Bioeconomy is a conceptual and practical approach allowing to reconciliate economic activities with the principles of life, thus escaping from the shortcomings of the necessity of the growth of GDP, and of the social, ecological and financial debt.

The relation of the current economy to Life is built on an illusion: that it can escape the logic and the cycles of life. Its logic is linear: “supply” of raw materials, processing, consumption, then “waste” discharged into nature. The videos of Annie Léonard “Story of Stuff” explain this very well (watch here).

Take for example the life cycle of a soda can. Its production demands significant resources of raw materials (aluminum, made from bauxite, water, sugar, flavors) and energy (to extract aluminum from bauxite, then manufacture the can, and finally transport the beverage of its production place to its retail, where it sometimes spends several days in a refrigerator, before being consumed in a few minutes, the can is then thrown with the “garbage”. In France, only 2 cans out of 3 are recycled.This may seem important, but this means that at least 1.5 billion cans per year are not recycled in this country, producing around 34,000 tons of non-recycled waste, for cans alone.

Yet the notion of waste is non-existent in living organisms. Everything that emerges from a natural loop of production-processing-consumption serves as a raw material for another organism (animal, plant or fungus), thus entering a new loop. Like ecosystems, bioeconomy consists in resynchronizing economic cycles (flows of matter, energy and value) to the cycles of life. It is an answer, simple in its general principle, difficult in its application, to the shortcomings of the linear economy, it opposes the financial logic, representations and operating modes deeply rooted in our societies. In our example, local production of beverage from local resources (fruit, water) coupled with reuse of (cans) would help eliminate waste and significantly reduce the energy expenditure associated with production and transportation of beverages.

Before being adopted by institutions such as the OECD, bioeconomy was defined precisely by the forerunners of ecological economics (Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen and René Passet) as a response to the challenge of reconciling economic activity with the principles of life, to live and work within the planetary boundaries. Some researchers (such as F. Capra or J. Banyuls, founder of biomimicry, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, founders of permaculture) have defined principles as regulatory ideas to move forward in this direction. Such an economy relies mainly on solidarity with living beings and between humans, framed in the long term. It implies giving value to what makes a full and healthy life (happiness, human relationship, with a minimal material basis for well-being) rather than to the accumulation of goods.

In their own way, social entrepreneurship, the social economy, ethical biotrade, and approaches such as circular economy or collaborative economy, try to meet these challenges. These responses are often partial (as in a form of highly capitalist collaborative economy), sometimes better integrated. The efforts to be made are not so much theoretical (as in the effort of compilation and vulgarization elaborated by I. Delannoy within the framework of a “symbiotic economy”) than practical. We need more action, experimentation, methods, facilitation than theory. Yet much remains to be done to introduce this approach in organizations and territories.

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Pierre W. Johnson

International consultant, study and sustainable development of natural products value chains. Specialist of markets of origin, quality and high value products. Expert on Access and Benefit Sharing.
Keynote speaker on transition to an ecological economy & society.

Member of the
International Value Links Association.

Associate expert to Tero.


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