The circular economy proposes an evolution from the linear production and consumption model- extraction of resources, manufacture, consumption and then discarded as waste – which prevailed for two centuries, to a model inspired by nature and its functioning, where everything is harnessed, transformed and reused.
A paradigm shift which emerges as a necessary and urgent response in order to address some of humanity’s great challenges, such as climate change, pollution, loss of biodiversity or the gradual depletion of resources, making it evident that it is impossible to maintain unlimited growth rates on a finite planet. Since 1980, the annual extraction levels of raw materials have increased by 60% and, every year, humanity consumes natural resources which already nearly doubles the planet’s regeneration capacity.
Among other solutions, the circular economy delivers formulas to prolong the useful economic life of materials and products, foster the repair and reuse of consumer goods, introduces alternative habits such as shared use, minimises the generation of waste, studies how to make the most of what has been produced and reinforces the use of renewable energies.
All in all, the circular economy makes it possible to redefine the concept of growth and progress in order to obtain a restorative, regenerative and more sustainable economic system, based on greater efficiency in the use of resources, which ensures the conservation of our planet and the well-being of all its inhabitants.
How to address this transition to a circular economy
The transition towards a circular economy and its consolidation is underpinned on two fundamental cornerstones: awareness and joint responsibility. Making headway in this model requires a comprehensive, strategic and multidisciplinary plan in which all the agents are involved, working in a coordinated manner, with the conviction that it is an unstoppable and absolutely necessary process in order to protect and preserve the planet.
Any company, organisation, institution, the Public Administrations and, of course, the citizens, must act accordingly and unite. Only from this perspective of public-private cooperation and citizen participation will a real change in the economic model be viable.
New methods of production and to be competitive must be defined, whilst at the same time being sustainable and responsible. In recent years, an evident explosion of political, business and social awareness of the need to speed up the transition from the linear model of production and consumption to a circular model has been seen.
It is time to speed up its implementation if a real change is desired.
Do you want to join in?
What does ‘entering the circle’ contribute?
The circular strategy extends to the entire process and product lifecycle, from its conception and design to its composition and raw materials, the analysis of how it will be produced, transported and marketed, its usefulness and functionality, its durability – eschewing practices which pursue obsolescence – and the options for reuse, recovery or recycling at the end of the useful life for which it was designed.
Working in this context allows:
For Public Administrations and institutions:
To evolve towards a more sustainable economic model in their areas, supporting reindustrialisation, the development of an increasingly efficient, productive and competitive companies, less polluting, generating wealth and quality jobs, whilst preserving and protecting their environment and the standard of living of its inhabitants.
♢ Improvements in efficiency: The circular economy model is intended at reducing the consumption of materials and products, extending their useful life, and that of energy -prioritising, furthermore, that from renewable sources-, with the resulting progress for companies in terms of management efficiency.
♢ Greater risk control: Introducing circular economy strategies conducive to companies to reduce their degree of dependence on the supply of raw materials and possible price fluctuations on the markets, within a context of gradual depletion of natural resources.
♢ Innovation: The need to respond to the challenges posed by new consumption and production models, as well as the growing demand for certain products and services (recycling, shared consumption, new materials etc.) create opportunities for consolidated companies and new entrepreneurial projects.
♢ Resilience: Companies which evolve towards more sustainable management and business models have demonstrated to perform better in times of crisis and have an increased recovery capacity.
♢ Competitiveness: Due to the preceding points, organisations which integrate the circular economy will improve their productivity and generate competitive advantages in a globalised world.
♢ Improvement in their purchasing and consumption decisions, extending the range of products and services which minimise negative impacts on the environment and promote positive impacts.
♢ Management optimization of their economic resources.
♢ Access to quality and sustainable jobs, which further greater integration and social cohesion.
Changing an economic model which has established for generations is a process that requires time and resources.
The major challenges are as follows:
♢ A comprehensive and continuously changing regulatory framework: There are significant delays in the transposition of international agreements and supranational regulations (European directives) into national legislation and which are addressed by the autonomous communities – in matters within their competence. It is essential that the Spanish Circular Economy Strategy, approved last June, is reflected in regulatory developments which ensure its effective implementation and the attainment of common results.
♢ A general absence of public policies which serve as an impetus for the evolution of companies (tax incentives, public procurement with sustainable criteria, R&D support, funding lines etc.).
♢ Absence of real commitment from companies: The ‘circularity’ level in the global production system is estimated at barely 9.1% -according to The Circularity Gap study-.
♢ The need to incur significant investments in order to repurpose products, services and processes or those which are subject to extended amortisation periods.
♢ Market barriers: Absence of real consumer demand, either due to entrenched habits or the impact on investment prices incurred by the company, which can penalise its sales volume.
♢ The absence of definition of models, systems and actions which actively involve citizens and consumers.
♢ The absence of standard tools for the impact measurement of these strategies and policies, which enable data to be available and knowledge to be generated in order to know what and where the business opportunities and risks associated with circular systems lie.
Have you considered what you can do, both personally and professionally, in order to foster circular economy?
The ‘R’s’ (7R’s, 9R’s, 10R’s…) of the circular economy serve as a guide for making more responsible and sustainable production and consumption decisions:
♢ Redesign: Rethink products with sustainability criteria, from their shape to the materials to be used, the possibilities for reuse, dismantling or recycling.
♢ Reduce: Change consumption habits, both when deciding on a purchase – do I really need that product – as well when prioritising types of materials, formats or possibilities for reuse or recycling.
♢ Refuse: Through innovation, making the product redundant, abandoning its function or offering the same function with a radically different product.
♢ Reuse: Extend the useful life of products by giving these another use.
♢ Rethink: Consumption patterns to ensure the best possible use of the good (for example, through sharing or pay-per-use).
♢ Repair: Repair a product which does not work means less material consumption and less waste generation and will generally be cheaper than purchasing a new one.
♢ Refurbish: Updating a consumer good to make it usable again.
♢ Recover: Reintroduce previously used materials into the production process.
♢ Remanufacture: Using parts of a product in the production of a new good with the same or different functions.
♢ Recycle: When the previous channels are no longer possible, the product is treated to process the waste into raw materials which return to the production process.
The implementation of a circular economy is one of the key strategic lines in order to attain the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDA) Agenda – approved by the United Nations on 25 September 2015 – which defines a roadmap, a strategy and universally shared objectives for the purposes of addressing the major global challenges of humanity.
A total of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are defined, which in turn are specified into 169 objectives, to move forward towards a more responsible world economy and inclusive of people and the planet. It is not only what should be done, but likewise how to do so. The SDG 12 focuses on ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns in an increasing efficient and responsible manner, with objectives directly intended at a more efficient use of natural resources and energy, reduction of waste and its treatment and recycling. But it is not the only SDG related to a circular economic model. SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities), SDG 13 (climate action), SDG 14 (life below water) and SDG 15 (life on land) will likewise receive positive impacts from system change, which will also indirectly affect those related to the health and well-being of people.
The Sustainable Development Goals are interconnected and likewise the agents involved. Their attainment requires a global and joint action: it involves people, companies, public administrations, educational institutions, social institutions, third sector organisations… Goal 17 itself focuses on partnerships in order to attain the Sustainable Development Goals.