Key Lessons for circular economy policies
The circular economy (CE) has become a cornerstone of the European Union’s (EU) economic and environmental policy in the last decade. The first EU CE Action Plan was published in 2015 by the Junker Commission. It included key policies to improve resource efficiency throughout the EU. It set ambitious recycling targets, banned certain single-use plastics, and expanded eco-design requirements for large electronic appliances to enhance their repairability and recyclability.
While many have criticized these policies for lacking stronger consumption reduction and social justice elements, they nonetheless placed the EU at the forefront of the global CE transition (Calisto Friant, Vermeulen, & Salomone, 2021). The second EU CE Action Plan was enacted in 2020 by the Von der Leyen Commission, as a key component of the European Green Deal. The new action plan takes a more holistic and integrated approach than its predecessor, by including many biodiversity conservation, social justice, consumer empowerment, and climate neutrality considerations. However, no concrete actions have been implemented thus far.
Moreover, countries within and beyond Europe, have also established national CE policies. However, these policies, their governance process, and their sustainability impacts have, so far, been less studied and understood. The implications of CE actions thus remain uncertain, especially considering the many fold social and ecological implications of a CE transition.
Our research in Work package 1, as part of the CRESTING project, fills this gap by analyzing CE discourses, governance, and implementation within the EU, including the impacts of EU waste streams on other countries in the world. This policy brief resumes the core results from our research and presents key insights and recommendations obtained after 3 years of investigation.
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Implementing sustainable circular economy innovations in private sector organizations
The circular economy has gained popularity in later years, being framed at the core of the New EU Green Deal, strongly promoted by international observatories such as the World Economic Forum, and embraced by innovative and future-oriented firms, from large multinationals to start-ups. The adoption of a circular economy in the private sector is done through the implementation of value-retention strategies ranging from reframed classic corporate sustainability practices –long loop value-retention (e.g. improvement of energy or material efficiency during production) –to transformative approaches towards sustainability (e.g. servitisation or virtualization of physical products).
The adoption of value-retention strategies entails implications for corporate circular innovation. Innovating towards a circular economy is a complex process that faces multiple challenges and can be explored from different perspectives. This white paper identifies key cross-cutting elements to strengthen the sustainability outcomes of circular innovation: the adoption of a territorial perspective, multi-stakeholder integration, and the understanding of sustainable value creation. In addition, it aims at supporting companies on their journey towards circular innovation by providing recommendations for three main areas: product development processes, the design of product-service systems, and business model innovation. These are presented in an integrative framework at the end of the document.
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Understanding the Public Sector engagement with the circular economy
Work Package 3 explores the role of public sector organisations, their strategies, plans, and operational activities for a Circular Economy (CE) transition. Attention to date on the CE has been largely confined to the private sector, especially manufacturing. However, a full CE requires input also from the public sector, both in terms of its relationship to the private sector (e.g., through both purchasing and regulation) and its own operational activity. It is the aim of Work Package 3 to examine public sector engagement with the CE via the following questions:
1) How are public sector bodies incorporating circularity into their own behaviour and what is the role of practices and strategies in bringing this about?
2) How can circularity be assessed in public sector organisations and what indicators are useful in measuring the extent of circularity in public sector organisations?
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Capturing the benefits of circularity
Economic, environmental, cultural and social benefits are often said to be associated with the transition to a circular economy (CE), however the distribution of those benefits have scarcely been researched. This oversight risks contributing to existing economic and socio-environmental inequalities, thereby impacting individual and collective wellbeing. Through in depth research engaging public, private, and third sector representatives in Hull (UK), Troyes, Strasbourg and La Rochelle (France), Graz (Austria) and Santiago and Valparaíso (Chile), Cresting work package 4 examined the distribution of the benefits from the CE and its ecological and socio-economic implications to build more sustainable and inclusive places.
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Measuring the impacts of a circular economy
The promise of a circular economy (CE) lies in reducing negative sustainability impacts of the linear economy without jeopardising growth and prosperity. However, to date, this promise has largely been assumed rather than measured. Without this measurement, well-intended CE strategies can lead to unintended consequences and burden shifting. CE is an integral component of both recent and upcoming international policy frameworks as well as private sector initiatives. Yet, it remains unclear how companies should assess and report the impacts of CE practices in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Work Package 5 of the Cresting project explored both current and potential future approaches to assess and report the sustainability of CE strategies within the private sector. This document summarises our research objectives, findings, recommendations and hints at possible future CE-related trends. It is written for academics, companies and practitioners interested in assessment approaches for the transition towards a CE.
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