions and practical learning about consumption habits and, environmental protection and management actions. Schools worldwide have included curricula on environment education for younger age groups. In India, the importance of environment education (EE) was understood by the Government and a policy was introduced which made it compulsory to have EE as a part of school curricula since 2003.


Since CE is assumed to be a novel pathway to sustainable development, it requires education beyond environmental studies and not as a subset of environmental studies. Various educational institutes must teach the theoretical knowledge on CE along with practical learning which will help in inculcating the sustainability attitude and “eco-responsible citizenship” from a young age. If the CE curriculum is being applied to all levels of schooling education – it should also be accompanied by investing in teachers training. It is essential to train and support the teaching staff as they play a key role in building a circular society.


Consolidating CE thinking at high education institutes is equally vital as at this level it is about shaping the mentality of professionals most of whom are already in key positions. The institutes can broaden the CE learning by involving the theme of circular transition in different study domains including design, engineering, social sciences, urban studies and business. The institutes can promote the CE mentality by introducing CE as an extra-curricular activity, operating zero waste canteens and encouraging students to actively take part in various drives and campaigns promoting CE. The benefit of CE education will widely spread when and only when the steps have taken to impart knowledge from childhood to higher education levels.


An example of including CE course in higher education institutions can be seen by Utrecht University where the course on CE was designed based on the principles of interactivity, regularly incorporating feedback from students and non-dogmatism to encourage critical thinking in CE. Lucart proposed a project, named E-SPACE, which intends to raise new generation capable enough of developing projects of CE. The objectives of this project are to develop a framework for school education in CE along with training the staff on teaching circular economy concepts. Such initiatives are helping in raising awareness amongst various stakeholders in understanding CE.


Thus, initiating CE mentality and accommodating curricula that promote to understand and enhance human-environment relation could help in making our economies less wasteful and more resourceful. Thorough knowledge of the concept of the circular economy should be embedded in courses from various subject domains for all the college and university students in the immediate future.


The education supporting such a change at individual and societal levels have characteristics as listed below:

- Broadening the “possible” in terms of creativity and innovation.

- Promoting systemic thinking and understanding the environment, economy, society, culture and power inequalities.

- Cultivating ‘circular’ thinking.

- Cultivating social and environmental responsibility.

- Should integrate knowledge and experiences.

- Encouraging action research i.e., an ongoing exploration of the subject.


An education system that would support CE transition should be able to provide knowledge at a ‘think tank’ level as well as at a research site. This will help in better understanding of business and social reality among students. While the private sector plays a vital role in this transition, we at the Collective firmly believe that educationalists can play an equally vital role, given that they interact on daily basis with those who will shape tomorrow’s world.

About the Author

Nehmat Singh (LinkedIn) is a geographer and urbanist with interest areas in an urban environment, ecosystem services and sustainability. She pursued her master's in urban management and development from IHS, Erasmus University Rotterdam. Along with being an urban enthusiast, she is constantly trying to improve her baking skills.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Andrews, D., 2015. The circular economy, design thinking and education for sustainability. Local Economy, 30 (3), pp. 305-315. DOI:10.1177/0269094215578226


Kircherr, J., Piscicelli, L., 2019. Towards an Education for the Circular Economy (ECE): Five Teaching Principles and a Case Study. Resources, Conservation & Recycling, 130, pp. 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2019.104406


Lucart professional. The E-SPACE project. Available at: https://www.lucartprofessional.com/e-space/en/


Marouli, C., 2016. Moving towards a Circular Economy: The Need to Educate – Why and How? Available at: http://uest.ntua.gr/cyprus2016/proceedings/pdf/MAROULI_moving_towards_ciccular_economy_why_and_how.pdf


Sonowal, C.J., 2009. Environmental Education in Schools: The Indian Scenario. Journal of Human Ecology, 28 (1), pp. 15-36. DOI: 10.1080/09709274.2009.11906215


Vasileiou, E., Arvanitidis, S., 2020. [Online] Available at: https://epale.ec.europa.eu/en/blog/transition-circular-economy-role-education-youth-higher-education


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