Circular Food Economy Framework - Feedback on Core Principles

Hello everyone,

Thank you for your feedback on Defining and Refining a “Circular Food Economy.” As you saw in that thread, we are assessing ways to advance an integrated circular economy, one that is equally just for the 3 pillars on which it stands – the biosphere, cultural societies, and the economy.

To achieve an integrated circular food economy across these three pillars, we are proposing a framework that brings forward 3 interdependent principles to food systems as defined below:

  • An Inclusive and Equitable Food System: Shaped through, for, and by its diversity, empowering and empowered through the system as a whole
  • A Regenerative and Resilient Food System: Dynamic and responsive through space and time, non-exploitative to increase quality and enable continuous evolution within a balanced and cyclical system
  • A Nourishing and Desirable Food System: Provides viable, energizing, fulfilling, balanced and healthy food-related experiences anchored in culture and identity, enabling communities to thrive in a world of shared abundance

We’d appreciate your feedback and reactions to this framework and the three principles we are considering.

  • Are there any missing concepts/principles that cannot be explained or conveyed by the sub-principles (boxes) across the system?
  • What do you think of our definitions of each of these principles?
  • The framework is characterized by the interaction of interdependent principles, all as central to advancement of the Circular Food Economy as an engine for net positive growth. How do you feel about the interconnectedness of the current diagram? Does it flow, or are there pain points?
  • If you have any questions, clarifications, ideas, or thoughts, please share them in the comments below.

    Thank you!

    @Thanku , @yusuke , @akb , @iduaolunwa , @barbswartzentruber - would love to continue the conversation and hear your insight on our most recent version of our framework!

    Perhaps mention farmers and laborers and how they should be treated

    These are great. We focus on the quadruple bottom line- people, planet, prosperity. The fourth and most important is purpose. The centre of your diagram alludes to that but doesn’t hit the mark. Integrated doesn’t quite do it. I am not sure what net positive growth refers to. I am also not sure about using the word growth. I know an aspect of the challenge is feeding more people but growth at any cost (Not what you are referring to I know) is what got us into this prob.

    @barbswartzentruber thanks for the insight! What other words come to mind that would be alternatives to the ones above? As for the word growth, yes I agree that there are words on the diagram that come with pre-defined perspective, but what we are hoping to do is 1) reclaim and redefine words to complement the goals of our framework, and 2) create an interconnection with all the words used (hence, integrated). For example, yes, growth at any cost created this problem within our food systems, but when growth is defined with the principles above, is growth itself the problem or the way the current linear economic system perceives it?

    @neillk yes! Granular level information (aka stakeholders, species, businesses) will be included when we vet potential prize ideas against the framework. This specifically is for high level understanding of what a well designed XPRIZE competition in food systems should look like. Do you see any other ways this can be better defined or more apparent in the above framework?

    Hi @Caroline and @nmgraham
    It strikes me that this topic could potentially be a massive challenge in the sense that there are so many factors that could be considered in its scope. For example:

    • Policy, regulation, law and governance
    • Paradigm shifts in the socio-economic model
    • Scenarios for the short and long term, and for different global and local cases
    • Access to resources (including land, water and energy)
    • Environmental impacts to land, water, air and climate
    • Innovation and new technologies
    So I reflected on what XPRIZE challenges are well known for and focused my thoughts primarily on the latter point, with a few references to other points where it seems relevant to the following.

    A Generic Sustainable Cycle

    This concise diagram illustrates how any product (or food) could be created from a basic set of resources by a creation process that assembles the product. In nature plants use nutrients, water, carbon dioxide and energy (from sunlight) to assemble a vast range of molecules that form the plant, and give rise to food. In nature every aspect, including byproducts, are recyclable. We humans use processes to manufacture and construct things but each step may require extra resources (outside the circle) and create pollutants [shown by the arrows attached to each box]. When a product reaches the end of its life some parts may be collected and recycled (or disassembled into basic components and resources).

    Note: for a fully self-sustaining cycle there would not be any external resources, no pollution and no unrecoverable waste. In reality, our processes are imperfect. [Perhaps we can learn from nature.]

    A fantastic but audacious opportunity exists here for an XPRIZE that copies another Star Trek technology: the Replicator! Okay we’re not in the 23rd century and so we might struggle for an exact copy; but within this decade it might well be possible to push 3d printing to the nano-scopic level [in fact some aspects already exist]. Such a device might take a set of atoms or molecules and assemble complex products, and foods. A related device might take waste and disassemble it back into (valuable) resources. If we could achieve this for food then each household might be able to take basic (readily available) raw materials and use this new device to create food. This removes most of the waste and pollution currently associated with the food (and its logistics) industry. If the device became affordable then that would address equality and food poverty aspects too. Just a thought :slight_smile:

    A Circular Food Cycle

    This diagram shows the more complex scenario associated with the typical food cycle today. Transport may take place between most steps, and some of that might be on a global scale - adding to costs and environmental impact.

