Exactly who first coined the term “circular economy” is not entirely clear, but the concept has certainly been prevalent in business thinking since the early 1990s. It would seem to have its philosophical roots in the environmental movement inspired by Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and the “limits to growth theory” from the 1970s. The objective of the circular economy (CE) is to demonstrate the economic viability of a business whilst at the same time optimising the use of resources and minimising waste. Originally the concept was applied in relation to waste management, but as the impacts of climate change have become increasingly apparent the CE model has really taken hold as a means to measure and compare business performance, and differentiate companies and production strategies.
The need to understand emissions and manage carbon footprints has extended the application from just closed loop waste management to a more comprehensive understanding of inputs and outputs in the production cycle, and even to the broader supply chain. This has seen the application of new assessment approaches and modelling tools to quantitatively evaluate these processes and interactions (e.g. material flow analysis, life cycle analysis and product/ organisation environmental footprint analysis).
To date, most CE assessments only focus on a subset of sustainability criteria but this is improving with each iteration. Sustainability should capture not just environmental dimensions, but also social and economic responsibilities, and increasingly the ethical intention (purpose) of business is being called to account. Sustainability is more complex than just choosing eco-friendly packaging options or switching to a renewable energy source, and governance and consumer expectations are increasingly reflecting that.
The aquaculture sector has some clear advantages in that it can already demonstrate safe and sustainable circular economy practices such as:
Fully integrated business models and bioproducts potential