A European vision for the circular economy: Collaboration, governance and leadership appear as the keys to implement this trend
Webinar organized by Eurochile had as keynote speakers Freek van Eijk, director of Holland Circular Hotspot; and Ladeja Godina, chair of the Coordination Group of the Platform of European Stakeholders of Circular Economy, who analyzed not only the advances in this matter in that continent, but also how this trend requires the commitment of all the actors at a global level, in a scenario where Chile is already working on its Roadmap for the Circular Economy for the next 20 years.
The circular economy will play an important role to face the enormous and complex challenge that our country and the world face today, “to design and implement an urgent recovery that is sustainable and, at the same time, acceptable and effective from the social point of view, economic and political. The economy and society of the future will require innovation, circularity and associativity, and we also hope it will be globalized and supportive”.
This is how the president of Eurochile Business Foundation, Vicente Caruz, synthesized -in the opening of the webinar- the objective that inspired the seminar “Chile`s Road to a Circular Economy: European Strategies and Visions”, which was held July 23th. And today, added Linnet Solway, Director of Technology Transfer and Circular Economy at Eurochile, “without a doubt this model becomes even more relevant in the framework of the reactivation and reconstruction of the economy, to better rebuild and at the same time advance to a new economy and society”.
How to do it, and where to focus on this task, was presented by the keynote speakers at the seminar, Freek van Eijk, director of Holland Circular Hotspot; and Ladeja Godina, chair of the Coordination Group of the Platform of European Stakeholders of Circular Economy. They did it from the European vision and the advances of the continent in this matter, but also with a look at Chile, in particular Ladeja Godina, who today advises Eurochile on the construction of a Roadmap for the Circular Economy in the country, work led by the Ministry of the Environment.
And throughout the seminar, both experts agreed on a fundamental point: collaboration will be the key to advancing this trend in the world, where the current crisis scenario also presents a great opportunity for change.
This is what Holland Circular Hotspot does, said Van Eijk: “We want to make sure that this goal is achieved, share experiences, tools and knowledge that we have acquired in the circular economy (…) We want to try to organize solutions that imply profits for all, for the Netherlands, for the world, and help meet climate goals “.
Opportunity in crisis
And in the current coronavirus scenario, in which the economies entered into crisis and there is a complex scenario mainly for small companies – for whom this is about their survival”, it is also“ the wake-up call that we needed. The call to rebuild in a better way, from transnationals to NGOs, this is a key moment to prepare for the future.
Today we see some progress raised, and it has been seen in large companies from Shell to Apple, which in recent weeks have increased their circular economy ambitions. And in the case of Europe, for an economic recovery plan framed in the Green Deal, where the circular economy also plays an important role.
“The circular economy is a system change,” he said, “it changes the way we produce and consume. It is then about design, consumer participation, having sustainable production processes, and also with a focus on value chains. Normally you start with waste treatment, but the idea in Europe is to have less waste and more value every time. This has to do with the economy, it is key to establish clear priorities for future innovation. And we cannot do it alone in Holland, or Europe, this has to be a global effort. It is about collaborating with each other and along the entire value chain”.
Today in the Netherlands the circular economy is a national priority, with an agenda established in 2016 that seeks for the country to be completely circular by 2050 and that in 10 years it has reduced the use of non-renewable raw materials by 50%. But, having an ambition is not enough to achieve it, said Van Eijk, it is necessary to attract a critical mass of actors and involve them, and for this they are working in five areas with potential and willing to make this transition: biomass and food, plastics, construction, manufacturing and consumer goods.
“And even this is not enough, you have to change the system, intervene with legislation and smart market incentives. It is not only eliminating plastic straws, but also giving financing, promotion and opportunity to other products to enter the market. Give investment and development an opportunity to think about the challenges of the future, which are different from the ones we face; and also how we change our own behavior. We learned in the Netherlands that it is essential to have the perspective of the companies so that this becomes massive”, he said.
And to explain this, he gave a series of examples that are being carried out in the Netherlands. From products such as Fairphone, a mobile phone that in its design stage reduces its environmental footprint by 80% and it is also built in a modular way to reuse its parts. Or the Ahrend company that offers office furniture giving new life to products, since it reuses office chairs -for example- as raw material for others.
“What I want to tell you is that the circular economy is something that is happening now, and it is not only in the Netherlands, but also in developing countries. This is an opportunity after Covid 19 because it has to do with resilience, with future markets, with continuity. But they are very big challenges, in the Netherlands we are only 25% circular and we want to reach 100%, so we are advanced but we are still very far from the goal. That is why we need all the help, the commitment of a large number of people, and I hope that together we can achieve it”, invited Freek van Eijk.
