Sustainable Development

Reims, 7 November 2017


An innovative, global movement

In 2008, in his Change we can believe in project, Barack Obama highlighted the need to establish greater transparency in political institutions so that all citizens have access to information they need to evaluate the performance of the leaders. The candidate wrote that finally the governance of the country must be a source of inspiration for all Americans and must encourage them to act as citizens [1]. In addition to his desire to reduce unnecessary public expenditure, cut bureaucracy and cancel ineffective programmes, the future President of the United States announced that he wanted to open up democracy. The new Obama administration, he announced, will publish on line all information on the management of the State and will employ all available technologies to raise public awareness of State expenditure. It will invite members of the public to serve and take part, and it will reduce bureaucracy to ensure that all government agencies operate with maximum efficiency [2]. In addition to these priorities he announced compliance with the obligations on natural resources and on social inclusion and cohesion. The stated objective was to restore confidence in the institutions and to clean up Washington: imposing a strict ethical code on the elected representatives and limiting the influence of the lobbies and interest groups [3].

When President Obama entered the White House, one of his first initiatives, on 21 January 2009, was to send a memorandum on transparency and Open Government to the officials at the government ministries and agencies. In this document, the new president reaffirmed his pledge to create a government of this type and asked his departments to help create a political system founded on transparency, public participation and collaboration. This openness, he wrote, would strengthen democracy and promote the effectiveness and efficiency of the government. Firstly, the president wanted the government to be transparent and to promote accountability [4] and tell the public what it was doing. Next, the government should be participatory: when knowledge is shared between the public and private spheres, it is in the common interest for the public to participate in developing policies and allow their government to benefit from their collective intelligence. Finally, the government should be collaborative, which means that it should actively engage Americans in the work of their government, harnessing innovative tools and methods to ensure that all levels of the government and the administration cooperate with each other and with the non-profit organisations, businesses and individuals in the private sector [5]. After being gradually implemented in the United States, this movement, which follows an already long-standing Anglo-Saxon tradition [6], has inspired other countries and prompted an important multilateral initiative which, incidentally, The Destree Institute joined as a civil society partner in 2017.

Thus, in 2011, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) was launched by the governments of the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa and the United Kingdom, who adopted a joint declaration [7]. The objective of the OGP is to set up a platform for good practices between innovators in order to secure concrete commitments from governments on transparency, public action, empowerment of citizens, public participation, democratic innovation and harnessing new technologies to promote better governance.

As the years have passed, more than 70 countries have joined the initiative. As of 2017, the Belgian Federal State has not yet done so [8]. France, which was a pioneer in deliberative processes and Open Data, only joined the OGP in 2014 but has held the joint presidency since 2015, becoming co-organiser of the 4th Global Summit for the Open Government Partnership, which was held in the French capital at the end of 2016. The Paris Declaration, which was adopted on 7 December 2016, reaffirms all the founding principles and values of the OGP and undertakes to push forward the frontiers of the reforms beyond transparency, to advance meaningful participation, accountability and responsiveness. The signatories to the Paris Declaration also pledge to create innovative alliances between civil society and government leading to more collaborative public services and decision-making processes. The document also calls for the development of Open Government at the local level and the launch of local participatory initiatives to bring public policies closer to citizens [9].

A citizen-centred culture of governance

To answer the question of what open government really is, we could examine the closed model of decision-making with Beth Simone Noveck, who ran the Open Government Initiative at the White House in 2009 and 2010. This legal expert and law professor, who is a Yale and Harvard graduate, considers that the closed model is the one that was created by Max Weber, Walter Lippmann and James Madison. This model would have us believe that only government professionals and their experts, who themselves claim to be strictly objective [10], possess the necessary impartiality, expertise, resources, discipline and time to make the right public decisions. This vision, which ought to be a thing of the past, restricts public participation to representative democracy, voting, joining interest groups and involvement in local civic or political activities. Yet, today, we know that, for many reasons, professional politicians do not have a monopoly on information or expertise [11].

Technological innovation and what is today called Digital Social Innovation (DSI) [12] are contributing to this change. However, we do not think they are the driving force behind the Open Government concepts as they are somewhat peripheral. Although technology does have some significance in this process, it is perhaps in relation to its toolkit rather than its challenges or purposes. Open Government forms part of a two-fold tradition. Firstly, that of transparency and free access to public information on civil society. This is not new. The British parliament endorsed it in the 1990s [13]. Secondly, Open Government finds its inspiration in the values of sharing and collaboration used within the communities linked to the free software and open science movements [14]. In this sense, public expectations could be raised, as is the case with some researchers who see in Open Government the extent to which citizens can monitor and influence government processes through access to government information and access to decision-making arenas [15].

Even if we consider that the idea of Open Government is still under construction [16], we can still try to establish a definition. Taking our inspiration from the OECD definition in English, Open Government can be conceived as a citizen-centred culture of governance that utilizes innovative and sustainable tools, policies and practices to promote government transparency, responsiveness and accountability to foster stakeholders’ participation in support of democracy and inclusive growth  [17]. The aim of this process is that it should lead to the co-construction of collective policies that involve all the parties involved in governance (public sphere, businesses, civil society, etc.) and pursue the general interest and the common good.

