Collaborating in a circular economy, the power of the consumer and addressing competition between CO2-efficiency, the bio- and the circular economies were major points of discussion in the first-ever World Circular Economy Forum last week in Helsinki (5 -7 June).
Organised by the Finnish innovation fund SITRA, the conference brought together over 1500 scientists and experts from more than 100 countries to discuss the potential of the circular economy in achieving the ambitious UN Agenda 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals.
Climate-KIC organised an official side-event on 7 June together with OECD, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation Tekes, the Natural Resources Institute Luke, the Finnish company network Team Finland and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment of Finland. More than 100 guests attended a mix of presentations, panels and workshops on new innovation ecosystems and circular solutions to boost the bioeconomy.
The drive for a circular economy
Climate KIC’s Chair of the Governing Board Anders Wijkman, Co-President of the Club of Rome, opened, underlining the urgency of climate action in 2017. Our economy needs a drastic change towards circularity, he said: “We expect a [massive] increase of the use of basic materials (…) in the next 25 years. Unless we do it differently, we can forget about the Paris Agreement,” emphasising how traditional businesses will be more challenged than ever.
Although these challenges should drive circular economy approaches, they are still in an experimental phase, hindered by a silo mentality. “How do we genuinely open up the edges for cross-industry, cross-sector, cross-company, cross-boundary collaboration?” asked Kirsten Dunlop, Climate-KIC’s CEO. Collaboration — and with it, the sharing of resources, risks and benefits — will be needed to start the global transformation towards circularity.
Several different transitions are currently in parallel, competing for public and political attention, explained Professor Jan Rotmans from the Dutch Research Institute of Transitions.
Rotmans sees competition between the CO2-efficient production of goods, which has been in the public focus for a long time; the bio-based economy, which wants to change the basis for industrial production but doesn’t strictly need to change the system; and the circular economy, which wants to modify the whole production system by closing material loops and boosting material efficiency through collaboration, recycling, upcycling and repair.
As different policies are needed for each of the transitions, this competition needs to be addressed. It’s only a combination of all these approaches that will have the much-needed impact on climate change. Rotmans is convinced, though, that in 30 years our economy will have experienced big structural changes. For example, the idea of buying the function and service of light, rather than buying lamps — as demonstrated by Philips — is already something that customers are becoming more familiar with.
Circular business models
This paved the way for discussion on new, upcoming business models related to the bio- and circular economies. Peter Burkey, Principal Administrator at OECD, categorised the types of businesses set to occur more often:
- Waste-Value-Creation through recycling or upcycling
- Circular Supplies, where resources are replaced with bio-based, renewable or recycled materials
- New Life-Cycle-Models, where products have high value over long period of time, through long-life design, repairing, re-manufacturing and second-hand markets
- Idle Capacity Models, where more value is being extracted from existing products, such as through shared usage, like with Airbnb
- Product-Service-Systems, such as leasing a function rather than buying a product.
Attending representatives from companies like Metsä Fibra (Finland), Novamont (Italy), Stora Enso (Sweden) and CocoPallet (Netherlands) demonstrated the reality of these models in subsequent short presentations.
Understanding value chains
Climate-KIC ran a workshop session to dive into this topic in the afternoon, moderated by Sira Saccani, Director of Climate-KIC’s Sustainable Production Systems theme. After a short pecha-kucha-style introduction of four Climate-KIC projects SkyNRG, Open Forêt, Forland Project and Carbotopia, the audience were able to interact with each other in a serious game on designing circular models for bio-plastics and forest management.
The participants discussed the different necessary steps, and also had to rate the level of social, environmental and financial impact different actions could have during the implementation of their circular model. During this game, it became clear how powerful the (private) consumer can be in the transformation process towards circularity — a point that was emphasised throughout the three days of the conference.
By Peter Koziel, senior marketing and communications manager, Climate-KIC DACH region.
To read more about WCEF, check out the ten key takeaways from the conference here or search for the Hashtag #WCEF2017 on Twitter.