Circular Economy and Life Cycle Innovation – Europe and beyond

At the end of January, Anthesis’ Marie Jones had the opportunity to attend a workshop on “Circular Economy, Resource Efficiency, Life Cycle Thinking: Same objectives, same impacts?”, organized by the Forum for Sustainability through Life Cycle Innovation (FSLCI). The industry focused workshop, hosted in the innovative Rainmaking loft in Berlin, offered the chance to discuss arising opportunities, and threats, of circular economy policies in Europe and beyond on businesses efforts towards resource efficiency and life-cycle innovation. Below Marie summarizes some of the key insights she will be taking away from the event:

What does circular economy (CE) mean? The idea behind circular economy is nothing new, but there are many different interpretations of what it stands for, and where the barriers are. There was a general consensus towards thinking and acting in circular systems and considering the entire lifecycle, with its associated risks and opportunities, rather than in linear production lines. This circular economy principle can then be looked at from both an all-encompassing system, right down to a much narrower view of an individual company or product.
There is an ongoing market trend towards more sustainable approaches for businesses of every nature, and not just the leading corporations as was the case some 5-10 years ago.
Collaboration, sharing, engagement and efficiency are key in system and circular thinking, and will be very important in the application of CE. Digitalisation of businesses will help to support this regenerative, optimizing and exchange environment.
Stakeholders in the circular economy concept include all levels of the economy and actors within the value chain from consumers, regulators andbusinesses (including their suppliers), right through to politicians.
There are countless questions to consider in the application of CE. The ability for radical change in mind-sets and ensuring buy in from stakeholders at every level will not be simple. There is a need for metrics and methods to measure CE – how can a value be put on CE for commercial benefit to be seen? At what level should CE be measured? At what stage in the CE cycle should it be measured? Where will the boundaries be set? And how will such information then be shared at both a business and consumer level?
Entirely new methodologies for measurement may not be needed, with current methodology and approaches in place for LCAs and resource efficiency adaptable for utilisation in CE measurements. Such measurements will need to include a number of different key indicators, and be applied at a suitably high level for them to have a sufficient weight and comparability.
Some learning points from current B2B practises support CE thinking, and could be used to support with the potentially more problematic B2C area. This includes the options of providing a service rather than product offering, eg. leasing models or provision of lighting and printing services in offices.
Creation of further business models is not considered necessary, as models that support an innovative CE approach are already available – this often includes businesses within the sharing economy space, such as carpooling or the renting of spare rooms. Learning points from new and digitalized businesses, and their approaches, should be used to help to guide the more traditional businesses to embrace the CE approach.
The FSLCI is an NGO set up to bring the Life Cycle community together in a collaborative way to support the transition towards a sustainable society by promoting global, systematic and effective application of Life Cycle Innovation. Jim Fava, Chief Strategist at Anthesis, is Chair of the executive committee for FSLCI and was one of the founders.

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