OSCEdays – Circular Economy Definition

Meta: Discussion was part of the development of an OSCEdays Organisation.


For the development of the future of OSCEdays a clear definition of Circular Economy is needed. Below are drafts. Let’s discuss and develop them in this thread further. Are all aspects covered?


Definition CE – Version 0.3

(Entire new take - explained here)

In a Circular Economy, systems are designed to provide the potential for as many other systems as possible to grow – in the short and long term (biological, social and technical systems).

To reach this goal, the Circular Economy favors and explores concepts, techniques and strategies like:

  • circular flows of resources, products and processes;
  • fair and free environments for people to live and work;
  • local and short feedback loops;
  • use of standards;
  • use of (non-toxic, clean, nourishing and healthy) materials that are either technically recyclable or biodegrade;
  • products and processes designed for
  • durability,
  • compatibility,
  • upgradability,
  • adaptability,
  • maintenance and repair and
  • dis- and reassembly,
  • (also high value);
  • (Low carbon and low entropy approaches;)
  • open source collaboration (or transparency).


Definition CE - Draft Vs 0.1

UPDATED Vs 0.2 | | UPDATED Vs 0.3

Circular Economy is an approach to the design of objects [1.], systems and collaboration between individuals and organisations that wants to build a really (socially [2.], ecologically and economically) sustainable economy.

In a Circular Economy materials return after the life-cycle of a product back to another production cycle. It focuses on regenerability. There is no waste or unwanted byproducts, everything is made in a way that it can feed other production processes, infinitely [3.].

The Circular Economy avoids the consumption of non-renewable scarce resources [4.] and aims to preserve a rich, healthy and productive biosphere [5.].

Therefore the Circular Economy favours Durability, Standardization and the Use of Standards, Compatibility, Upgradability and Adaptability, Ease of Maintenance and Repair and Readiness for Dis- and Reassembly of Products and Parts and Materials that are Recyclable or Biodegradable [6.].



(And once a CE definition is done we can just add something like the following and have definition for OSCE:

“The Open Source Circular Economy does all that by applying the principles of OS to it that are …”)


“Products” instead of “objects” would be of course easier to understand/less vague. But it comes with a certain notion of economy. Did a blacksmith in the middle ages provide “products”? “Objects” is more open and flexible, philosophically. But it makes also the first sentence harder to grasp … And I use “products” later in the definition anyway. Another way could be to replace it in general with “artefacts”? But this might be to abstract and philosophical.

We wanted to add, that it is about people. Could this be the way to do it?

I was thinking about bringing in the technical and biological cycles. But could not find an elegant way to do it yet. Question is: Is it really needed? I think those concepts would need explanation also. The Ellen MacArthur Foundations definition just says: “Distinguishing between technical and biological cycles.“ Without any comment. I am not sure if this works very good. -> Update: I might have found a solution, see point [6] below

We wanted to integrate: “a systems thinking approach within a circular economy beyond the status quo of resource efficiency to include over-consumption, externalities, rebound effects.” Which is good I think. Could the version above be the way to cover this? Maybe it is a bit vague. But somehow and underlying concept of “over-consumption, externalities & rebound effects”. Adding “over-consumption, externalities & rebound effects” as words to the definition is not a good idea I think. They are heavy words and heavy and not intuitive concepts. Either we would have to explain them, which would make the definition way to long and complicated or we would have to add them unexplained which would make the definition hard to understand and to connect to for most people.

Or should it say “environment” instead of “biosphere”.

It would be possible to make the last bit longer and cover the two cycles here: “recyclable through technical processes or biodegrade in the biosphere without harming it.” I think, this might be good.

ping @sharmarval @TechnicalNature @cameralibre @unteem @keikreutler @hazem @Alice_audrey @Ina @sophia @transitionmica @Chris @lauren @RicardoR @Gien @Silvia (+ you, feel invited to join the task)

btw. if you are looking for a practical video, here is one:


I’m not yet sure how to add the terms to your short definition.

