Waste not, want not: The circular economy makes business sense
The recent World Circular Economy Forum conference explored fresh thinking around protecting nature.
It’s the largest event of its kind in the world, hosted this year in Helsinki, Finland, a city that lives not only close to nature, but within it.
It’s for this reason that, at this seventh World Circular Economy Forum (WCEF) conference, protecting the environment and our future are at the heart of every discussion. So is capitalism. One thing’s for sure: there’s plenty of money to be made in not wasting resources.
Although the war in Europe and the global economic crisis might be persistent concerns – underscored by unequivocal positions of support for Ukraine pronounced atop some of the Finnish capital’s most prominent buildings – the organisers of the WCEF 2023 are working to create awareness about a nature-positive future in which the natural environment is preserved.
Without harvesting collective energies to drive this circular economy, Sitra (the Finnish Innovation Fund), Nordic Innovation and partners from around the world say they fear that within the next five years, biodiversity loss will become as big a political and economic issue as climate change is today.
Sitra is a public foundation that operates directly under the supervision of the Finnish parliament. The foundation, which operates independently with the help of a healthy endowment, has reached the stage where investments in the circular economy have increased momentum and the government is wholeheartedly committed to the project.
At first focused on problems in nature – pollution, the ozone layer, climate change – Sitra has now redirected its focus to nature loss and aims to encourage fresh thinking about the use of virgin resources and reducing the use of such dwindling resources in the system.
Jyrki Katainen, the president of Sitra and former prime minister of Finland, told delegates at the plenary session that the private and public sectors have done a significant amount of work to address climate change.
“We believe that this has paved the way for the next steps, where nature loss – biodiversity loss – is going to be learnt (experienced) faster than what was the case with climate change.”
Looking at what the world has been doing to address biodiversity loss in recent decades, the classic answer has been to set up conservation areas. That might be important, but it is simply not sufficient.
If the world ever reaches the United Nations’ sustainability goals to protect 30% of our water and land areas, we should question what happens to the most important issue – the 70% that is not envisaged to be protected: the built environment, agricultural, forestry and other areas, he said.
It’s for this reason that the attention needs to be shifted to the circular economy: how the market economy can produce more efficiently, in harmony with nature.
“Without answering or finding solutions to these questions, we cannot address biodiversity loss. This is where the circular economy comes in, because it is a significant answer to addressing biodiversity loss.
“The more we reuse resources that have already been extracted, the less we need to use raw virgin material, which is why businesses need to be encouraged to change their business model towards circularity,” said Katainen.
André Küüsvek, the president and CEO of Nordic Investment Bank, said the bank had run programmes for years on circularity and the circular economy, to assist companies to adapt their business models. In their experience, many companies wanted to participate in the circular economy but they still lacked the knowledge, insight and understanding of how it could practically be done.
“Regulations are important, but a transformation to a sustainable future and to combat biodiversity loss cannot be done without industry adapting to this near future.”
Küüsvek said 170 companies had participated in their programme for companies from all five Nordic countries to develop and implement a circular business model. It has been published in an open-source playbook to allow the rest of the world to see what and how it is being done in Scandinavia.
Linear economy is failing people
Valerie Hickey is the global director for environment, natural resources and the blue economy at the World Bank.
She highlighted that we’re living in a world where primary resources are getting more scarce, overall goods and services are less affordable, and governments are in a debt crisis.
“So circularity is not just a nice-to-have. It’s an absolute must-have because, at the end of the day, it’s an efficiency and affordability agenda.”
The World Bank, she said, is in the business of ending poverty and is committed to ending extreme poverty by 2030. But it is desperately failing at doing that.
“We live in a world today where there are 828 million people who are going to go to bed hungry tonight. That number was 690 million people eight years ago. The numbers are getting worse, people are getting poorer and our business is failing.”
It’s because the linear economy is failing people and not delivering for everybody.
“We’re in a doom and gloom loop that we have to get out of, and that’s the promise of a circular economy…”
As Katainen pointed out, the circular economy is not about charity: it makes business sense from a purely capitalist perspective. DM
Georgina Crouth was hosted at the WCEF 2023 by Sitra.
Examples of circular economy solutions in Denmark:
In 2021, Denmark reached a 93% return percentage of disposable packaging, recycling 1.9 billion cans and bottles for reuse. This was largely because of the Danish deposit and return system for recycling drink cans and bottles.
This common circular return system makes it possible to turn in your used beverage containers in supermarkets and kiosks across Denmark, while receiving a deposit in return as cash.
Circular social housing project
With the building industry responsible for a sizable amount of global CO2 emissions, the need for a circular approach to construction and design is required. One way to do so is to recycle or reuse building materials.
A prime example of this is The Circle House, which is expected to be completed north of the Danish city of Aarhus in 2023. A total of 90% of The Circle House’s building material will be able to be demounted and reused or resold without loss of value.