Circular economy and ecodesign, keys to sustainable development
One of the practical elements to implement the circular economy is ecodesign, a tool that allows improving the environmental and functional performance of products and services. This is achieved by sequentially applying instruments such as life cycle assessment; the identification of environmental hotspots; and the definition of functional and environmental design criteria.
Opinion column of Javier Mora, project assistant in the Circular Economy and Technology Transfer Area of Eurochile.
From the 1990s until the beginning of 2020, Chile had been developing economically at a constant rate, observing an average GDP growth of around 4.5% for that period. This economic growth has been related to the creation of new companies, new products and services, which has meant an increase in people’s quality of life and prosperity in general for the country.
But to maintain the growth and nourishment of the productive system, for the creation of products and services, new raw material is permanently required, which results in a linear relationship between economic growth and the increase in the use of resources. And this is especially relevant in the context of the current environmental crisis due to climate change, so in this new scenario urgent measures are required to transform the current form of production, which consists of extracting materials, manufacturing a product, using it and dispose it. Today it is necessary to combine economic growth with the fight against Climate Change and environmental deterioration. For this, it is essential to decouple economic growth from the use of virgin raw materials.
This is where the Circular Economy comes in, which proposes a change in the form of production and is based on three pillars: eliminating waste and pollution from design; that materials are kept in the production cycle for as long as possible, maintaining their value; and regenerate natural systems. This new way of producing -for example- has been considered fundamental for the implementation and development of the European Green Deal and essential to achieve the carbon neutrality goals of the European Union.
One of the practical elements to implement the circular economy is ecodesign, a tool that allows improving the environmental and functional performance of products and services. This is achieved by sequentially applying instruments such as life cycle assessment; the identification of environmental hotspots; and the definition of functional and environmental design criteria. Then, based on the results of this analysis, the strategy that best responds to these requirements which can be the reuse, remanufacturing, change of materials, dematerialisation, design for recycling or some other strategy of the Circular Economy and / or innovation. In this way we can have better products and services that meet consumer needs and at the same time reduce the materials that are needed, which will reduce the environmental impact inherent to the product or service.
In Chile there are already advances in this matter. One of them is the Extended Producer Responsibility Law (REP Law), which seeks to reduce waste that reaches landfills and illegal dumps, and which is recognized as one of the main drivers of the Circular Economy in the country. This law identifies ecodesign as an important tool to meet its objectives. Another important milestone in this matter is the preparation of a Roadmap for the Circular Economy in Chile, which is currently being prepared by the Ministry of the Environment and a group of relevant actors from the productive sectors, academia and representatives of citizens, whose construction is led by Eurochile. In this document, ecodesign is also identified as an important tool to comply with the circularity goals that will be defined, so work is being done to establish concrete initiatives in this line.
How does this affect the improvement of a product? A concrete example of the application of ecodesign -for example- is to use the methodology to improve a system of containers and packaging of beverages, such as a juice or mineral water. This is done, first, by defining a strategy that responds to functional and environmental requirements to reduce the amount of glass or plastic in the main container, as well as the cardboard used in the secondary container. The result is a decrease in the amount of waste generated, making it easier for the producer to meet the collection and recycling goals indicated in the REP Law. In addition, it is possible to increase the efficiency of production and improve competitiveness, in a market with consumers concerned about the environmental qualities of the products they consume.
At a global level, the European Union is currently leading efforts in this area, which is materialised in an infinity of eco-designed products and services, as well as the existence of countless European innovation centers focused on eco-design. And today, when Chile leads the advances in the adoption of the circular economy and its tools in Latin America, Eurochile is working intensely to connect Chilean SMEs with the knowledge and innovation existing in Europe on this global trend.
For 27 years, Eurochile’s main role has been to build bridges between SMEs and entrepreneurs in Chile and Europe, and we are doing so today with the circular economy. Mainly, because we are convinced that the circular economy, together with ecodesign, will help introduce new forms of production that are not only more environmentally friendly, but also more efficient and with greater added value, which respond to the needs of the climate crisis and the new consumer demands of people. And just as it was defined in the European Green Deal, we also believe that it is a powerful tool for a truly sustainable economic reactivation after the coronavirus crisis.
We are already working on it, not only through leadership in the construction of the Roadmap for the circular economy promoted by the Ministry of the Environment. From Eurochile’s Circular Economy and Technology Transfer Area, we created a Circular Economy Working Group in 2019, which brings together small and medium-sized companies in the country that seek to incorporate tools such as eco-design or life cycle assessment in their processes and products. . And that work is already beginning to give concrete results. Recently, the project of one of the members of the group, the company ICP Ingeniería, was awarded the fund “Súmate a Innovar en Ecodiseño de Corfo”, the execution of which has already begun with the support of Eurochile. We want many more SMEs to join this trend, and help change the path that we have taken until today. Count on our support, the invitation is open.