For me these aspects of CE are still missing. It is:

  • Resource effective: uses energy and material resources in a way that make the most of it within the system as a whole. This may look inefficient when broken down to a single product (example: a tree seems inefficient: it uses energy to grow leaves and then ‘wastes’ it by dropping them in autumn, but in fact it does gather solar energy and distributes it into the eco-system that also feeds its rootbase)
  • Socially sustainable: people can fulfill their fundamental human needs (Max Neef and others) and thus create stable and fair societies that allow them not to be wasteful (poverty is one of the major causes of environmental degradation: people simply don’t have a choice to behave more sustainably.)
  • Uses appropriate scale: a lot of problems arise when processes grow too large. 10 pigs can fertilize a field 10 000 pigs can poison a whole landscape (as is happening in northern Germany).
  • Works with short feedback loops: the more direct the feedback the better a complex system can be managed
  • local before global: a lot of things travel too far to effectively close the cycle. Nutrients that come in the apple from New Zealand cannot ever be sustainably tranported back to the trees that need them.
  • Redundant: each material can be used for several purposes and each purpose can use several materials. That way shortages and build-ups of materials can be better avoided.

Great job so far!
I agree we should emphasis on different aspects that are missing in the EMF definition. In my view circular economy aims also to create or support local communities. The following aspects should be included:

  • socially sustainable:
    People should be able to fulfill their fundamental needs
  • cultural mindset shift:
    The concept of waste become obselte in people’s mind.
  • re thinking the use of local ressources for local needs (especially when it comes to energy and food)
  • local scaling to adapt solutions to each region’s particularities

Im taking part of the MOOC: circular economy an introduction
It starts in November, I can be a great opportunity to ask also academics on the topic. If anyone wants to join let me know it’s a lot more fun to work with others !


My partner mentioned that there’s already great work on the definition of the circular economy which was thouroughly debated by scientists from many fields: http://www.thenaturalstep.org/sustainability/the-system-conditions/
I’ll have a deeper look into that the coming days. Just thought you might want to have a look as well.

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the link doesn’t work, but it sounds interesting

Hey there, it’s great to see you guys working on the definition of Circular Economy. I feel it’s very important to work on our understanding - and establishing a much broader common understanding of what Circular Economy is.

Here I would like to share with you the definition, which @simonlee, Benjamin and I are working with. I really would be super glad if that flows into your definition and if we continue discussing what we understand under Circular Economy together;

For us Circular Economy means to rethink the way we organize production and consumption on a local and on a global level. This implies a paradigm change from “take-make-consume and dispose” toward re-using, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products.

Our vision is to work toward a value chain built around circular economy business principles, thereby enabling economies and societies to establish work toward a deeper sustainability.

Why it’s relevant to us
The “take-make-consume and dispose” pattern of growth keeps using primary resources without considering their finite nature.
Imagine that by 2030 the number of middle-class consumers is expected to reach This is a key driver for economic growth and increased production.
At the same time the demand for constrained resource stocks (biomass, fossil energy, and many metals) is expected to reach 130 billion tons by 2050.
The impact becomes evident looking at the development of the prices for primary resources. For example between 2002 and 2010 commodity prices went up by 150%. It is true that since 2011 there has been a decline, due to the slow down of economic growth in Asia. However prices are expected to continue to increase in the long run, due to structural trends.
Despite growing demand in primary resources we have not become more conscious and efficient with our usages. The amount of waste since the industrial revolution has grown exponentially. Nowadays the average consumer in Europe produces about 1,6 kg of waste per day, tendency rising. And still recycling infrastructure is globally lagging behind, leading to increased pollution and real danger for the basis of our communities on the planet.
We believe that a more circular economy presents real opportunities. By shifting the paradigm toward re-using, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products we can build solid circular models for a sustainable future.

How we work
In order to achieve our goals we collaborate with communities of creatives, entrepreneurs and companies to build interdisciplinary products, services and culture of the circular economy of today and tomorrow.
CRCLR is committed to work toward a world where the Circular Economy is the backbone of healthy communities and economic growth.


Here is a related discussion on ‘Defining the Circular Economy’ from last year: Defining the “circular economy”

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@Lars2i regarding point [4]

We definitely don’t want to alienate people with over-complex language, but also, externalities are bad, over-consumption is a societal problem and rebound effects can negate potential benefits of design strategies such as ‘upgradeability’ if the right business model isn’t in place…

So maybe we can include simpler language:

  • True Cost (captures externalities and environmental trade-offs)
  • Slowing, narrowing and closing resource loops (Walter Stahel – captures over-consumption)

New Full Version (0.2)

Intro: Hi, great work everybody. I was looking at your suggestions. Here is a new version including most of it. At the bottom you’ll find some things I did not include and my reasons for it.


The new version has a 5 step structure. Maybe we can take this as a basic to make the language better and include or exclude information.

