Disruption! Rethink the system

Susan McLaren, Senior Lecturer in Design & Technology, Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh and Fleur Ruckley, Project Director,  Scotland’s 2020 Climate Group

Disruption! Rethink the system

circular economy is one where “the goods of today become the resources of tomorrow at yesterday’s prices”. 

Economic Context: Scotland was the first nation to join Circular Economy 100.  In August 2013, Environment Secretary, Richard Lochhead, issued the statement: “Scotland’s economy will benefit from moving to a more circular model of production and consumption. Our Zero Waste Plan is already delivering important actions to make better use of resources, and we can accelerate progress if we join together with others on a global level.” By 2016, the Scottish Government issued Making Things LastA Circular Economy Strategy.

Using a Nature as Teacher where waste=food philosophy, the circular economy rests on three principles, each addressing several of the resource and system challenges. These are becoming increasingly more discussed and adopted, by large scale and SME businesses- aiming to disrupt ‘business as usual’ of the linear economy systems and encourage a rethinking of the status quo.

Principle 1: Preserve and enhance natural capital…by controlling finite stocks and balancing renewable resource flows.

Principle 2: Optimise resource yields…by circulating products, components, and materials at the highest utility at all times in both technical and biological cycles. This means designing for remanufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling to keep components and materials circulating in and contributing to the economy.

Principle 3: Foster system effectiveness..by revealing and designing out negative externalities.

Education Context: Many policies and publications* have nudged the core school curriculum (3-18years old) towards an overall aim to embed Sustainable Development Education in Scottish education.  The most recent construct is Learning for Sustainability, LfS (One Planet School Group, 2012) which comprises sustainable development education, global citizenship and outdoor learning.  The intention is that LfS in the curriculum helps to ‘nurture a generation of children and young people who know and value the natural world……. committed to the principles of social justice, human rights, global citizenship, democratic participation and living within the ecological limits of our planet.’ (One Planet Schools Implementation Group, 2016: 3).  As a contributor to LfS, Circular Economy, through Cradle to Cradle, is incorporated in the school certificate course ’Design and Manufacture’ (SQA, 2013)

University of Edinburgh is working to identify how the principles of the Circular Economy can be embedded into Research, teaching, operations across the whole university (UoE,2016). The university SRS department have been leading the concept of the university as ‘A living Lab’ to progress thinking and actions related to sustainability and social responsibility in all aspects of the university.

Several Professional Institutes have embedded the requirement for education for sustainable development and / or Circular Economy in their professional accreditation processes.

Prompts to explore and cause pause to ponder

Principles:: Values:: Responsibilities:: Practices::

Preparation for the GESA Reading group, please choose from these 2 papers and / or 2 videos

Webster, K (2013)   Missing the wood for the trees: systemic defects and the future of education for sustainable development Curriculum Journal 24:2, 295-315 http://www.tandfonline.com.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/doi/full/10.1080/09585176.2013.802585

The circular economy. By Walter R. Stahel – Nature, 23 March 2016. http://www.nature.com/news/the-circular-economy-1.19594

and / or

Circular Economy: Thomas Rau at TEDxZwolle – ( approx. 20mins) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrb2v_f0ZYY

Rethinking Progress: The Circular Economy  (3 mins 11 secs)



  • Are principles such as those of the Circular Economy (Nature as Teacher, Waste = Food, material cascades, made to be made again, regenerative manufacture, sharing economies, nature as capital, design for disassembly, cradle to cradle thinking, bio-nutrients/ technical nutrients and closed loop cycles) considered realistic and feasible concepts to encourage a wide scale rethinking of systems ?


  • What are the responsibilities of industry, commerce, business and enterprise in relation to ESD and Circular Economy principles? Who should / could take responsibility?


  • Should school aged young people be exposed to Circular Economy principles, the sharing economy, social enterprise and for-profit approaches, or is this something for those entering specialist education at higher levels of study? Should educators display their own ‘frame of mind’ and values in relation to issues of sustainability and sustainable development when working with young people? What should be taught? Who should be responsible for this? Why?


  • How should/could the Circular Economy manifest in practice? What needs to be in place to engage society (rich and poor, diverse cultures and communities), encourage innovation, inform and develop practice disrupt and rethink current systems?

Principles:: Values:: Responsibilities:: Practices::



Further links and readings can be made available for follow up for interested readers.


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