How the circular economy can help fight climate change
- In a circular economy, products can be reused over and over again.
- This reduces our use of valuable raw materials and reduces CO2 emissions.
- Circular economy initiatives include the Circulars Accelerator, an innovation program run in conjunction with the World Economic Forum.
The way we live today uses 60% more resources than Earth can provide – and creates too much waste, experts say.
Moving to a circular economy is widely seen as the way forward.
What is the circular economy?
In a circular economy, things are made and consumed in a way that minimizes our use of global resources, reduces waste and reduces carbon emissions. Products are used for as long as possible, through repair, recycling and redesign – so they can be reused again and again.
At the end of a product’s life, the materials used in its manufacture are kept in the economy and reused whenever possibleexplains the European Parliament.
Why is the circular economy important?
The circular economy is an alternative to traditional linear economies, where we take resources, make things, consume them and toss them. This way of life uses limited raw materials and produces large amounts of waste.
For example, the European Union produces more than 2.5 billion tons of waste per year.
The extraction and processing of raw materials has an impact on the environment and increases energy consumption and CO2 emissions.
A circular economy could unlock $4.5 trillion in value by 2030, according to a report from Accenture.
What changes could make the world more “circular”?
Consumers, businesses and politicians all need to make changes.
Examples are given in The Circularity Gap Reportan annual document on the state of the circular economy, launched at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Ideas for creating fewer emissions include adopting a plant-based diet and buying food locally, as well as flying less often and sharing vehicles.
Homes, offices and other buildings can be designed to have multiple uses. For example, an office space that is also a community center and an evening school.
It should also be easy and affordable to repair products, such as a cell phone with an old battery.
Is recycling part of the circular economy?
Recycling consists of converting waste into new materials and objects. This process itself uses energy and creates emissions, so it can still contribute to global warming.
In an ideal circular economy, products are redesigned to last multiple life cycles, rather than being immediately recycled.
This may include refurbishment and redistribution of products.
How to build a circular economy?
A growing number of circular economy initiatives and technologies are already underway.
Examples include the Flyers Acceleratora six-month program led by Uplink, the World Economic Forum’s innovation crowdsourcing platform, to help circular economy innovators scale their ideas. In 2022, 17 start-ups are participating in the program.
They understand Aquacyclean American company that produces electricity from non-treatable wastewater; Done righta Chilean company that develops sustainable food ingredients and Green mininga Brazilian company that recycles consumer packaging.
Scale360° is another Forum circular economy initiative aimed at helping technologists, political leaders and entrepreneurs change the way products are made and consumed. In Germany, for example, a campaign is underway to educate consumers about the environmental impact of ‘white goods’ such as refrigerators and washing machines.
Other companies at the forefront of circular economy innovation include Swedish denim brand Nudie. It offers a lifetime repair service on its jeans and claims to have repaired over 60,000 pairs of jeans in 2019.
The World Economic Forum has created a series of initiatives to promote circularity.
1. Scale360° Playbook was designed to build sustainable ecosystems for the circular economy and help solutions scale.
Its unique hub-based approach – launched in September – is designed to prioritize circular innovation while fostering communities that allow innovators around the world to share ideas and solutions. Emerging innovators around the world can connect and work ideas and solutions together across the Uplinkthe Forum’s open innovation platform.
Find out how the Scale360° Playbook can drive circular innovation in your community.
2. A new Circular Cars Initiative (CCI) embodies the ambition of a more circular automotive industry. It represents a coalition of more than 60 car manufacturers, suppliers, research institutes, NGOs and international organizations committed to realizing this short-term ambition.
CCI recently released a new series of circularity roadmaps, developed in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), McKinsey & Co. and Accenture Strategy. These reports explain the specificities of this new circular transition.
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3. The World Economic Forum’s Accelerating Digital Traceability for Sustainable Production initiative brings together manufacturers, suppliers, consumers and regulators to jointly establish solutions and provide a supporting ecosystem to increase supply chain visibility and accelerating sustainability and circularity in the manufacturing and production sectors.
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