Systemic design inspired by nature: incubating a circular economy based on industrial hemp

Author: Tobias Luthe

This poster shows a systems map of industrial hemp and its potential to stimulate a place-based circular economy in mountain regions and beyond.
Mountain regions are most vulnerable to environmental and demographic change while suffering from political and economic neglect. Their economy depends on single industry sectors, like agriculture, mining, or tourism. The revival of mountain economies demands the development of a more resilient economic model that is more adaptive and innovative to prepare for and respond to change. Such a more resilient economy is based on higher connectivity between different economic sectors, mimicking natural systems that function in circular ways where no waste exists, but outputs from one process are new inputs for another one. The design of a circular economy in mountain regions requires sophisticated tools and motivating illustrations to address complexity, and to overcome jealousy and lack of collaborative will.

Cannabis (hemp) is amongst the oldest cultivated plants with a worldwide history of agricultural use. In mountain regions, the traditional mountain economy used to be based on industrial hemp. Hemp grows basically anywhere, produces fast biomass, improves the soil by loosening it with its deep root system, does not require pesticides, the fibers of the sheath can be used to produce fabric, clothing and paper, the stems can be mixed with lime stone as a building material, the seeds can be used to produce oils for the kitchen and for 3D printing of organic plastic. Unfortunately, hemp became largely misunderstood, and as a result was forbidden to grow, own and utilize. In the last years though, society is re-discovering this plant and its genius capacity to power an entire economy.

We illustrate the potential to use the hemp cycle for designing a circular economy in the mountain community of Ostana, Piedmont, Italy, to connect agriculture, forestry, architecture, construction, gastronomy, tourism and textiles for building economic, social and ecological synergies as the trigger of a local, circular economy.
The systemic design challenge is illustrated on different time, geographic, legal, technical, behavioral and governance scales. The hemp social-ecological system is plotted on a six-dimensional sustainability model, adding another conceptual scale to the systems map. In understanding the poster you may start at the central photo of a hemp field, established on the mountain campus of the MonViso Institute. From there you see various parts of the plant, like seeds or the sheath, which lead to different types of usage and interconnected economic sectors.

Posted: Oct-2017

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