The international OGP organisation states that an Open Government strategy can only really develop where it is supported by an appropriate environment that allows it to be rolled out. The issue of the leadership of the political players is clearly very important, as is the capacity (empowerment) of the citizens to participate effectively in public action: this is central to the reforms it brings about, as the international organisation noted. Today, governments acknowledge the need to move from the role of simple providers of services towards the development of closer partnerships with all relevant stakeholders.[18].

Thus Open Government reconnects with one of the initial definitions of governance, as expressed by Steven Rosell in 1992: a process whereby an organisation or a society steers itself, using its players [19]. It has become commonplace to reiterate that the challenges we face today can no longer be resolved, given their magnitude, by a traditional government and several cohorts or even legions of civil servants.

Nevertheless, faced with these often enormous challenges, Professor of Business Administration Douglas Schuler rightly reflects on the capacity for action of the entire society that would have to be mobilised and poses the question: will we be smart enough soon enough? To answer this question, Schuler, who is also president of the Public Sphere Project, calls for what he refers to as civic intelligence, a form of collective intelligence centred on shared challenges, which focuses on improving society as a whole rather than just the individual. The type of democracy that is based on civic intelligence, writes Douglas Schuler, is one which, as the American psychologist and philosopher John Dewey wrote, can be seen as a way of life rather than as a duty, one in which participation in a participatory process strengthens the citizenship of individuals and allows them to think more in terms of community. To that end, deliberation is absolutely essential. It can be defined as a process of directed communication whereby people discuss their concerns in a reasonable, conscientious, and open manner, with the intent of arriving at a decision [20]. Deliberation occurs when people with dissimilar points of view exchange ideas with the intent of coming to an agreement. As futurists are well aware, the intended product of deliberation is a more coherent vision of the future [21].

Contrary to what is generally believed, true deliberation processes are rare, both in the civic sphere and in specifically political and institutional contexts. Moreover, Beth Simone Noveck describes deliberative democracy as timid, preferring the term collaborative democracy, which focuses more on results and decisions and is best promoted through technologies [22]. These processes do, however, constitute the basic methodology for more participative dynamics, such as the co-construction of public policies or collective policies, leading to contractualisation of players, additionality of financing and partnership implementation and evaluation. The distance between these simple, more or less formal consultation processes or these socio-economic discussion processes can be measured using Rhineland or Meuse models, which date back to the period just after the Second World War period and which, admittedly, are no longer adequate to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The United Nations was right when it added a Goal 17, “Partnerships for the Goals”, to the already explicit Goal 16, which is one of the sustainable development goals focussing specifically on the emergence of peaceful and inclusive societies, access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels. This Goal 17 calls for effective partnerships to be set up between governments, the private sector and civil society: these inclusive partnerships built upon principles and values, a shared vision, and shared goals that place people and the planet at the centre, are needed at the global, regional, national and local level [23].

Open regions and territories

In his speech at the Open Government Partnership Forum, which was held in parallel with the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on 19 September 2017, President Emmanuel Macron stated that local authorities have an increasing role to play and are an absolutely essential part of Open Government [24]. In his election campaign, the future French president also highlighted the fact that public policies are more effective when they are constructed with the constituents for whom they are intended. And in what he called the République contractuelle [Contractual Republic], a Republic which places trust in local districts, key players and society, the former minister saw a new idea for democracy: « these are not passive citizens who delegate the governance of the nation to their political leaders. A healthy, modern democracy is a system composed of active citizens who play their part in transforming the country » [25].

In keeping with the work already carried out since the start of the parliamentary term in the Parliament of Wallonia, the Wallonia Regional Policy Declaration of 28 July 2017 embodies this change by calling for a democratic revival and an improvement in public governance founded on the four pillars of transparency, participation, responsibility and performance. Transparency concerns the comprehensibility of the rules and regulations, the operating methods, and the mechanisms, content and financing of the decisions. The aim of participation is the involvement of citizens and private actors, businesses and the non-profit sector by giving them the initiative as a matter of priority, with the State providing support and strategic direction. The text invokes a new citizenship of cooperation, public debate, active information and involvement. The responsibility thus promoted is mainly that of the representative – elected or appointed – and sees an increase in accountability. The relations between public authorities and associations need to be clarified. The text states that performance is defined by evaluating the impact of public action in economic, budgetary, employment, environmental and social matters. It establishes a desire for a drastic simplification of public institutions rightly regarded as too numerous and too costly [26].

As we can see, these options are interesting and they undoubtedly represent a step forward inspired by the idea of Open Government we have been calling for lately [27], even if they have not yet moved on to genuine collaborative governance, deliberation with all actors and citizens or co-construction of public policies beyond experiments with public panels.

