“Now we can do anything, but more importantly, now we have a plan.”
Ellen MacArthur, TED Talk March 2015
The CIRC4Life Final Events
Two online final events were organised and hosted by CEPS in collaboration with Make Mothers Matter on 22nd and 23rd of September 2021 under the heading “Closing the Loop: Circular Economy Business Models in the Electronics and Agri-food sectors”.
The circular economy is at the core of the transformation of Europe’s industrial landscape and the move towards more sustainable economic models. Next to the central role it now has in EU policy strategies like the Green Deal and economic growth and recovery, it is also increasingly being integrated in business strategies, practices and supply chains. Despite its growth in industrial applications, a variety of barriers limit the adoption of circular practices by businesses. However, several opportunities also exist and have helped inspire the uptake of circular business models.
The events discussed lessons learnt from the implementation of circular economy business models in CIRC4Life project and looked at the existing challenges and policies needed to further boost circular solutions.
Day 1: Circular Business Models in the Electronics sector
Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is among the fastest growing waste streams in Europe, posing several environmental, economic and societal challenges. A variety of circularity approaches and models can be implemented in the EEE sector including production and design of circular products, repair, refurbishment, reuse, product-as-service and leasing models, collection and recycling. Although the ecosystem of circular economy industrial applications for electronics is rapidly evolving across the EU, the uptake of circular processes has been limited in comparison to the scale of challenges linked to the management of WEEE.
Karin Wilson and Hanna Lindén from RISE provided an overview of the implementation of CEBMs in the EEE value chain within CIRC4Life, as well as lessons learnt, while Evaristo García (Recyclia) presented further lessons learned from the WEEE value chain. Co-creation and collaboration with stakeholders through workshops, interviews or other testing activities was perceived as valuable to the project. These activities helped to form an understanding of customer preferences, and were subsequently used to inform product development, as well as build relationships within the supply chain. One example of co-creation activities in the project was the recycling and reuse model implemented by Indumetal and Recyclia which helped discover that users also appreciate non-financial incentives. The need to adapt to the specific stakeholder setting was also seen as an important lesson learned, as illustrated by Kosnic, which due to a corporate customer base found life cycle assessment (LCA) information sheets to be more useful.
With regards to LCA, Hanna Lindén pointed out that identifying the "hotspots" of environmental impact can be used to indicate where improvement is needed the most. Beyond making improvements to product development and processes, this information was also useful for communication and creating a better understanding of environmental impacts. Another lesson learnt from this project was the importance of modularity to facilitate easy repair, remanufacturing, and reducing resources being used. Ms Hanna Lindén further emphasised the continued dialogue as a prerequisite for receiving information regarding the assessment of devices. Communication and awareness raising also remains key to engaging customers, and to help encourage sustainable behaviour.
External perspectives were presented by Ronja Scholz (Fraunhofer IZM), focusing on circular design, and Garam Marc Bel (International Telecommunication Union), who focused on policy and regulatory developments.
Day 2: Circular Economy Business Models in the Agri-Food value chain
Production of food has been associated with significant environmental impacts such as CO2 emissions, increased pressure on land use, water and energy consumption. These impacts are further amplified by high levels of losses and food waste across supply chains as well as during the consumption stage. Various business models have been emerging in the agri-food sector with the objective to improve the use of resources across supply chains, including models based on improved production methods as well as utilising side streams from food production and consumption.
Two external experts provided presentations. Camelia Adriana Bucatariu (FAO) focused her presentation on the SDG 12.3 target on food loss and waste prevention and reduction, with a particular focus on data. Maria Chiara Femiano (Ellen MacArthur Foundation) focused on the idea of redesigning the food systems, presenting results from a recent Ellen MacArthur study.
Lahila De Sola Carrón (ALIA) and Jonathan Smith (Scilly Organics) presented lessons learned from implementing CEBMs in CIRC4Life, specifically in the meat and organic vegetable farming sectors. As the value chain was already efficient in use of resources and waste management, they focused their efforts on the end-user. Using the tools provided by the CIRC4Life project, ALIA made efforts to raise awareness among consumers, and addressed the recycling of bio-waste. While bio-waste is consolidated in many countries in Europe, this is not yet the case in Spain. The goal was to enhance citizen participation in waste management by providing incentives to use regular and “intelligent bins”. ALIA also developed two new products with a lower environmental impact. A key lesson they learned here is that it’s essential to present product information comprehensively and understandably to the customer. Another lesson learnt was that comparable information for all products plays an important role in influencing customer behaviour
Scilly Organics focused on how a circular economy can be implemented in the setting of small-scale organic vegetable farming. As part of the CIRC4Life project’s sustainable consumption business model, Scilly Organics calculated environmental and social impacts, including a life cycle analysis and a carbon footprint assessment, formed an action plan to reduce those impacts and communicated to potential customers the sustainability profile through an eco-label. They realised that simplicity of the label and integrity of the calculation are key. Additionally, soil plays a crucial role in improving fertility, carbon sequestration, crop health, and biodiversity. Regarding co-creation, Scilly Organics had an ongoing dialogue with businesses and individual customers, created new products such as apple juice from excess apples, and provided consultancy services assisting farmers and growers to reach their net-zero 2030 goals. While the co-creation process can be challenging, it offers considerable benefits in terms of facilitating greater engagement with customers and creating business opportunities.
With regards to the collaborative recycling and reuse model, Scilly Organics made compost of bio-waste, improved recycling of other wastes, and trialled new plant-based packaging. Based on feedback, they found that packaging is important to customers. Key lessons moreover included that recycling can be an issue particularly in rural areas, that working with suppliers up and down the supply chain is crucial, and that customer engagement is vital. According to Jonathan Smith, there is room for improving policy support for sustainable food production, as externalities are not represented in the cost of food. In his opinion, policymakers should ensure that farmers are paid to produce quality food and protect the environment. While carbon markets can provide a better incentive towards a circular economy, fruit and vegetable production should be granted higher subsidies. For this purpose, agricultural, food and health policies should work together.