Reflections from the Monday morning session on “Economy, trade and resilience”

One disastrously long vegetarian lunch queue later (who would have expected resilience scientists to be vegetarians right? :p), I find myself coming late into this session on the economy, trade and resilience, missing the very first talk…

Markku Anttonen from the University of Helsinki explores the possibilities for the circular economy, a concept that is hip and happening all around, but how does it go beyond addressing efficiency within industrial production and minimizing waste flows? He organized a workshop in Kokkola, Finland, to find out how a shared local understanding of the possibilities of the circular economy could be achieved at a local level. Because of the large chemical industry present there, as well as strong social and environmental values, it is a great place for shaping a mindset in favour of the circular economy. It became clear that more knowledge should be shared amongst stakeholders to the relevant, current and potential actors. This knowledge should be turned into easily usable information for decision makers, industrial players and the general public in order to speed up the transition to circular economy.

Another concept related to the idea of the circular economy is presented by Katharina Diehl from the Leibniz-Zentrum für Agrarlandschaftsforschung. Dual-purpose poultry breeding is the breeding of chickens for both eggs and meat, as a solution to replace intensive farming systems with small-scale, low input farming systems and decrease effects of large flocks in high-input systems on the environment. From her case study in Germany, she and her colleagues learned that one of the major problems is that there currently is no infrastructure available for small scale production systems, and this creates a hurdle for scaling up this alternative production.

Helen Ross, standing in for Angela Guerrero from the University of Queensland, echoed Anttonen’s idea of the importance of mental models to reach sustainability. The case study was on land clearing in Brasil for soy, leading amongst others to fragmentation and loss of ecological habitats, agrochemical pollution as well as heavy water use for irrigation. This local dynamic connects to the international supply chain. The question is how consumers can be engaged to demand deforestation-free soy and what the barriers and opportunities for change are? We therefore need a better understanding of all the supply chain actors, and the cognitive framework people use, to find barriers and opportunities for changing how people make decisions, and make use of the growing interest for sustainability within consumers.

Robert Buhr introduces himself as a bit of an outsider, as a bond guy from the Societe Generale and Green Planet Consulting Limited. However, he definitely brings in an important perspective because he is the (hu)man who will towards sustainability with financial risk assessment (no wonder I actually understood his introduction as if he were Bond, capital “B”). There are for example a bunch of risks that fall under climate risks, and therefore we need a critical change in traditional risk models to determine what the economic costs are and how they will affect companies.

These very technical economic talks tend to fly over my head, so I definitely enjoy sitting in a few conversations after the speed talks and hear other ‘humans’ ask some normal and very practical questions about everyone’s expertise. A conversation sparks between an Ikea representative about how future changes will affect wood prices for example in the face of a forest crisis for palm oil. In a different corner, Diehl talks about the extreme standardization of the food industry, which makes any alternative approach risky business. She explains there is such little ethical production in general, because reaching productivity is so very hard. It seems like I’m not the only one needing some real world examples to grasp the essence of these talks. I decide this will be the conference where I let my curiosity run free and sprint to the next session…


Elke Markey is a former Master’s student from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, where she earned a degree in Social-Ecological Resilience for Sustainable Development. Her roots lie in political science and in Belgium, where she gained another Master’s degree in Comparative and International Politics from KU Leuven University. To complete these endeavours, she packed her backpack for field work on forest governance in the Amazon region as well as on food systems in South Africa.