    [By the way the diagram at the top of this page doesn’t reference resource consumption and pollution. An important factor in food production, as it includes water and climate issues.]

    The diagram illustrates the steps that could be removed if innovations allowed households and local communities to have full control and scope over the entire cycle, rather than relying on distant suppliers. Removable steps being: harvest, process, packaging and transport. (This assumes an innovation that allows an household, or local business, to grow food on demand.)

    Similarly, if policies supported local small businesses then this could provide a sustainable, and fairer, local economy. Innovations might also be adopted that allow any locality in the world to produce any type of food product, not just those that are native to the area.

    Are there words from your vision statement/scenario that could go in the middle. I think the diagram should show how elements of the vision are related. With the middle being the outcome. Net positive growth/ integrated system not inspiring. You could put circular food system in the centre and move the positive inclusive green growth concept to the exterior

    This is a good example of the challenges facing developing countries: The Dirty Secret Behind The West's Coconut Fad | OZY

    @neillk , this is an excellent article and aligns quite well with one of the potential prize ideas we’ve been thinking about, which is regarding transparency and the supply chain. Thanks!

    Thanks for the input @barbswartzentruber ! Yes, originally we did have a few works that interconnected the three principles (diverse, sufficient, dynamic), however in our most recent version they were redistributed into the three principles themselves. Curious, are there any other words for the center that inspire you besides ‘circular food system’?

    @akb , thanks for this awesome insight! As I mentioned in a post above, this definitely aligns with our curiosity in transforming the supply chain of food systems. And yes this framework is definitely very high level and includes many a topic; the reason we did this it to make sure that no matter WHAT prize idea we come up with, we are accurately recognizing the support or shortcomings it would have across all of the principles which represent all vested interests, stakeholders, etc. As for your food replicator suggestion, YES! I dream of a day when I can ask my wall to make me whatever I want. Here’s an interesting thought experiment, how would you use the above framework to vet a prize idea like a food replicator? What issues would you potentially run across with the principles? For example, I could see some waters to navigate in the Equity and Inclusion/Nourishing and Desirable areas regarding what foods the replicator would output. I could also see major storms on the horizon regarding viability (Nourishing and Desirable), as a food replicator would heavily impact business interests and worker livelihoods.

    @nmgraham Yes it would be great to have a food replicator :slight_smile:
    How to vet a prize idea like a food replicator?
    That’s a great question and it leads us into the challenge of, the more parameters and criteria that we use the more complex scoring becomes. Sometimes in such complex scenarios the decision maker has to rate the relative priorities of parameters, and that introduces the challenges of bias and perspective. Sometimes it isn’t obvious which parameters are most important, or what formula to use to combine the scores for each parameter into one summary score - used to pick a winner. For example, we touched on lots of potential parameters: food availability; sustainability; environmental impact; equality; empowerment; affordability and availability; socio-economic impacts; etc. It’s not always obvious which parameter is most important, and for different people experiencing different perspectives they may choose different answers as their scenario changes over time.

    It might be worth consulting with the XPRIZE team to see how they have addressed this in previous challenges.

    Here’s my initial thoughts on the replicator idea… An ideal device would be:

    • Affordable and widely available
    • Able to operate in any environment
    • Use readily available low cost raw materials / resources
    • Non-polluting
    • Create zero (unrecoverable) waste
    • Produce safe, nutritious, food at a quality that satisfies the user
    • Able to produce a wide variety of food types / meals [perhaps using open source data]
    • Robust and easily maintainable [modular design]

    We could apply some perspectives to this as well. For example prizes might exist for:

    • The lowest cost, basic system - for people currently starving in challenging environments
    • A kitchen appliance - for those living in developed nations, in houses
    • An industrial version - for small business, and/or small community use

    You pose a good question regarding the impact on business interests and worker livelihoods. This is the subject of much ongoing debate with regard to the radical innovative disruptions we will see from exponential technologies. Socio-economics, generally, are likely to see significant change. In the medium term the above offers opportunities for local businesses and societies. The replicators will need supplies of raw materials, energy, and water; and services to procure and maintain such devices. I envision that different nations and regions might progress at different rates, and adopt different levels of advancement depending on their initial circumstances.

    Over the years I’ve read articles discussing depleted croplands and how they affect the nutrient content of the food grown on them. I’ve also read about growing tomatoes with many times the vitamin C and other nutrients found in ‘ordinary’ tomatoes. Not to pick on tomatoes, but they are an obvious example of food grown for appearance, while their flavor goes downhill.

    A new, and hopefully improved food system should include a way to not only measure the nutrition of the foods it produces but to raise the bar on the health value of the final product available to the consumer at the point of purchase, or even at the time of consumption.

    Could it be that over-eating is at least in part due to a lack of available nutrients in the food and an attempt to make up for that lack? Could it be that abundantly nutritious food would sate the appetite quickly, thereby satisfying with less?