Conclusion: a government of the citizens, by the citizens, for the citizens

Open Government is a matter of democracy, not technology. This model reconnects with Abraham Lincoln’s idea of government of the people, by the people, for the people, which ended his Gettysburg address of 19 November 1863 [28]. This powerful idea can be advantageous for all of the regions in Europe, for its States and for the European process as a whole. Here, as in the United States, the principle of Open Government must be adopted by all representatives and applied at all levels of governance[29]. Parliaments and regional councils, who have often already embarked on pioneering initiatives, must grasp it [30].

As Douglas Schuler stated, Open Government would make no sense if it was not accompanied by informed, conscious and engaged citizenship, if it did not mean governance fully distributed within the population, the end of government as the sole place of governance. So this observation refers back to the initial question: what skills and information do citizens need in order to understand the issues they must face? [31] We know the response of Thomas Jefferson, writing from Paris to the philosopher Richard Price in 1789: a sense of necessity, and a submission to it, is to me a new and consolatory proof that, whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights [32]. This question certainly requires a response linked to lifelong critical education, the importance of philosophy and history, and the teaching of citizenship, foresight and complexity we have discussed recently [33]. As Pierre Rosanvallon notes, it is a question of making society comprehensible for the public, of ensuring that they can have effective knowledge of the social world and the mechanisms that govern it, to enable individuals to have access to what the Collège de France Professor calls real citizenship: an understanding of the effective social relationships, redistribution mechanisms and problems encountered when creating a society of equals [34].

As we have repeatedly stated, Open Government and governance by the players require an open society [35], in other words, a common space, a community of citizens where everyone works together to consider and address shared issues for the common good. Moving from Open Government to an open State happens by extension and through the application of the principles mentioned, from the executive to the legislature and the judiciary, and to all the players upstream and downstream.

Where national governments have not yet launched their open governance strategy, they should start with the districts, cities and regions, which often have the benefit of flexibility and proximity with the players and citizens. Naturally, this requirement also implies that private organisations, too, should be more transparent and more open and become more involved.

Aligning these global ambitions, which have been adopted by the United Nations and passed on by the OECD, Europe and more than 70 nations around the world, with the expectations of our regional players appears to be within reach. It is up to us to complete this task with enthusiasm and determination, wherever we are in this society that dreams of a better world.


Philippe Destatte


[1] Barack OBAMA, Change we can believe in, Three Rivers Press, 2008. Translated into French under the title Le changement, Nous pouvons y croire, p. 180, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2009.

[2] Ibidem.

[3] Ibidem, p. 181sv.

[4] Concerning accountability, which he prefers to translate by rendering of accounts, see Pierre ROSANVALLON, Le bon gouvernement, p. 269sv, Paris, Seuil, 2015.

[5] Memo from President Obama on Transparency and Open Government, January 21, 2009. Reproduced in Daniel LATHROP & Laurel RUMA ed., Open Government, Transparency, and Participation in Practice, p. 389-390, Sebastopol, CA, O’Reilly, 2010.

[6] For the background in the United States, see: Patrice McDERMOTT, Building Open Government, in Government Information Quarterly, no. 27, 2010, p. 401-413.

[7] Joint declaration on open government,

[8] La Belgique n’est toujours pas membre du Partenariat pour un Gouvernement ouvert, in Le Vif-L’Express, 11 August 2017.

[9] Déclaration de Paris, 4e Sommet mondial du Partenariat pour un Gouvernement ouvert, Open Government Partnership, 7 December 2016.

[10] See Philip E. TETLOCK, Expert Political Judgment, How good is it? How can we know? Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press, 2005.

[11] Beth Simone NOVECK, Wiki Government: How technology can make government better, democracy stranger, and citizens more powerful, Brookings Institution Press, 2009. – The Single point of Failure, in Daniel LATHROP & Laurel RUMA ed., Open Government, Transparency, and Participation in Practice, p. 50, Sebastopol, CA, O’Reilly, 2010. For an empirical approach to Open Governance, see Albert J. MEIJER et al., La gouvernance ouverte: relier visibilité et moyens d’expression, in Revue internationale des Sciences administratives 2012/1 (Vol. 78), p. 13-32.

[12] Matt STOKES, Peter BAECK, Toby BAKER, What next for Digital Social Innovation?, Realizing the potential of people and technology to tackle social challenges, European Commission, DSI4EU, Nesta Report, May 2017.

[13] Freedom of access to information on the environment (1st report, Session 1996-97)

[14] Romain BADOUARD (lecturer at the Université Cergy-Pontoise), Open governement, open data: l’empowerment citoyen en question, in Clément MABI, Jean-Christophe PLANTIN and Laurence MONNOYER-SMITH dir., Ouvrir, partager, réutiliser, Regards critiques sur les données numériques, Paris, Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 2017

[15] Albert J. MEIJER, Deirdre CURTIN & Maarten HILLEBRANDT, Open Government: Connecting vision and voice, in International Review of Administrative Sciences, 78, 10-29, p. 13.

