Circular Economy and Justice – The missing link

Workshop Chair: Dr. Flurina Schneider and Prof. Stephan Rist

Participants to former WRF conferences agreed that contributions of social sciences and humanities for the enhancement of sustainable development should be made more explicit.
Economic issues belong to the most challenging aspects of sustainable development. The idea of decarbonizing the economy and using this strategy for transforming the current linear and short-term oriented economy into a circular economy is one of the most important steps forward.
However, as social sciences and humanities dealing with sustainability clearly point out, any transformation of basic economic structures affects the balance of winners and losers. Therefore, it is important to critically assess the processes and expected outcomes of a circular economy. This assessment should include possible impacts on different actor groups, countries and cultures of the communities living today, but also on the future generations, as well as on the planetary boundaries.
We are convinced that social sciences and humanities can greatly contribute to the important challenge of revising the concepts of a circular economy regarding a broader notion of sustainability. For doing so, the idea of environmental justice represents a highly adequate approach. Environmental justice integrates theories and discourses of social sciences and humanities and of social and environmental movements (Schlosberg, 2007). It aims to link issues of distributive and procedural justice, and the question of how human societies can respect the rights of non-human communities of the biosphere. Thus, pathways towards sustainability from a perspective of environmental justice include fair distribution of social and ecological goods and bads, adequate participation of local people, recognition of fundamental human capabilities and respect of nature and planetary boundaries.
We therefore propose to critically revise how the concepts of a circular economy relate to the basic principles of environmental justice, as one of the most advanced concepts of sustainability elaborated by social sciences and humanities.
This workshop therefore aims to address the following questions:

1. Which are the basic concepts of a circular economy?
2. What is environmental justice and why is it a fundamental contribution for assessing sustainable development initiatives?
3. What is the relation of the fundamentals of a circular economy and how do they match the basic principles of environmental justice?
4. What are main challenges for policy making, research, science and organization of business making in a circular economy that is grounded in the basic principles of environmental justice?