Towards a roadmap in Chile
This collaboration will also be essential in the construction of a Roadmap for the Circular Economy in Chile, Ladeja Godina stated, who said that “the process is the most important part of this path. The documents are important, but what happens in this journey is what defines us and what remains, and that is why the commitment of the interested parties and the leadership of the government, are key”.
To do this, she added, it is not necessary to wait for a good moment to come; we have to decide now the principles that are part of the circular economy and sustainability. “What keeps us awake? – asked Godina-: Everything that bombards us today in the media, on the one hand the coronavirus crisis that we do not know well how to deal with it. This is a challenge for all of us, in past decades we relied on science and technology and now suddenly, having that, we still cannot understand this virus and we have to put it under control. On the other hand, we seek solutions to better manage our planet because limits exist, and the climate crisis exists. That is part of the problem, and now we face this daily threat caused by the coronavirus. These two simultaneous threats require very good crisis management”.
That is what Europe is seeking to implement in its plan for reactivation after the coronavirus crisis, in which it has committed a large amount of money. However, Godina said, today “the big challenge is how we are going to use this money. If we will have enough knowledge and wisdom to invest it, or we will spend it in a way that does not ensure the future”.
In this context, Ladeja Godina showed part of what they are working on from the Platform of European Stake holders of Circular Economy, made up of 24 members representing different organizations and which seeks to become the “network of networks” with regard to the circular economy. And for this, she said, they are working on finding the accelerators of change, the circular pioneers in different countries.
“You can visit our website and bring up your own discussion topic; you can find partners for your projects, etc. This platform is not only from European countries; in these three years we have managed to reach the whole world, and it is wonderful that people from different parts of the world are interested in collaborating. Now there is an open call for the next mandate of the coordination group, and we are looking for more organizations to join us”, she invited.
When one is a “change maker”, said Ladeja Godina, it is important to gain visibility, achieve diffusion, because having the opportunity to present and explain what has been achieved it is possible to find the right partners. “By having an open discussion on these issues, and by engaging different stakeholders, you can focus on the areas and opportunities that are shared at the city, country or regional level,” he added.
What are the keys to moving towards a circular economy? In this regard, Ladeja Godina raised three key lines. The first of these is stakeholder engagement and collaboration. Understanding that it is impossible for everyone to win at the same time, what is required is not to compete “for the pieces of the cake”, but to “make the cake bigger.”
“That is the art of collaboration. In the crisis situation we are living in now, it becomes more important to understand this, and in my personal opinion, as we now feel more fragile we are also more humble and we are also more willing to collaborate in this way, and give each other opportunities. This sounds great, but in practice it is often the shareholders who dictate the decisions, so it is important to give everyone space at least in the process. Now that Chile is working on this roadmap, we can see the engagement of the different stakeholders. It is important to look for these actors, to collaborate with them, because they are important in the discussion”, he said.
A second aspect is governance, because today this discussion is taking place in all sectors and we cannot focus on a single segment, we have to work at a systemic level.
“When we talk about the governance of the circular economy we have to think about how to involve everyone, how to achieve their commitment, and how to work with all stakeholders on this overall vision. That is why it is important to do that first and then focus on concrete actions, because without these two visions – the general and the concrete – we can lose ourselves, and from there have specific goals that can be measured to advance in this transformation,”he explained.
“To simplify,” he added, “the circular economy is about good management, how to preserve value.” Sometimes we get really complicated trying to explain what it means, but the truth is that it has to do with common sense, with how to maintain value for as long as possible. And how to think about that at all levels when making decisions”.
And the third key aspect in this transformation is leadership, she stated: how do we stop competing and how do we collaborate.
“Jacinda Ardern is a great example – I think we all agree – of what a leader can do, because she is always thinking about the welfare of society. Of course, economic well-being is important, but human beings are social beings, and without this collective spirit and shared values we cannot achieve results,”Godina said.
Although in Europe there is a very clear policy framework in the European Green Deal, which is guiding this circular transition, it is important to define how these solutions will be implemented, how the recovery of our economies will be achieved, but not going back to where we were. And in this, leadership also includes personal actions. “We should produce and consume less, reuse, repair. We do not have to wait for someone to guide us, we do not have to wait for a messiah, but all our daily decisions matter, because we can all contribute to a better world, “she said.