[16] Douglas SCHULER, Online Deliberation and Civic Intelligence in D. LATHROP & L. RUMA ed., Open Government…, p. 92sv. – see also the interesting analysis by Emad A. ABU-SHANAB, Reingineering the open government concept: An empirical support for a proposed model, in Government Information Quarterly, no. 32, 2015, p. 453-463.

[17] A citizen-centred culture of governance that utilizes innovative and sustainable tools, policies and practices to promote government transparency, responsiveness and accountability to foster stakeholdersparticipation in support of democracy and inclusive growth. OECD, Open Government, The Global context and the way forward, p. 19, Paris, OECD Publishing, 2016.

[18] OECD, Panorama des administrations publiques, p. 198, Paris, OECD, 2017. – See also, p. 29 and 30 of the same work, some specific definitions developed in various countries.

[19] Steven A. ROSELL ea, Governing in an Information Society, p. 21, Montréal, 1992.

[20] Douglas SCHULER, Online Deliberation and Civic Intelligence... p. 93.

[21] Ibidem.

[22] B. S. NOVECK, op.cit., p. 62-63.

[23] Sustainable Development Goals, 17 Goals to transform our world.

[24] Speech by the President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron at the Open Government Partnership event held in parallel with the 72nd United Nations General Assembly (19 September 2017) –

[25] Emmanuel MACRON, Révolution, p. 255-256 and 259, Paris, XO, 2016.

[26] Parliament of Wallonia, Session 2016-2017, Déclaration de politique régionale, « La Wallonie plus forte », 28 July 2017, DOC 880(2016-2017) – No. 1, p. 3-5.

[27] Olivier MOUTON, Une thérapie de choc pour la Wallonie, in Le Vif-L’Express, no. 44, 3 November 2017, p. 35.

[28] Carl MALAMUD, By the People, in D. LATHROP & L. RUMA ed., Open Government…, p. 41.

[29] Ibidem, p. 46.

[30] David BEETHAM, Parlement et démocratie au vingt-et-unième siècle, Guide des bonnes pratiques, Geneva, Parliamentary Union, 2006.

[31] Douglas SCHULER, Online Deliberation and Civic Intelligence... p. 93.

[32] Letter To Richard Price, Paris, January 8, 1789, in Thomas JEFFERSON, Writings, p. 935, New-York, The Library of America, 1984.

[33] Ph. DESTATTE, Apprendre au XXIème siècle, Citoyenneté, complexité et prospective, Liège, 22 September 2017.

[34] P. ROSANVALLON, Le bon gouvernement…, p. 246.

[35] Archon FUNG & David WEIL, Open Government and open society, in D. LATHROP & L. RUMA ed., Open Government…, p. 41.

Brussels, November 16, 2016


A brief discussion on territorial foresight involves, firstly, restating some convictions I have about these two words [1].


1. Territorial Foresight

The first word is foresight. As Angela Wilkinson said, and rightly so, foresight is neither about evidence-based pessimism nor about wishful thinking [2]. Foresight has to look at the actual reality, without compromising but with acuity and honesty, in order to build solid diagnoses, identify the relevant long-term issues and propose solutions to those issues with strong strategic axes in order to achieve a vision of a common desired future.

Foresight emphasises the implementation of a process that frees itself from power and doctrines, with the aim of involving a perspective of free thought, exchanges with others, open deliberation and teamwork, while affirming the requirements of methodological rigour, a cross-disciplinary approach and collaborative intelligence, which has been so difficult to achieve until now[3].

Finally, foresight is oriented resolutely towards projects and action, that is to say a series of movements aimed at a goal. And this action resulting from foresight is designed to bring change. That means the transformation of part or all of the system. If foresight is not real transformation, it’s just literature; it is simply words, words, words.

The second word is territorial. We know that territorial means regional, urban, etc. We may consider territories as political communities, economic and social areas or built-up and green living spaces: in any event, it is only because citizens are concerned and involved that they will implement a strategy of transformation aimed at sustainable harmony. To do so requires them to be co-creators who share the vision and objectives of the territory, the challenges of the environment and the correct responses needed to face them.

So Territorial Foresight is fundamentally about change. This change can only be the result of a collective, motivational process, which is hard to implement and difficult to manage.

2. Territorial and Societal Models

Next, I will look at regional and societal models. I firmly believe that the so-called New Digital Revolution, Fourth Industrial Revolution, Industry 4.0 movement, etc. are the last resurgences, the last manifestations of the change that was observed at the end of the 1960s: the Information Society of the 1970s, the Knowledge Society of the 1980s, the New Economy of the 1990s, the Learning, Creative, etc. Societies and Regions of the 2000s, and so on. We are all aware that the key factor in this shift is the convergence between, firstly, information and communication technology and, secondly, life sciences. But despite this transformation, since we are still dealing mainly with industrial society and trying to modulate it, including sustainable development and, at the same time, supporting the Cognitive Revolution, I have named this complex transition The New Industrial Paradigm [4].