(Step 1 - Introduction: design for sustainability)
(Step 2 - Main concept: circular instead of linear)
(Step 3 - Main goal: synergy with biosphere and future generations)
(Step 4 - negative things to avoid)
(Step 5 - positive things, concepts and strategies to explore)

I think the information in the text is good. But now it needs a native or very skilled english speaker to make sure everything is expressed precisely, short and most importantly elegant.

In (brackets) are things I am not sure if to include or not. Depends a bit on the language, is the necessary already expressed.

Definition CE Draft 0.2


Circular Economy is an (holistic) approach to the design of artefacts, systems and collaboration with the goal to build a truly socially, ecologically and economically sustainable economy.

It replaces the linear “take-make-consume-dispose” paradigm for production and consumption with a paradigm of regenerativity (or circularity) where every output of every process can always feed in as an input for a new process (and materials return after the life-cycle of a product back to another production cycle as raw materials or nutrients), making the concept of waste obsolete.

The Circular Economy aims to work in a productive, preserving and mutually elevating synergy with the biosphere and future generations, not seeing (treating) them (?) as a source for resources or subject for depletion.

It is aware of problems like externalities, over consumption and rebound effects and tries to tackle them by taking a (holistic) systems thinking approach.

Therefore the Circular Economy favours and explores – where it makes sense to reach its goals – short feedback loops, local before global patterns, durability, compatibility, upgradability and adaptability, ease of maintenance and repair, readiness for dis- and reassembly of artefacts, general standardization and the use of standards and the choice of materials that are either technically recyclable – can always be brought back without loosing quality to a fresh technical manufacturing process – or biodegradable – can be released into the biosphere without harming it, but feeding it.

The Circular Economy prefers fair and free environments for people to live and work where they are not subject to conditions that undermine their capacity to meet their needs and rather enable them to participate freely, self-determined and creatively in the invention, building and continuance a Circular Economy. [1.]


[1.] I would like to hear your opinions about that bit. It is good (?). But also takes a step away from the more technical stuff… And is very prominently placed here at the end.

Ok, that’s it.

Two things from the suggestions I did not include:

“basic fundamental needs” – I don’t like the concept of “fundamental needs” because it has hidden power structures. Who decides what are my fundamental needs, and what not? There is no clear line. Some people don’t need houses. Some really need a new pink-shirt every month to stay mentally healthy. I for example am really in need for the internet. But noone would have included this in any list 20 years ago. Every binary distinction produces discrimination!

“approprate scale” – also problems with the power structure. Who decides what is appropriate and what not.

Ok, looking forward to some feedback and further work with it.

@sharmarval @transitionmica @TechnicalNature @cameralibre @unteem @Justine @Alice_audrey @Ina @sophia

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@Gien shared on Facebook some kind of definition as part of a conversation. I paste it here (hope it is ok Gien, if not, let me know.)

"Circular economy means that the goods and services are designed in such a way that we try to eliminate the concept of “waste” Economies today are normally “linear”, which means it has a known start point and end point. The start point is virgin resource extraction and the end point is the landfill (or pollution in the atmosphere or hydrosphere). A circular economy intercepts the a manufactured product that has reached the end of its life, to prevent it from entering entering the landfill and instead diverts it back to the input of the manufacturing process.

If designed with circular design principles, the product can be easily taken apart and all technical nutrients recovered and turned back into the same high quality feedstock required at the input of the manufacturing process. In the case that it is biological nutrient, it simply decomposes benignly in the environment. This does two things: 1) avoids waste 2) avoids extracting more virgin resources for manufacturing. By feeding back the tail end of End of Life products to the front, we form a circle.

If our manufacturing process is low energy, then in principle, we can continue manufacturing in these loops to satisfy all our needs. In the real world of course, it’s not so perfect and there are efficency losses."

Thanks for your new version, I think it’s getting there.

As for the point you made on “basic fundamental needs”:
this is an ongoing academic debate since the 1960s that I was referring to (see Manfred Max-Neef, Abraham Maslow, John W. Burton, Richard E. Rubenstein and others), so there are some attempts to define them beyond a momentary personal feeling of ‘need’, that’s why they are called basic and fundamental. It’s not about individual needs but about researching which needs we all share and how they relate to each other. I find this debate and the research that goes with it extremely helpful in considering the needs of people we don’t know and as middle class Germans rarely get to see. So yes: knowing about fundamental needs is about power structures and who defines what is important to work on.
The *‘basic’, ‘fundamental’ or ‘primordial’ needs that have so far been found and formulated are quite generalized: For example in this framework the ‘need’ for internet is included in the basic needs to communicate and to develop, the need for a pink shirt may be included in the need to be acknowledged, and the lack of a need for houses may be due to the fact that the basic need for shelter is satisfied in a different way.

