A circular economy will bring higher standards of living to all, but it will bring the most progress and equity to the historically disadvantaged.
Many experts have noted a circular economic model's environmental and economic benefits, but society will also reap the rewards. The standard of living will increase across the board. However, communities disproportionately affected by climate change and structural inequities will benefit even more. Switching to a circular economy may be our best bet for sweeping societal change.
Universal Benefits of a Circular Economy
In a circular economy, citizens in all segments of society should see increased disposable income. Since a circular economy focuses on production efficiency, the prices of consumer goods will drop. Furthermore, people will see an increase in their ratio of productive time to unproductive time, particularly near cities. This increase is a consequence of the lower congestion of our infrastructure. Workers will either remain at home because their jobs are remote or benefit from a quicker commute if they must travel to and from work.
All consumers will benefit from new systems that allow the tailoring of products to fit the needs of the individual. A circular economy creates these systems by encouraging businesses to increase the customizability and effectiveness of their products. And with a focus on local production, consumers will enjoy a wider choice of products designed nearby to fit the needs of a local community, not one-size-fits-all solutions.
The Circular Economy Will Improve Urban Areas
Underprivileged urban areas will see the most significant gains in a circular economy. They will enjoy increased access to clean air and water, mitigating many of the health risks that have plagued them for generations. Furthermore, they will maintain a more equitable distribution of housing and good nutrition. Finally, historically disadvantaged groups will gain access to a disproportionately high number of the new jobs that a circular economy will create.
In a circular economy, citizens in all segments of society should see increased disposable income.
Underprivileged Residents Will Receive Access to Space
A circular economy reimagines transportation as a multimodal service rather than a privilege. With an increase in highly efficient public and shared transit services like trains, shuttles, and vehicle sharing, people who previously could not afford transportation will gain access to new spaces. This new mobility includes access to safer and affordable housing, better education, and more convenient healthcare facilities.
Moreover, the lack of congestion in urban areas will decrease travel times substantially, improving people's range. There will be a smaller number of vehicles on the road, allowing cities to reclaim, redevelop, and improve spaces that were dedicated to parking lots. Such land reclamation can increase housing and amenities, alleviating overcrowding and increasing the standard of living.
Natural Systems for Housing and Nutrition
New technologies allow recently constructed buildings to generate power, grow food, and even purify the air around them. Through urban and vertical farming, a city can supply a great deal of its own food, reducing the length of supply chains and boosting local access to nutrition. Underprivileged urban residents will benefit from this most, as their traditional living conditions did not afford them healthy foods at affordable prices.
As the circular economic model takes hold and replaces old buildings with new ones, the space will be modular. There will be many mixed-use buildings (residential, office, etc.) constructed of non-toxic materials, reducing chemical health risks to residents. Historically disadvantaged communities will be able to inhabit the reimagined urban environment fully, furthering social, health, and housing equity.
Local Employment Boom
A circular economy will increase the total number of jobs in society. This increase will have an outsized benefit for the historically disadvantaged. First, they will develop their own human capital by working and developing skills in the many new recycling and repair jobs that will open. Second, they may avoid the social and health problems associated with unemployment that can affect the individual and their community. Finally, they will be able to make their own way and not need to receive benefits, lowering the overall expenditure of society.
We Need a Circular Economy to Effect Social Change
In a circular economy, the whole of society will experience an increase in disposable income, greater satisfaction with their consumer goods, and an overall higher standard of living. In addition, the transition to a circular model will effect social change, granting historically disadvantaged groups access to the transportation, housing, nutrition, and jobs that systemic inequities denied them in the past. Regardless of the economic and environmental benefits, this progress alone should be enough to justify abandoning our outdated linear economic model.
Businesses that adopt a circular model for production and remanufacturing will bring substantial economic benefits to their customer base. In addition, these benefits will cultivate a tremendous amount of brand loyalty in the future.
As a circular economy improves travel in urban areas and increases people's range, businesses that begin to operate in-house recycling and repair will gain access to new labor that would otherwise not have been available.
Socially conscious businesses can help increase equity by participating in a circular economy. They will assist in bringing affordable housing, nutritious food, and effective healthcare to people that had previously been denied those rights.