    I suggest the proposed framework should seek to continually raise the bar on the nutritional value of food and to measure it as close to the time of consumption as practical.

    Imagine shopping with a handheld scanner that lets you know the nutritional value of the foods on offer. IMHO that would be one helluva driver for raising the bar on the quality of food we eat.

    If such a device were available, I expect hyperlocal food would have a distinct advantage over its counterpart grown hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. Not everything can be grown locally, but such a device would raise the bar universally.

    How are these measurements currently done? Can the technology be miniaturized? Can it also detect harmful substances? Can it be manufactured at a scale to bring it to mass markets?

    Imagine the impact it would have on an integrated food system.

    Hi team, here’s another diagram to consider of a food product’s life cycle, developed by a Circular Economy of Food Accelerator with participants from across the food system. You could consider mapping your 3 principles out along the 8 phases.

    Hi All, I think you’ve done a great job articulating 3 principles of a Circular Economy of Food system. It is new and significant that you’re including a human/social equity principle - I think this is important and a valuable addition to what has primarily been an economic & environment-focused Circularity discussion.

    One thing I think you’ve got wrong is your inclusion of the word “Regenerative”. Everything you state in the sub-principles fits with “Resilient”, but you have not actually described anything regenerative. As such the framework seeks to extract value from naming the popular/trending concept “regenerative”, without understanding what it means.

    These features speak to reducing harm and a little bit of “net positive”/doing good (within a bounded “cyclical system”), but do not emerge from a Regenerative paradigm or include any of the 7 First Principles of Regeneration.

    I don’t think this is an issue at all – Regeneration is very different than Circularity – but I do think that the framework should not use the term regenerative to attempt to describe what is circular.

    For more on the Regenerative Paradigm applied to economics:

    • [Regenerative Economy Part 1](
    • [Regenerative Economy Collaborative](
    • [The Regenerative Life](

    Thank you for your comment, @SteveK8 . I think you are raising very interesting points that help exemplify some of the aspects we hope to achieve through the framework, through its interdependence.

    You’ve mentioned the example of nutritious food (which we strongly agree with and highlight in the framework), alongside “Imagine shopping with a handheld scanner that lets you know the nutritional value of the foods on offer.” Looking at the framework, this mention of the ‘handheld scanner’ taps right into the principle of Inclusive & Equitable and its focus on empowering agency, in this case of the consumer. I just wanted to share this with you, as, at its core, the framework is designed to ensure that we account for the core principles that will help drive a transformation towards a circular food economy that advances environmental, societal, and economic goals alike.

    Specifically, regarding the visibility into the food we consume, this is a gap we usually hear about from the industry (visibility into the supply chain, for example). Thinking of the busy modern life, do you think the consumer would be interested in such technologies?

    Thank you so much @Ethan for your insightful comment and for sharing these links! We’ve read Carol Sanford’s Medium series when you first shared it with us and were very much inspired and captivated by it. I was hoping to get a little more of your opinion regarding the ‘regenerative and resilient’ principle/category. When exploring core concepts for regenerative and resilient (separately), and perhaps the diagram exemplifies it better than the draft definition, we came to realize the interdependence and constant exchange b/w the two principles. i.e., for a system to be truly resilient, it must account for diversity in timelines and scale; as such, it can’t be just nonexploitative and circular but must continue to be responsive - dynamic and evolving, to continuously be viable and resilient. What do you think of this dependency between regeneration and resilience? Can regeneration inform better circularity discussions?

    Net-positive was originally nested under the regenerative principle. As we looked at the interdependence b/w of all principles while rethinking the concept of economic growth, we found them all necessary to interact and inform each other to drive towards a complex sense of ‘growth’ that goes beyond (not limited to nor defined by economic growth). Indeed, circularity as a bounded concept was challenging when we accounted for complex diversity; it’s one reason we began exploring the food system in a broader sense. If I’d attempt summarizing our process – our research indicated that approaches to sustainability via circularity fall short due to the emphasis on interlinks, and as you mentioned, heavy economic focus. So, when rethinking the path to the concept, turning it from theory (in which it doesn’t account just for the economy) to practice (in present, heavily focused on economy), we proposed an integrated approach. The principles are the future food system we hope to see, while their integrated application (across biosphere, society, and economy) will help bridge the theory and practice.

    This is a concise description of the process we’ve done, so I hope it allowed some insight… I would love to hear your thoughts.

    I would urge all to look at what Jonathan Trent did while in NASA (for having sustainable life on other planets) as well as his new venture called UpCycle Systems.

    I think the principles and the framework you have laid out are well thought out and executable however it is in that execution that we find the issue. My solution to the circular food economy is a condensed diverse system that continually feeds itself and the people who benefit from it. At Plantr our mission is to turn every lawn into a 10x producing food forest that can be grown and maintained at a low monthly cost for a fraction of the carbon footprint traditional agriculture leaves behind.