Circular Economy: Symposium, Master Class and Peer Review

Circular Economy: The Future of Business

Symposium  of 23 June 2017 –
École des Ponts Business School

Closing commentary, Eric Britton.
Professor. Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy.
Institut Supérieur de Gestion, Paris | Twitter @ericbritton | Skype newmobility

INTRODUCTION: I was invited by the Dean and faculty of the Ecole des Ponts Business School to participate in a full day Symposium on the Circular Economy at their campus on 23 June 2017,. The objective of the event was to introduce  and invite peer comments on  a new program of  graduate seminars and faculty research exploring the boundaries and potential of this relatively new, environmentally sensitive planning and process technique, which takes as its starting point to scrutinize and reorganize productive units to eradicate waste  systematically, throughout the life cycles and uses of products and their components. I was invited to provide a brief  closing summary of what I had observed and heard over the day, with a certain number of recommendations if that should prove useful. My closing remarks are summarized below.  For background on the program click to

    Right topic, right time, right place. As a development economist who often works with the private sector/public policy interface, and after attending your full day of lectures and audience participation on your new program, I am confident that a strong course focusing on these challenges and tools will be a feather in the cap of anyone coming out of a strong international business school in the years immediately ahead.  If you are training future business leaders, I would say this is a must-have for your curriculum now.

    If I had one source to turn in order to better understand the critical underpinnings of Circular Economy it would be Kenneth Boulding’s pathbreaking 1966 essay “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth”, available in our informal  reading room here at!AivPCmA_7fpkh_00FjPfWlcMq2XnoQ  Half a century later the words of this brilliant mind continue to challenge us.

    With the new French government’s announced strong commitment to innovation and to smarter use of resources and the environment, your school be right in the hotbed of projects and programs in these area to which you can link, participate and learn from in creative ways. In this same spirit of creative outreach, I am impressed by the extent to which your School has been able to open pipelines of conversation, preparatory work and eventual financial support for related research programs with the European Union. So, if you’re going to do it, now is the time and Paris is a great place to do it.
    This is a bit tricky. However, in this context it is not so much a problem, as it is a challenge. Looking at this from the perspective of a policy economist, as opposed to a business specialist, I would say that what we had when it comes to the Circular Economy is not so much a “body of knowledge and practice” — like many of the topics which are in the curriculum of the business school or university — at this point in its evolution the Circular Economy as an interesting, promising concept which is still very much work in progress. That said, it looks to me as if this is a perfect time for your school to start to integrate it into the curriculum, particularly if we take into account the several definitely interesting EU projects that Professor Demetriou spoke to, in which you should be rubbing shoulders with colleagues from institutions and other countries who will be bringing their own understanding perspectives and achievements to date into your shared knowledge. A real collaborative learning process.
    The origins and economic context of Circular Economy are many and important to understand. As an economist (once again, apologies!) I believe it is important for you to place your course, and indeed all of your work under this topic, in the full ongoing policy context of which it is a part. As you know what we today call the Circular Economy is but one recent part of the much broader process which initially got underway in the immediate postwar years as macro economists and political scientists started to rethink the role and toolkit of the planner and policy maker. The Circular Economy did not leap out from a vacuum; it has many antecedents which have and continue to shape it in many ways. Thus, in my view it is important for the student to have a certain level of familiarity with the overall search and transition process in order to really understand its full potential. In an attempt to make this point, I have sketched just below a small mind map of sorts, in which I attempt to identify some of the most important streams of study and policy innovation which constitute the real context of C/E , along with a handful of the thinkers who have been so important in advancing them in so many useful ways.

