In a recent Amplify article, we drew attention to infimals such as dematerialization, de-obsolescence, and product-service systems (PSS). Patterns, structures, and mental models associated with these systems require us to consider their implications on humanity’s well-being and other broad measures of social progress.
Production- and consumption-related infimals help change organizational and individual behavior around circular economy and degrowth systems. Eco-efficiency strategies for organizations include initiatives related to goods and services provisioning. Sustainable supply chain management includes eco-efficiency activities that can function within a circular system, ranging from end-of-pipe capture solutions to cleaner production activities. Designing for the environment is another opportunity to “green” products at early stages.
The consumption side also has links to the circular economy and degrowth. These activities could be defined as sufficiency strategies; they include expenditure mix and realization of quality of life. These activities shift consumption from material to immaterial (dematerialized or PSS infimals) without causing undue societal disruption or unjust social results.
The final element of a sufficiency strategy is to try to improve well-being with the same or lessened per unit expenditure. For example, the advent of streamed movies means we can see the latest films without traveling to a theater; although the social experience may be lost, other gains can occur.
Bundling services can also change behavior and enhance well-being without conventional economic growth. For example, in Switzerland, travelers can buy the mobility option that best suits their needs. Mobility services are integrated into a digital platform and a user app, providing door-to-door transport and offering individualized trip-planning and payment options. Users can buy a single ticket or a monthly subscription. Note that the underlying regional partnership requires support from consumers, platform developers, service providers, communities, and regulators and that these types of innovations require new technologies, enhanced integration, and behavior change.
The roster of infimals is changing and growing, giving rise to significant challenges for managers and organizations. But there is an argument for potentially positive consequences in the long run, one of which is resilience.
Circular Economy + Degrowth = Strong Sustainability -> Resilience
The pandemic showed us the need to build sustainability and resilience into our systems. Stories about electronic equipment such as ventilators needing local parts were widely circulated at the height of the pandemic. Indeed, we saw that circular economy practices resulted in greater resilience by strengthening localization of sourcing and building agility. However, we must realize that resilience may also depend on redundancy and having reliable and multiple circular sources.
For a time, economic growth was less of a concern as resilience assumed greater importance. Shifting away from growthism and focusing on sufficiency was elemental to building an enhanced capacity for resilience.
Resilience is, of course, a critical feature of strong sustainability. As we became less arrogant and insistent about economic growth, the pandemic experience showed us how resilience can be built into our responses to sustainability crises like climate change.
[For more from the authors on this topic, see: “Coordinating Circular & Degrowth Systems for Strong Sustainability.”]