The Circular Economy: A Growth Model for the 21st Century?
Is a new economic paradigm about to change our view of how the economy should work? And will this new economic model usher in an era of growth and innovation?
Many advocates of the aptly named Circular Economy (CE) seem to think so.
CE borrows much from principles of sustainability, such as the reduction of waste, resource efficiency, and better product design. But it also unites these green principles with an ambitious economic message: the circular economy, in upending the traditional ways in which we use resources, opens up space for an economic sector that takes advantage of new systems, technology, and business models relating to resource use and product design and disposal.
CE thinking has gained steam among many European policy circles, and is already a growing economic sector in the Netherlands, with Dutch companies such as Except and Royal HaskoningDHV setting their sights on this new model. Just this past June, the European Commission hosted a major conference on the topic. In their own words, “using resources more efficiently will also bring new growth and job opportunities. Better eco-design, waste prevention, and reuse can bring net savings of up to EUR 600 billion, while also reducing total annual greenhouse gas emissions.”
The UK-based Ellen Macarthur Foundation, which offers a library of literature with basics on the CE and its implementation, is often cited as a leading expert on the topic and is widely credited with introducing the concept in both Europe and the United States. Indeed, a recent conference on the topic in Washington, DC hosted by the foundation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce drew hundreds, illustrating the hunger across sectors for more information about its concept and its implementation, and particularly on its potential economic value.
Given the promise of the CE topic and its potential application in cities, The German Marshall Fund is collaborating with the Dutch cleantech firm Metabolic to introduce the CE to city leaders through a breakout session during the upcoming Bilbao Urban Innovation and Leadership Dialogues (BUILD), to be held in Bilbao, Spain this September. The breakout session will pay special attention to how the CE can be a useful framework for physical development in cities, especially as it intersects with one of BUILD’s core themes: sustainable and equitable urban transformation. GMF is drawing on Metabolic for its expertise on the topic, especially because it has proven the concept in practice with sites in Amsterdam such as De Ceuvel. Such sites prove that CE and systems thinking can make a site more ecologically sustainable and resource efficient, while adding considerable economic value. We are excited to introduce this idea to our cohort of transatlantic leaders, and stay tuned to hear more from the outcomes from the workshop and BUILD in general by keeping an eye on the BUILD homepage.
Pictured Above: Metabolic's De Ceuvel Site
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.