Today, when some citizens and actors think that our institutions and decision-makers, from European to local level, no longer have visions and projects, it is very important to bear in mind that, specifically, Sustainable Development is still the most important ultimate aim for our societies, countries and regions, and should remain so.

In the reference definition emerging from the report of the Brundtland World Commission on Environment and Development of the United Nations (1987) entitled Our Common Future, the two key issues put forward are the concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organisation on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs [5].

Even if, generally speaking, the majority of people using this definition stop at the first sentence, it is important to emphasise the second sentence in order to clarify the concept of sustainable development. The last paragraph of the chapter is also valuable as it not only goes substantially beyond the idea of the omnipresent three pillars of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental) but also adds the entire systemic dimension to the concept of development, represented by the major contributions made by the Club of Rome and the OECD Interfuturs report prepared by Jacques Lesourne.

  1. In its broadest sense, the strategy for sustainable development aims to promote harmony among human beings and between humanity and nature. In the specific context of the development and environment crises of the 1980s, which current national and international political and economic institutions have not and perhaps cannot overcome, the pursuit of sustainable development requires:

– a political system that secures effective citizen participation in decision-making.

– an economic system that is able to generate surpluses and technical knowledge on a self-reliant and sustained basis.

– a social system that provides for solutions for the tensions arising from disharmonious development.

– a production system that respects the obligation to preserve the ecological base for development,

– a technological system that can search continuously for new solutions,

– an international system that fosters sustainable patterns of trade and finance, and

– an administrative system that is flexible and has the capacity for self-correction.

Futurists also turn paragraph 15 to their advantage because it values sustainable development as a process of change and transformation, opening the door to global ultimate aims and complementary challenges. I quote:

  1. In essence, sustainable development is a process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations.

So please do not say that there is no project for Europe: there is Sustainable Development, not as a doctrine but as an aim. That really is something.


3. Our priorities as Europeans

What we must do urgently is gather our forces, focus on the common good and work by commitment and contractualisation, from local to European and global level, in a multilevel way, as is clearly highlighted by the Committee of the Regions. We may not need to focus specifically on metropolitan areas. Incidentally, I do not want to support the idea that cities are not the engines for a new development. Perhaps they are: if we were able to understand what is happening in cities, we might be able to improve their attractiveness and competitiveness. Through its 2015 territorial reform, the French Government has expanded its regions by merging them in order to create large metropolitan areas. However, I am not really sure that developing Strasbourg will provide greater well-being and a better quality of life in Nancy, Metz and Reims. I am quite convinced that a polycentric network of cities could be as relevant as a large metropolis. There is no reason why cities which concentrate the solutions will not concentrate the problems as well. Just remember that, in the EU, 1 in 4 Europeans are estimated to be at risk of poverty and social exclusion [6]. So we may also have questions about the future of Strasbourg.

Our priority should be to address the needs of young people in relation to jobs and economic and social security. Naturally, we are all aware of this and it has been repeated many times in our common work. By addressing social exclusion[7], preventing precariat[8] and tackling Sherwoodisation [9], we will again offer hope to the many peoples of Europe in all their diversity. And, as a consequence, this method will also separate the terrorists from their social base.

This issue will also, no doubt, provide a new key and a boost to our democracy in Europe, its countries, regions and cities.

Thank you for your attention!

Philippe Destatte

[1] This paper was prepared within the framework of the COR/ESPAS Working Dinner at the European Committee of the Regions, on November 16, 2016, on the initiative of Béatrice Taulègne, Ian Barber and Karlheinz Lambertz.

[2] Angela WILKINSON, The Future of Foresight in Europe, Beyond Evidence-Based Pessimism to Realistic Hope, in Shaping the Future of Society and Governance, p. 51, Brussels, ESPAS (European Strategy and Policy Analysis System), November 2016.

[3] Philippe DESTATTE, What is foresight?, Blog PhD2050, May 30, 2013.

[4] Ph. DESTATTE, The New Industrial Paradigm, Keynote address at The Industrial Materials Association (IMA-Europe) 20th Anniversary, IMAGINE event, Brussels, The Square, September 24th, 2014, Blog PhD2050, September 24, 2014.


[6] Stijn HOORENS, The Elephant in the Room: the many dimensions of inequality in Europe, in Shaping the Future of Society and Governance, p. 46.

[7] See The Inclusive City, in The State of European Cities 2016, Cities leading the way to a better future, p. 84-111, Brussels, European Commission – UN Habitat for a Better Human Future, 2016.

[8] Guy STANDING, The Precariat, The New Dangerous Class, p. 24-25, London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2011.

[9] Bernard VAN ASBROUCK, La Sherwoodisation ou l’obsolescence de la cité, dans La Revue nouvelle, 2015, N°7, p. 9-12.

