It is worthwhile remembering the origin of the word economics. It used to denote the rules for good household management. On a planet that hosts life, household management occurs at all levels of scale, from the activities of single cells right up to processes that involve the entire planetary ecosystem. Human economics are part of a much bigger picture that always included biological economics and that now also includes economics in the increasingly digitised realm of knowledge sharing.

A suitable language for articulating value cycle innovations

To be able to reason about economics at a planetary level we need a simple and precise language for reasoning about economic ecosystems. Ideally such a language should be understandable by humans, but must also be capable of reaching beyond the scope of human socio-economic systems. In particular the language must not be coloured by any concrete human culture or economic ideology, and must be able to represent dependencies and feedback loops at all levels of scale, as well as feedback loops between levels of scale, to enable adequate representation of the fractal characteristic of nature.

The visual language outlined in this section provides a basic terminology and notation for framing the activities of concrete agents within the context of a circular economy, and covers the physical realm as well as the realm of knowledge sharing.

Essential verbs:

essential economic verbs

In this simple language, the flows and two of the three important goals of a circular economy can be visualised as follows:

goal of a resilient economy

The two goals of zero waste and zero non-renewable resources are met by any lifeless planet. Therefore, the third important goal of a circular economy is to support the processes of life and evolution, without conflicting with the first two goals. Taken together, these three goals represent a wicked problem of global scale that provides the ultimate motivation for interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation.

Associated economic constraints can summarised using the following terminology:

economic constraints

The extent to which an economic ecosystem supports the processes of life and evolution can be measured by the level of biodiversity within the system.

The introduction of nouns relating to the essential economic verbs adds the following elements to the basic language, which represent five complementary and interdependent economic sectors suitable for a first level categorisation of the purpose of concrete economic agents (organisations and individuals):


In the context of interdisciplinary collaboration, the simple language of the 5-sector model facilities visualisation and conceptual validation of changes to value chain segments and value cycles, especially for flows that cross organisational boundaries. As needed the terminology can be mapped to local domain and organisation specific jargons to describe the value creation process within organisations.

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