Business Opportunities Around the Circular Economy

Where there is a problem, there is a business opportunity. Where there is a big problem, there is big business.

In the discussion around the future of globalization it is time to radically rethink our relationship with our natural resources. This is one of the obvious observations not only when thinking about sustainability and politics, but also when it comes to thinking about business.
We must move away from our current ‘take-make-waste’ linear economic model to a circular economy.

The transition towards a circular economy is estimated to represent a USD4.5 trillion global growth opportunity by 2030, while helping to restore our natural systems.

The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra has been working on the theme of Circular Economy and building knowledge and understanding around the topic. At the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos the Commission of the European Union got recognized for its work in this field. The Commission has been working on the theme since 2015 and just released the EU strategy for plastics in the circular economy. The vice president of the Commission, Jyrki Katainen, the former Finnish Prime Minister, has been a visible and strong advocate for the circular economy.

At the Davos Summit in February WEF published a Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy. According to the report there is an increasing recognition that the circular economy offers an important strategy to address some of the most pressing environmental, economic and social challenges of the 21st century, while also providing positive economic benefits.

Progress has been made on the path towards a circular economy. Governments have adopted new policies and national roadmaps, innovators have developed new technologies, and businesses have made commitments to transform their business models. At the same time, large scale action and impact is still lacking – further effort to shape policy, shift business practices and address financing gaps is still required.
Examples of progress made by governments on the policy front include:

  • During the 2017 UN Environment Assembly, 195 countries passed a resolution to tackle marine litter.
  • Countries including Finland and Italy launched national circular economy policy roadmaps and France unveiled a new climate action plan with circular economy as a central pillar. The Netherlands moved ahead towards concrete action plans on its ‘NL Circular 2050’ program.
  • A Circular Economy Task Force was created at the G20 Summit in Germany in 2017.
    Policies are helpful but the change needs to happen in the private sector, by private companies.

The report gives some examples of companies that have not only started to think about the circular economy as a strategic issue for the future, but that also have  implemented circular thinking in real action and business decisions. The following examples of companies building their circular economy business can be highlighted:

  • 64 companies became signatories, to the “2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment”, promising to accelerate the transition to a circular fashion system.
  • MARS, M&S, Pepsi Co, The Coca-Cola Company, Unilever and Werner & Mertz pledged to use 100 percent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 in collaboration with the New Plastics Economy Initiative.

One interesting company that I know that has put the circular economy in the centre of their business transformation is Walki Group.

Walki is a leading, international producer of technical laminates and protective packaging materials, specialising in the production of fibre-based, intelligent, multilaminate products for markets as diverse as energy saving facings and construction membranes to barrier packaging applications.

For the Walki Group, launching a ground-breaking innovation in partnership with SABIC, a global leader in the chemical industry, is a solid step towards reaching the company’s sustainability goals.

Today more than 80% of Walki’s products are made from renewable or recyclable materials. The ambitious goal of the company is to reach 100% by the year 2030. Using circular polymers that have precisely the same qualities as raw material that is used for the very first time is a new business opportunity that they will explore.

The quantities are small, as always is the case when taking new innovative steps. But the intention is to grow the usage of circular polymers as the production capacity of this new, sustainable and recycled raw material increases.

The objective behind this business move is to create a Zero-Waste Future. Where there is a problem there is an opportunity for business.

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