Getting To Know Key Terms - circulist Glossary of Terms

Below is a list of key terms you should become familiar with:

Circularity vs Sustainability?

It’s fascinating having more people discussing and debating our future economy and planet in context to the growing climate crisis we’re facing. On this note, there are two terms which seem to get used with not enough thought on their actual meaning and interpretation; circularity and sustainability.  Let’s dive straight into it:

Sustainability defined

Sustainable development requires an integrated approach that takes into consideration environmental concerns together with economic development and social equity.  In 1987, the United Nations Brundtland Commission defined Sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

UCLA has produced a simple explainer video on Sustainability.  Here’s the link below:

Circularity defined

Inspired by nature, circularity builds upon value retention loops at various levels, keeping materials at the highest possible value across the closed loop value system. The United Nations (UN) has done a great job at explaining circularity

In essence, Circularity contributes to a more sustainable world, but not all sustainability initiatives contribute to circularity. Circularity focuses on resource cycles, while sustainability is more broadly related to people, the planet and the economy.

Below is a list of key terms you should become familiar with:

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

As a way of driving collective global action on peace and prosperity for people and the planet, the UN in 2015 shared an SDGs blueprint (17 in total) as an urgent call for all to ‘act on improving health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.’

Here’s a link to the 17 SDGs in more detail:


Biomimicry, developed by Janine Benyus, is where design imitates nature and is applied to solutions solving people’s everyday needs.

More information on the Biomimicry website.

Doughnut Economy

Oxford economist Kate Raworth, described the model for measuring earth’s prosperity as the ‘doughnut economy’. The performance of an economy by the extent to which the needs of people are met without overshooting Earth's ecological ceiling.

More information on the Doughnut economy on wikipedia.

Circular Economy

A circular economy is "a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible".  The three principles required for the transformation to a circular economy are: eliminating waste and pollution, circulating products and materials, and the regeneration of nature.

More information on the Circular Economy on wikipedia.

Cradle to Cradle

William McDonough, a US architect, and Michael Braungart, a German chemist, both produce a manifesto detailing their Cradle to Cradle Design model.  

In the cradle-to-cradle model, materials in industrial and commercial processes are considered as raw materials for technological and biological reuse. Technical raw materials do not contain any components that are harmful to the environment; biological raw materials are completely biodegradable.

More information on the Cradle-to-Cradle website.


Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS) models combine tangible products and intangible services so that they are jointly capable of satisfying final user needs.  In XaaS models, producers typically maintain product ownership and lifecycle responsibility and are consequently incentivized towards adopting circular economy strategies (long-lasting and circular design, use phase intensification, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling).

More detail can be found in this extensive SystemIQ XaaS Report.

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