Circular Health and Sustainability: a guide for better teaching?

With the Spring semester coming to a conclusion here at UF (by the way, congratulations to all the students graduating this week!), I would like to reflect how Circular Health and Sustainability can and should be included in almost every class offered to undergraduate students. Not as the main topic, and not even explicitly, but in the background, as a reference point or a guide to inform how to teach the different subjects.

Since I am an economist, I will focus on the class I thought this semester on Intermediate Microeconomics.

At first sight, Microeconomics and Circular Health seem to deal with very different topics. The first introduces students to models of consumers’ behavior and firms’ profit maximizing strategies; the second explores the relationships between the health of humans, animals, and the environment in its different forms. However, the systemic approach used in Circular Health can help students to become more aware of interactions among economic agents that are often overlooked or “assumed away”. In a similar way, keeping sustainability and the Sustainable Development Goals in the background, even without mentioning them directly, can help students and teachers alike to identify important aspects of economic reality that are often missing in the economic models studied in class

For example, the theory of general equilibrium states that a purely competitive market where firms and consumers can trade freely will always result in an efficient equilibrium. However, this is true if there are no externalities, meaning that the actions of each economic agent (about what to buy, how to produce, where to produce, where to buy) do not affect the welfare of any other agent in the economy. There is no need to be an economist to understand that this is a very big “if”! If my roommate smokes in their bedroom, it affects the quality of the air I breath; if a company uses cheaper ingredients, the food I buy might be bad for my health; if a factory pollutes, the farms downstream will suffer; if I demand low prices, some workers will be paid less. This is exactly what Circular Health is about, the importance of understanding how everything is interconnected and how the welfare of each one of us depends on the actions and the welfare of all the people and animals around us and of the environments where we live.

Another example: the standard model to describe how a firm should operate to be successful assumes that the firm can easily obtain all the inputs needed to produce its products. This is another big assumption! On one hand, natural resources are finite and poor management can lead to their exhaustion. On the other hand, human capital, both learned in school and acquired on the job, is limited too. The problem with this assumption is not so much that it is not realistic (in some cases), but that it helps educating our future managers and entrepreneurs to think that sustainable management of resources is not as important as, for example, cost minimization for the success of a company. In fact, proper management of resources is extremely important for the success of companies, especially in the long run. If the business model is based on the over-consumption of a specific resource, what is going to happen when that resource becomes exhausted or really expensive due to its rarity? If a firm has a really high rates of turnover (i.e. workers keep quitting), how could it develop and maintain the know-how needed to remain competitive in the long run?

These are just a couple examples from a single class. To conclude, I would like to encourage you to think of how many more disciplines and classes could benefit by being taught with Circular Health and Sustainability in the background, to provide a reference point and to help our students to become better leaders of the world of tomorrow.


By Dr. Luca Mantegazza




Posted: May 13, 2022

Category: UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS Teaching
Tags: Circular Health, Microeconomics, Sustainability, Teaching

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