On September 15th 2015, over 150 people joined Cirkulær Økonomi Netværket and Worldwatch Institute Europe’s event on Circular Economy at the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen.
The event coincided with the recent release of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation tool-kit for Circular Economy Policy Making, as well as the work of Accenture and De Groene Zaak, who has published best practices analysis of CE policies around the world.
After a short presentation of the highlights from these reports, our panel of experts introduced and discussed the practical aspects of CE policy making on different levels. Hanne Juel presented her work as the leader of the CE team at the Danish Central Region, Ida Auken shared with us her national perspectives as former Minister of Environment and current MP, while Geir Oddsson from the Nordic Council of Ministers provided us with the Nordic overview. Joost Brinkman from Accenture, and one of the authors to the Governments Going Circular report, complemented the ensemble.
As expected the subject raised a lot of issues and took the discussion in different directions. However, several topics kept coming up and generated wide agreement among the speakers and the audience, regarding their key role on the pathway for transformation towards circular economy.
Emphasizing the financial advantage from collaboration on CE seems to be the natural way to get stakeholders on board, and as Ida Auken shared with us examples of such successful cross-ministerial collaboration, Joost Brinkman familiarized us with the concepts of Ex’Tax, that seems to be a potential game-changer. The Ex’Tax framework aims to incentivize circular business models by shifting taxation away from labour-focused and into natural-resources taxation instead. Taxing the usage of resources will incentivize greater resource efficiency, while lowering tax on labour will encourage more labour-intensive business models and help to increase employment.
Having representation from different authority levels helped to portray the complexity of relations in implementing a CE policy strategy between the regional and national levels. This was clearly demonstrated by the example of public procurement, which is both one of the most politicized fields and the biggest potential to unlock market drivers for circular products and business models.
Since government-level procurement usually focuses on very big-scale projects, the way to implement more daily and impactful CE procurement strategy is through working on a regional level, as demonstrated by Hanne Juel and her work on circular economy in the Central Region where she is working on an ambitious initiative on waste-free hospitals. Such regional initiatives have great potential in bringing CE supporting procurement to the next level. However, enabling policy frameworks on national level must also be considered and put in motion in order to support profound transformation within the regions.
Legislation on CE procurement is not an easy task either, as the field is undergoing constant development and without adequate product certification or standards it becomes an open question regarding what exactly are CE products, and how to construct procurement policies without having comprehensive benchmarks. For now, the course of action goes back to creation of enabling conditions for greater resource efficiency and incentives for regenerative business models such as the above-mentioned Ex’Tax.
Another issue that became prominently clear throughout the discussion is that the key barriers for transition are not mechanical ones, but mainly cultural, behavioural, and a mindset that makes it hard to move away from “the way we have always done things”.
It takes people with vision, who know their way around the system and who can share with their surroundings, about how CE is relevant for their activities and its long terms benefits and can portray why doing things differently is so important. This brought us to discussing the role of education in accelerating transition and the necessity to include transforming education as an integral part of the CE agenda and policy-making, across all education levels, both nationally and internationally.
Speaking of the international perspective, the upcoming EU CE policy package leaves everyone in anticipation for its release by the end of the year, and wondering regarding the level of its ambition. According to Ida Auken, we have a reason to be optimistic, as she quotes one of the leading Comissioners assuring that "CE is EU's only way to remain competitive in the coming decades, otherwise, what else are we gonna do?"
With this understanding in mind, that we have nowhere to go but forward, we discussed the different collaboration activities in the Nordic region. Geir Oddson introduced the Nordic Council of Ministers’ plans to address the needs for establishment of dialogue partnerships where businesses will play key roles in driving an action-based agenda on transformation towards bio- and circular economy.
As a whole, the notion of collaboration and holistic approach united all experts, who continually emphasized that transition is neither an issue nor a role of a single sector, and collaboration between governance, business, education, finance, and civil society is a pre-condition to any sort of long-lasting transformation, and we are all responsible for pushing this agenda forwards. As Ida Auken summarized it:
"CE is a new way of thinking that gets people to collaborate. It combines interests of stakeholders that beforehand sat on opposite sides of the table. Each of us should look into the sphere of our own influence in life, act upon it, and inspire our surrounding for action".