COVID-19 Ecosystems and the Circular Economy

Accelerating the transition to the circular economy

COVID-19 ecosystems and the circular economy


The COVID-19 crisis is drawing attention to the Circular Economy – ecosystems in place now can mean good things for the Circular Economy in the future.



How can we learn from the current crisis to ensure resilience in the future?

The COVID crisis has affected millions of citizens globally, leading to countrywide lockdowns, restrictions and social distancing. This systematic change as Konietzko notes is an environmental shock – a relatively unprecedented global crisis (as previous crises have been economic). Future crises are likely to be that of climate shocks – this means that we can analyse responses to the COVID crisis due to the environmental effects. The COVID crisis is drawing attention to the Circular Economy through three concepts coming from an ecosystems ecology perspective – response diversity, adaptive capacity and decentralized circularity (Konietzko). The systematic responses in place now can be understood as potential future strategies which can be put in motion in the Circular Economy, in which resilience and stability are key due to distributed nodes of production and manufacturing; collaborative and accessible design and clear communication channels on a local to the global level. This would prevent exponential shortages in supply and demand in future crises, reducing the global reliance on linear supply chains and further, promote production, manufacturing, reuse and repair of products at a local scale.

Makers, Makerspaces and Fab Labs have been 3D printing protective equipment in distributed homes and labs worldwide.


REFLOW is analysing the COVID crisis through the ecosystems ecology perspective

Below lists how the COVID crisis is highlighting the Circular Economy with inputs from REFLOW consortium members, who are all working relentlessly to produce, share and help those most in need. Strategies created now are in-line with the Circular Economy Action Plan aims of accelerating transformational change “for achieving a cleaner and more competitive Europe in co-creation with economic actors, consumers, citizens and civil society organisations.”


Response Diversity

This reflects a greater diversity of networks in a system which provides stability when an element is taken away. The COVID crisis has highlighted the need for stable circular systems in place – from mobility to supply chains. This may be the availability of local shops to a variety in sustainable transport systems in the occurrence of a change in urban mobility.


Adaptive Capacity

Adaptive capacity refers to the ability of organisations to be able to adapt rapidly to the context. This creates resilience in a circular ecosystem. For example, consortium members in Berlin, which have extensive experience in health and technology, have been working on a temperature and pain tracker which can give vital information to healthcare professionals regarding the developments of the virus (MCS Data Labs). The development of a location tracking system also allows medical professionals to trace contact history and thus help to indicate which individuals need to self-isolate. In Milan, the REFLOW consortium members – WeMake, OpenDot and Polifactory – alongside other makerspaces, have quickly switched to producing protective equipment, running digital Hackathons, Arduino Days, connecting and creating support networks. These are examples of how different actors can quickly adapt and continue business, supporting a more stable economic environment.


Decentralized Circularity

Decentralized circularity refers to the ability to access, design, develop and distribute collectively. Through distributed access and design, stocks do not deplete as rapidly and can be easily repaired, restored or replaced. Excellent examples of this kind of collective effort can be seen in the design response of protective and medical equipment. Makerscovid – including members Fab City Grand Paris, Volumes, Ars Longa and the City of Paris – have been working with distributed makerspaces of + 82 volunteers collectively printing and distributing + 10,000 face shields. This is not solely one city’s effort, but a worldwide response which we have seen from makers and makerspaces alike. The Fab Lab Network and MIT CBA are continuously updating lists of research, designs, projects, papers and resources to support others during COVID-19 – find the Gitlab repository here. The open-source nature of the effort has created a continuous feedback loop between medical centres, workers, distributors, designers and makers in which designs of protective equipment have been continuously improved, tested and deployed in a distributed manner.

The above responses are immensely inspiring, not only on a human level but also, reflect the potential to implement more permanent circular systems in the future, which are resilient, stable and promote intelligent local actors who are able to respond to systemic challenges. A huge thank you to those who are working throughout this time of turbulence and change – you are setting inspiring examples for us and generations to come. The transformations which are taking place now offer a crucial opportunity to create a stronger and more effective Circular Economy which can respond strategically to further environmental shocks. This is a significant, positive change which can arise from an unprecedented global moment, to create a system that can be humane, caring and resilient.


Find out more about the initiatives mentioned in the article ?

MCS Data Labs (eHealth developments).
Makercovid Paris, looking for donations and volunteers.
WeMake, based in Milan, which is part of coordinating 3D printing of medical devices and also organised the ‘Aperitivo Arduino 2020’ (Arduino Day).
, Milan is making face shields and creating a reviewed version of the Charlotte Valve for hospitals. They are also actively collaborating with TechForCare and other platforms in selecting and coordinating makers’ contributions. OpenDot is part of Careables.
Cover image: Photo taken by Minh Man Nguyen – Fab City Grand Paris – President.


Emily Whyman

Content Developer for Fab Lab Barcelona

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