Namur, August 26, 2014

It is Professor Paul Duvigneaud, whom I met on the occasion of a private viewing of paintings in a Brussels art gallery, to whom I am indebted, at the rather belated age of thirty, for a lesson on ecosystems, industrial ecology and the principles of what nowadays is referred to as the “circular economy”. Using as a basis the example of the old Solvay sedimentation tanks near Charleroi, a case I had submitted to him with the aim of provoking him on the subject of the preservation of natural resources [1], and the manufacturing process for soda, the author of La synthèse écologique (Ecological Synthesis) [2], suddenly made these ideas make sense in my mind. At the same time, in a clear explanation typical of a skilled teacher, he linked them up with my rudimentary knowledge of the concepts of biosphere and complex system that I had found out about some ten years earlier in the Telhardian thinking [3]. In this way, reflecting in terms of flows and stocks, Duvigneaud was already supplementing the cycle of carbon and oxygen, at the level of an industrial and urban area, with that of phosphorus and heavy metals. For their part, some years later (albeit still only in 1983), Gilles Billen, Francine Toussaint and a handful of other researchers from different disciplines showed how material moved around in the Belgian economy. By also taking energy flows and data exchanges into account, they, too, provided an additional new way of looking at industrial ecology and came up with specific avenues of research for modifications to be made to the system, such as short and long recycling [4].

Today, after a few rotations of the world as well as a few more decades of our biosphere and our local environment deteriorating, the circular economy is coming back in force.

1. What is the circular economy?

A circular economy is understood as being an economy that helps achieve the aims of sustainable development by devising processes and technologies such as to replace a so-called linear growth model – involving excessive consumption of resources (raw materials, energy, water, real estate) and excessive waste production – with a model of ecosystemic development that is parsimonious in its extraction of natural resources and is characterised by low levels of waste, but which results in equivalent or even increased performance [5].

The Foundation set up in 2010 by the British navigator Ellen MacArthur, an international reference in the field of the circular economy, clarifies that the circular economy is a generic term for an economy that is regenerative by design. Materials flows are of two types, biological materials, designed to reenter the biosphere, and technical materials, designed to circulate with minimal loss of quality, in turn entraining the shift towards an economy ultimately powered by renewable energy [6]. This is a system, as the founder and navigator indicated, in which things are made to be redone.[7].

Even though the concept of circular economy may seem very recent, we have seen that it is actually in consonance with an older tradition dating back to the 1970s with the development of systems analysis and awareness of the existence of the biosphere and ecosystems and what is known as the industrial metabolism. In a work published at the Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation, Suren Erkman defined this industrial metabolism as the study of all the biophysical component parts of the industrial system. For the director of the ICAST in Geneva, the aim of this essentially analytical and descriptive approach is to understand the dynamics of flows and stocks of materials and energy associated with human activities, from extraction and production of the resources through to their inevitable return, sooner or later, in biochemical processes [8]. In a brief historical overview and inventory of schools of thought linked to the model of the circular economy [9], the MacArthur Foundation also recalls other sources such as the Regenerating Design of architect John Tillman Lyle (1934-1998), professor at the California State Polytechnic University of Pomona [10], the works of his fellow designer William McDonough with the German chemist Michael Braungart on eco-efficiency and the so-called Cradle to cradle (C2C) certification process [11], those of the Swiss economist and member of the Club of Rome Walter R. Stahel, author of research on the dematerialisation of the economy [12], those of Roland Clift, professor of Environmental Technology at the University of Surrey (UK) and president of the International Society for Industrial Ecology [13], the works of the American consultant Janine M. Benyus, professor at the University of Montana, known for her research on bio-mimicry [14], and the written works of the businessman of Belgian origin Günter Pauli, former assistant to the founder of Club of Rome Aurelio Peccei and himself author of the report The Blue Economy [15]. Many other figures could be cited, who may perhaps be less well-known in the Anglo-Saxon world but are by no means any less pioneering in the field. I am thinking here of Professor Paul Duvigneaud, to whom I have already referred.

2. The practices underpinning the circular economy

As noted in the study drafted by Richard Rouquet and Doris Nicklaus for the Sustainable Development Commission (CGCD) and published in January 2014, the objective of moving over to the circular economy is gradually to replace the use of virgin raw materials with the constant re-use of materials already in circulation [16]. These two researchers analysed the legislation and regulations governing implementation of the circular economy in Japan, Germany, the Netherlands and China, and demonstrate that, beyond the famous « three Rs » (reduction, re-use and recycling), this concept in fact leads to approaches and priorities that can sometimes differ considerably, in terms of nature and intensity, from one country to another. It could be added that within one and the same country or region, the way in which the circular economy is understood and interpreted varies very appreciably, meaning it can encompass a smaller or larger range of activities and processes.

Nonetheless, we can go along with the Agency for the Environment and the Harnessing of Energy (ADEME) when it includes seven practices in the circular economy [17].


2.1. Ecodesign

Ecodesign is a strategic design management process that takes account of environmental impacts throughout the life cycle of packaging, products, processes, services, organisations and systems. It makes it possible to distinguish what falls under waste and what falls under value [18]. The good or service that has thus been eco-designed aims to fulfil a function and meet a need with the best possible eco-efficiency, i.e. by making efficient use of resources and reducing environmental and health impacts to a minimum [19].