Anyways, I didn’t know how to include it, so it’s probably not the core point of our discussion right now. To know about it might simply help in our attempt to design for a fair and socially sustainable society. Maybe I’ll give a talk on it on the OSCEdays2016 and we can decide on it then.

appropriate scale: that’s a point that is much harder to defend. I don’t know who is doing what kind of research on it, but I know for sure that a lot of production cycles are only sustainable on a specific scale: farming with few animals is beneficial for the soil while keeping too many animals on a piece of land kills all soil biota and spoils the ground water. Scale therefore is extremely important in defining what is sustainable. So it’s not a matter who decides on what is appropriate but rather how we can find out about what is a given by our environment. It’s nature that defines the appropriate scale for us by the limits it poses on our operations. I’ll research a bit more on good texts and sources and let you know what I find.

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I am not sure if this should add to the definition project above. But it is for sure an important point for us I think:

Cicular Economy is an idea for an economy where we don’t have to invade other countries because of their resources and murder little children via drone strikes and seed hatred that will translate into terror, repression and unfreedom for the whole world.



Hi, I made a first german translation of Draft 0.2 for the statutes. Helped to make some things shorter.

It is always hard to express complex things short, precise, easy to understand and elegantly at the same time. To german speakers: I am happy about suggestions.

Circular Economy im Sinne des Vereins ist ein Ansatz für die Gestaltung von Gütern, Systemen und Zusammenarbeit für eine sozial, ökologisch und ökonomisch wirklich nachhaltige Wirtschaft.

Lineare Abläufe, die mit der Ressourcenextraktion für die Produktion und den Konsum von Gütern beginnen und mit deren abschließenden Entsorgung als Müll enden, werden durch (regenerative) Kreisläufe ersetzt, bei denen alle Endprodukte von Prozessen immer zu fruchtbaren Eingangsstoffen für neue Prozesse werden, und somit nie Müll entsteht.

Die Circular Economy agiert in produktiver und sich wechselseitig bewahrender und fördernder Synergie mit der Biosphäre und zukünftigen Generationen und sieht diese nicht als auszubeutende Ressourcenquelle. Externalisierungen, Überkonsum und Rebound-Effekte werden mit ganzheitlichem Systemdenken und -design vermieden.

Die Circular Economy setzt – da wo es Sinn macht für die Erreichung ihrer Ziele – auf lokale vor globale Abläufe und kurze Feedback-Loops, sowie auf Langlebigkeit, Reparierbarkeit, Kompatibilität, Ausbaufähigkeit und leichte Auseinandernehmbarkeit von Gütern sowie Standardisierung. Eingesetzte Materialien sind entweder durch technisches Recycling vollständig und ohne Qualitätsverlust wiedergewinnbar oder können als biologische Nährstoffe fungieren, entlässt man sie in die Umwelt.

Die Circular Economy bevorzugt faire und freie Umgebungen für Menschen zum Leben und Arbeiten, die ihr Vermögen, an der Erfüllung ihrer Bedürfnisse zu arbeiten und frei, selbstbestimmt und kreativ an der Erfindung, Entwicklung und Aufrechterhaltung einer Circular Economy teilzunehmen, nicht einschränken.

For the statutes the version above was too long. So i took some time, to create a shorter one, that still captures somehow most of the long one above.

Circular Economy im Sinne des Vereins bezeichnet einen Ansatz für die Gestaltung von Gütern, Prozessen und Zusammenarbeit zur Erreichung einer wirklich nachhaltigen Wirtschaft. Die Circular Economy arbeitet in wechselseitig bewahrender und fördernder Synergie mit der Biosphäre und zukünftigen Generationen. Wichtigste Eigenschaft hierfür ist die Herstellung und der Betrieb geschlossener Stoffkreisläufe. Alles ist so gestaltet, dass sämtliche Endprodukte eines Prozesses immer als nützliche Eingangsstoffe für andere Prozesse dienen können; Müll gibt es damit nicht mehr. Für die Erreichung ihrer Ziele stärkt die Circular Economy eine Reihe von Techniken und Strategien wie die Bevorzugung einfacher Feedback-Loops und lokaler vor globaler Abläufe, Reparierbarkeit, Anpassbarkeit, Aufwertbarkeit und leichte Auseinandernehmbarkeit von Gütern, Gebrauch und Entwicklung von Standards, Einsatz technisch vollständig recycelbarer oder toxikologisch-unbedenklich bioabbaubarer Materialien, sowie die Unterstützung fairer und freier Lebens- und Arbeitsumgebungen für Menschen.