    As an outsider, I have no understanding as to how and to what extent you can link these broader contextual and policy issues to the main thrust of your program. One idea might be a parallel three-day (??) master class on “The Intellectual History of the Circular Economy”. It might also be interesting as well to open the course up to executives from the business community and other university programs so that their broad experience and even their questions, doubts and ideas can be factored into the overall exercise of collaborative education.
    You may wish to consider linking in some manner your program to a parallel or complementary program going on in a strong school of political science and public administration. Encouraging creative thinking and interaction from these two very different perspectives.
  1. THE OTHER SIDE: I strongly recommend that you ensure from the beginning that the work and views of thinkers who are hostile to the concept — Marxists, anarchists, degrowthers, climate deniers, etc. – are heard and discussed. There are some interesting challenges in what they have to say (other than the usual blather), and the students should be comfortable with these critical. (For a sample of this have a look at “Against wasted politics: A critique of the circular economy at!AivPCmA_7fpkh_02sy9tAk6fez-Y9g)
    Please permit me to advocate that this course from the very beginning should be based on the concept of FULL GENDER PARITY, both in terms of the students and of all those involved in shaping the program. This is no small or trivial matter, because learning and decision situations which are carried out in a primarily male environment inevitably lack the wealth of vision and diversity that full gender parity permits.And a bit of parity will not do the trick. 10 or 20% female representation is just not enough.  The absolute minimum base should be 40%. When you cross into these higher thresholds literally everything starts to change. The female contingent will challenge the usually dominant male thinking. Kindly permit me to insist on this: it may seem like a facile reference to what is at this time a popular topic, but the arguments and the reality dig far deeper than that. I have attempted to summarize them in another context in a stream of articles which you can find at Circular Economy and Gender Parity go hand in hand very nicely. And if you do this, you are going to set yourself apart from the others from the very beginning.

For my participation in the 23 June seminar I pulled together a small open library of online sources and background information on various aspects of the C/E challenge. It is available at .  I intend to continue to update this regularly s I run across useful resources for students and policy makers. There is also a very useful online library of more recent resources form the Ellen Macarthur Foundation  at

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About the École des Ponts Business School

The École des Ponts Business School is an internationally-accredited business school located in MarnelaVallée 25 minutes away from the center of Paris.  The program leverages the latest research and traditions of excellence in Innovation, Technology Management and Entrepreneurship. It offers truly an international experience across four continents, global visiting faculty and peers from around the world. The School is accredited by AMBA, the International Association of MBAs.

The École des Ponts  MBA is a flagship programme for Innovation Management in a global economy. The School prides itself on the range and quality of the programs offered, on the high competence of our faculty who come from all corners of the world to teach in our programs, on the quality of our highly-diverse, international student body, on the quality and commitment of our staff, as well as on our ability to get to know each and every student who comes to our school

The  École des Ponts Business School has been delivering MBAs and management programs since 1987 with nearly 6,000 graduates to date of our programs around the world.  The École des Ponts Business School is one of France’s Grandes Ecoles, renowned for the excellence of its education around the world. While still strong in all areas of civil, mechanical and material engineering, the ENPC is increasingly known for its programs on sustainability and the high number of students that go on to finance careers.

   * For more click to

École des Ponts ParisTech (originally the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées) is a university-level institution of higher education and research in the field of science, engineering and technology. Founded in 1747 by Daniel-Charles Trudaine, it is the oldest and one of the most prestigious French Grandes Écoles.  The Grandes Écoles are highly selective and prestigious institutions and their graduates often dominate the private and public sectors of French society.

Historically, its primary mission has been to train engineering officials and civil engineers, (“Ponts et Chaussées”, Bridges and Boads),  but the school now offers a wide-ranging education including computer science, applied mathematics, civil engineering, mechanics, finance, economics, innovation, urban studies, environment and transport engineering. École des Ponts is today largely international: 43% of its students obtain a double degree abroad, and 30% of an ingénieur cohort is foreign. It is headquartered in Marne-la-Vallée (suburb of Paris), France, and is a founding member of ParisTech (Paris Institute of Technology) and of the Paris School of Economics.

The School is under the  new and highly ambitious Ministry for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition (“Ministère de la Transition écologique et solidaire”), whose strong commitment to putting climate, environment, resources  and education into a leading  position for government policy over the coming five years, needs to be noted in the context of the Circular Economy curriculum and research activities of the School.

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About the author:

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Trained as a development economist, Eric Britton is a public entrepreneur specializing in the field of sustainability and social justice. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets, his latest work focuses on the subject of equity, economy and efficiency in city transport and public space, and helping governments to ask the right questions -- and in the process, find practical solutions to urgent climate, mobility, life quality and job creation issues. More at:

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