2.2. Industrial ecology

Broadly speaking, industrial ecology can be defined as an endeavour to determine the transformations liable to make the industrial system compatible with a “normal” functioning of the biological ecosystems [20]. Pragmatically and operatively speaking, the ADEME defines it as a means of industrial organisation that responds to a collective logic of mutualisation, synergies and exchanges, is set in place by several economic operators at the level of an area or a region, and is characterised by optimised management of resources (raw materials, waste, energy and services) and a reduction of the circuits [21]. Industrial ecology is based first and foremost on the industrial metabolism, i.e. the analysis of the materials flows and energy flows associated with any activity.

2.3. The economy of functionality

As ATEMIS points out, the Economy of Functionality model meets the demand for new forms of productivity based on efficiency of use and regional efficiency of products. It consists in producing an integrated solution for goods and services, based on the sale of an efficiency of use and/or a regional efficiency, making it possible to take account of external social and environmental factors and to enhance the value of intangible investments in an economy henceforth driven by the service sector [22]. The economy of functionality therefore favours use over possession and, as the ADEME says, tends to sell services connected with the products rather than the products themselves.

2.4. Re-use

Re-use is the operation by which a product is given or sold by its initial owner to a third party who, in principle, will give it a second life[23]. Re-use makes it possible to extend the product’s life when it no longer meets the first consumer’s requirements, by putting it back into circulation in the economy, for example in the form of a second-hand product. Exchange and barter activities are part and parcel of this process. Re-use is not a method for waste processing or conversion, but one of the ways of preventing waste.

2.5. Repair

 This involves making damaged products or products that are no longer working fit for use again or putting them back into working order, in order to give them a second life. In fact, these processes run counter to the logic of disposable items or planned obsolescence.

2.6. Reutilisation

Reutilisation implies waste being dealt with in such way as to have all of it or separate parts of it brought into a different circuit or economic sector or business, with a qualitative choice and the aim for sustainability [24]. The development of the resource centres in the framework of the social and solidarity-based economy plays a part in this.

2.7. Recycling

As highlighted by the ADEME, recycling consists in a reutilisation of raw materials stemming from waste, in a closed loop for similar products, or in an open loop for use in other types of goods [25].


3. Policies that go from the global to the local but become increasingly concrete as and when they get closer to companies

The inclusion of the circular economy as one of the aims of sustainable development meets a special requirement. Indeed, the Brundtland Report, Our Common Future (1987), had drawn attention, in its Chapter 8, Industry: Producing more with less, to the fact that if industry takes materials out of the patrimony of natural resources and at the same time introduces products and pollution into the human being’s environment. In general, industries and industrial operations should be encouraged that are more efficient in terms of resource use, that generate less pollution and waste, that are based on the use of renewable rather than non renewable resources, and that minimize irreversible adverse impacts on human health and the environment. (…) To sustain production momentum on a global level, therefore, policies that inject resource efficiency considerations into economic, trade, and other related policy domains are urgently needed, particularly in industrial countries, along with strict observance of environmental norms, regulations, and standards. The Report recommends that the authorities and the industries include resource and environmental considerations must be integrated into the industrial planning and decision-making processes of government and industry. This will allow, writes the Norwegian Prime Minister, a steady reduction in the energy and resource content of future growth by increasing the efficiency of resource use, reducing waste, and encouraging resource recovery and recycling [26].

A major tool serving sustainable development, the industrial ecology model is also, as Christian du Tertre points out, the model of the circular economy, which innovates in the field of regional governance: it is not only an entrepreneurial model, but is also interested in transforming relations between players in a particular region. Its circular nature implies the mutualisation among different players of certain investors and resources, both tangible and intangible. For the economics professor at the Université Paris-Diderot, inter-industrial relations are no longer solely a matter of a traditional trade relationship, but concern a long-term partnership that can lead to the establishment of a collective intangible patrimony: sharing of skills, of research centres, of intangible investments, etc. [27]

The circular economy thus appears to be a major line of development with a global-to-local structure and underpinning systemic and cross-disciplinary policies pursued at European, national/federal, regional and divisional level. These policies are intended to fit together and link up with each other, becoming more and more concrete as and when they get closer to the officers in the field, and therefore companies.

This is what I will be expounding in a subsequent paper.

Philippe Destatte

[1] Paul DUVIGNEAUD et Martin TANGUE, Des ressources naturelles à préserver, dans Hervé HASQUIN dir., La Wallonie, le pays et les Hommes, Histoire, Economies, Sociétés, vol. 2, p. 471-495, Bruxelles, La Renaissance du Livre, 1980.

[2] Voir Paul DUVIGNEAUD, La synthèse écologique, Populations, communautés, écosystèmes, biosphère, noosphère, Paris, Doin, 2e éd., 1980. (La première édition intitulée Ecosystèmes et biosphère has been published in 1962 by the Belgian Ministery of Education and Culture.) – Gilles BILLEN e.a., L’Ecosystème Belgique, Essai d’écologie industrielle, Bruxelles, CRISP, 1983.