*Ein paar kleine Verbesserugsvorschläge, v.a. um Nominalisierungen zu vermeiden, die Texte immer etwas schwer lesbar machen * (fett) und zwei wichtige Punkte, die beim Kürzen verloren gegangen waren.

Circular Economy im Sinne des Vereins bezeichnet einen Ansatz,
Güter, Prozesse und Zusammenarbeit so zu gestalten, dass eine
wirklich nachhaltige Wirtschaft entsteht. Die Circular Economy arbeitet in
bewahrender und fördernder Synergie mit der Biosphäre, damit sie auch für
zukünftige Generationen lebenswert bleibt. Die Hauptherausfoderung hierbei ist es, geschlossene Stoffkreisläufe herzustellen und zu betreiben, in denen sämtliche Endprodukte eines Prozesses immer als nützliche Eingangsstoffe für andere Prozesse dienen können. Das Konzept von ‘Müll’ oder ‘Abfall’ wird damit abgeschafft. Um diese Ziele** zu erreichen,** stärkt die Circular Economy eine Reihe von Techniken und Strategien:

  • einfache Feedback-Loops und lokale Abläufe werden bevorzugt
  • Güter sollen reparierbar, apassbar, aufwertbar und leicht auseinandernehmbar sein
  • es werden einheitliche Standards entwickelt und genutzt
  • es werden nur technisch vollständig recycelbare oder toxikologisch unbedenkliche, biologisch abbaubare Materialien eingesetzt
  • faire, selbstbestimmte und freie Lebens- und Arbeitsumgebungen für Menschen werden unterstützt
  • Rebound-effekte und Externalisierungen werden durch die Gestaltung des Systems vogebeugt.

I changed the grammar of some sentences in @Lars2i German version to make it more readable and added some details that went missing in the shortening process. Here’s what is says now (in a quick translate, please excuse awkward phrasing):

Circular Economy is an approach of designing goods, processes and collaboration in such a way that they create a truely sustainable economy. The Circular Economy works in a preserving and nurturing synergy with the biosphere to keep a livable environment for future generations. The main challenge in this is to create and sustain closed cycles of matter in which all the outputs of all processes feed as useful input into others. The concept of ‘waste’ or ‘garbage’ is made obsolete. In order to reach these goals, the Circular Economy promotes a range of techniques and strategies:

  • prefer simple feedback loops and local processes
  • design goods to be repairable, modifyable, upgradable and easy to disassemble
  • develop and use consistent standards
  • only use materials that can be fully recycled technically or are non-toxic and fully bio-degradeable
  • support fair, self-determined and free working and living environments
  • prevent rebound effects and externalization through the design of the systems.
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while peace is a social order we certainly strive for I would not go as far as dreaming that a circular economy will bring it about. But I do hope that it will make it much easier for future generations to not go to war as ressources will not be scarce any more (though they still may be unevenly allocated).

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Ah, great Maike.

The Statutes are at the Finanzamt (finance authorities) to check for tax-free status right now in this version:

OSCE-e.V. SATZUNG zur Prüfung - Nov2015.pdf (31.2 KB)

There i changed the wording already a bit. But your corrections are good. And we can add it to the final version once we got feedback from the Finanzamt.

@sharmarval (and @Lars2i) I think we shall join forces and move twds #SE (Spiral Economy aka @tomazdiez) tbd // Note: a lot of the ‘circular’ thinking stuff feels still too much like ‘Flatland’ :wink: literally kinda blah tbd

move and join OSCE forces = #SE (Spiral Economy aka @tomasdiez tbd (beyond ‘circular’ ‘Flatland’ :wink: tbd

//NOTE: t-RE to John Maeda ‏@johnmaeda Mar 16
Classical Design Principles vs #DesignInTech Principles http://www.KPCB.com/blog/design-in-tech-report-2016

t-JohnMaeda-DesignInTech-DesignInSE_tbd.psd (1.6 MB)