[3] Pierre TEILHARD de CHARDIN, L’homme et l’univers, p. 57-58, Paris, Seuil, 1956.

[4] Gilles BILLEN e.a., L’Ecosystème Belgique…1983.

[5] Jean-Claude LEVY & Xiaohong FAN, L’économie circulaire : l’urgence écologique, Monde en transe, Chine en transit, Paris, Presses des Ponts et Chaussées, 2009. – Bibliographie du CRDD, Economie circulaire et déchets, Août 2013.

Cliquer pour accéder à Biblio_CRDD_Economie_circulaire-2.pdf

[6] the Circular Economy, Economic and business rationale for an accelerated transition, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Rethink the Futur, t. 1, 2013.

[7] Ellen MACARTHUR, Rethink the Future, L’Economie circulaire, Ellen MacArthur Foundation – YouTube, 4 octobre 2010.

[8] Suren ERKMAN, Vers une écologie industrielle, Comment mettre en pratique le développement durable dans une société hyper-industrielle ?, p. 12-13, Paris, Fondation Charles Léopold Mayer, 2e éd., 2004 (1998). – S. ERKMAN & Ramesh RAMASWAMY, Applied Industrial Ecology, A New Platform for Planning Sustainable Societies, Bangalore, Aicra Publishers, 2003.

[9] The Circular Model, Brief History and Schools of Thought, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Rethink the Futur, 4 p., s.d.

[10] John T. LYLE, Regenerative Design for Sustainable Development, New York, John Wilmey & Sons, 1994.

[11] William Mc DONOUGH & Michael BRAUNGART, The Next Industrial Revolution, in The Atlantic, October 1, 1998. – W. McDONOUGH & M. BRAUNGART, Cradle to Cradle, Créer et recycler à l’infini, Paris, Editions alternatives, 4e éd., 2011.

[12] Walter R. STAHEL, The Performance Economy, London, Palgrave MacMillan, 2006.

[13] Roland CLIFT, Beyond the « Circular Economy », Stocks, Flows and Quality of Life, The Annual Roland Clift Lecture on Industrial Ecology, November 6, 2013.

[14] Janine M. BENUYS, Biomimicry, Innovation inspired by Nature, New York, William Morrow, 1997. – Biomimétisme, Quand la nature inspire les innovations durables, Paris, Rue de l’Echiquier, 2011.

[15] Gunter PAULI, The Blue Economy, 10 Years, 100 Innovations, 100 Million Jobs, Taos N.M., Paradigm, 2010.

[16] Richard ROUQUET et Doris NICKLAUS, Comparaison internationale des politiques publiques en matière d’économie circulaire, coll. Etudes et documents, n° 101, Commissariat général au Développement durable, Janvier 2014.

[17] Osons l’économie circulaire, dans C’est le moment d’agir, n° 59, ADEME, Octobre 2012, p. 7. – Smaïl AÏT-EL-HADJ et Vincent BOLY, Eco conception, conception et innovation, Les nouveaux défis de l’entreprise, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2013.

[18] Sharon PRENDEVILLE, Chris SANDERS, Jude SHERRY, Filipa COSTA, Circular Economy, Is it enough?, p. 2, Ecodesign Centre Wales, March 11, 2014.

[19] Economie circulaire : bénéfices socio-économiques de l’éco-conception et de l’écologie industrielle, dans ADEME et vous, Stratégie et études, n° 33, 10 octobre 2012, p. 2.

[20] Suren ERKMAN, Vers une écologie industrielle…, p. 13.

[21] Osons l’économie circulaire…, p. 7. – Thomas E. GRAEDEL et Braden R. ALLENBY, Industrial Ecology, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall, 1995.

[22] Atemis, Analyse du Travail et des Mutations de l’Industrie et des Services, 28 janvier 2014. – voir Christian du TERTRE, Economie de la fonctionnalité, développement durable et innovations institutionnelles, dans Edith HEURGON dir., Economie des services pour un développement durable, p. 142-255, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2007.

[23] Réemploi, réparation et réutilisation, Données 2012, Synthèse, p. 6, Angers, ADEME, 2013.

[24] The conservation of resources through more effective manufacturing processes, the reuse of materials as found in natural systems, a change in values from quantity to quality, and investing in natural capital, or restoring and sustaining natural resources. Paul HAWKEN, Amory LOVINS & L. Hunter LOVINS, Natural Capitalism, Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, Little, Brown & Cie, 1999.

[25] Ibidem.

[26] Gro Harlem BRUNDTLAND, Our Common Future, United Nations, 1987.

[27] Christian du TERTRE, L’économie de la fonctionnalité, pour un développement plus durable, Intervention aux journées de l’économie Produire autrement pour vivre mieux, p. 3, Paris, 8 novembre 2012. http///