It is with great pride and joy that I note this welcome message on our 13th year of the International Circular Economy Week & Conference [ICEW&C]. While we have crossed the first decadal threshold in our institutional engagement in circular economy and zero-emission, the world is approaching its critical halfway mark in the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. While celebrating our remarkable achievements being among the pioneering few leading this specialised domain of sciences, we are gravely concerned about the pace of achieving SDGs and climate targets globally.
At the turn of the century, when the ideology of Circular Economy was still embryonic and hazy, my team and I at the Institute for Applied Material Flow management [IfaS] ventured into this novel field not by accident but by clear deliberation as we saw the tremendous potential of CE as a versatile economic model that could treat the intensifying societal metabolic disorder. With the foresight and vision combined with passion, we tested the waters of sustainability by implementing Zero Emission technologies and strategies —the foundation of CE, first at our home base; the Environmental Campus Birkenfeld [ECB]. Subsequently, in keeping with the growing demand, we had to expand our boundaries to local, regional and global levels in a very short time. Towards the end of the first decade of the 21st century, we realised that there is a dearth and need for practical knowledge and a forum to share the breakthroughs in the CE frontier. Out of this need, we created the ICEW&C in 2009 as a specialised platform to disseminate practical knowledge in ZE towards achieving CE.
Though coincidental, the timing of the inception of this forum could not have been better. As the world economy was severely hit by the economic downturn, the industrial and service sectors were desperately looking for sustainable financial solutions to come out of the rut. Therefore, efficiency and sufficiency oriented ZE and CE solutions provided a new avenue of opportunities for these sectors to chart a new course for sustainable growth and course correction. Therefore, the knowledge disseminated on the ICEW&C was well received and valued. Furthermore, this forum’s contribution was instrumental to many of the organisations, policy and decision-makers, and governments to navigate through the global waves of the renewable energy revolution, energy transition [energiewende], the millennium development challenges [MDGs], and also to gain an entry into the current global agenda of sustainable development [SDGs].
Given the current state of the global economy, the political uncertainties, and the global environmental challenges, the need for CE and its instruments is recognised more than ever before. As a result, most industrialised nations have started mainstreaming CE in their governance agenda. For example, at the end of 2015, the European Commission [EC] formally put forward a plan to integrate CE into its political agenda. In its opening statement of the EU action plan for the Circular Economy, the European Commission states that:
“The transition to a more circular economy, where the value of products, materials and resources is maintained in the economy for as long as possible, and the generation of waste minimised, is an essential contribution to the EU‘s efforts to develop a sustainable, low carbon, resource-efficient and competitive economy. Such transition is the opportunity to transform our economy and generate new and sustainable competitive advantages for Europe.”
Inter alia, the EU action plan for the Circular Economy also highlights the importance of long-term involvement of member states, regions & cities, businesses, and citizens at all levels in creating added value. It also underscores the need for global-level collaboration and synergy in order to achieve sustainable development targets set forth by various authorities. It further states that;
“[…] this action plan will be instrumental in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, in particular, Goal 12 of ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns”.
Focusing on a number of critical areas, the action plan calls for lifecycle and systems approach for more environmentally compatible and socially equitable consumption and production. In January 2018, the European Commission has taken steps to implement the Circular Economy Action Plan by adopting a new set of priority measures that include; plastics, chemicals, products, waste, and SMEs in Circular Economy et cetera as part of the continued efforts to transform Europe’s economy into a more sustainable one.
As you may be aware, Germany is the strongest economy in Europe and the 4th largest in the world. Part of this success owes to Germany’s stern policies on sustainable economic development, in which the Circular Economy policy is an integral part. Committed to Sustainable Development, the German economy has progressed by leaps and bounds over the years by adopting some radical policies such as the waste management policy and renewable energy policy. As a result, at present, 15% of the material input to the German industries comes from recycling. Furthermore, as at end-2021, the renewable energy (electricity) share of Germany amounted to more than 40%. Among others, Germany’s strong bias towards resource efficiency plays a vital role not only in its economic success but also in its social and environmental leadership. Foreseeing the global economic trajectory that is on a collision course with the resource availability, the nation-wide adaptation of these policy measures those that are primarily based on the principles of efficiency and sufficiency have evidently paved the path towards a sustainable future for Germany with attractive near-term dividends as well.
Against this backdrop, we are particularly proud of the knowledge and insights we have created and our contributions to the CE frontier in Germany and worldwide. It is particularly humbling to note that we have shared this wealth of knowledge through the ICEW&C with professionals —amounting to more than 5,000— representing both public and private sectors of over 60 countries on five continents since 2009. Despite all the progress we have made and trendsetting initiatives on our end, the global achievements on SDG targets and the actions for climate change mitigation are rather sluggish. Meeting the targets seem challenging at the current pace. Therefore, it is paramount we find ways and means to accelerate our efforts towards achieving these sustainability targets. This must happen at all corners of the world as quickly as possible. To that end, from our global engagements, we know that there is an enormous untapped potential exists in all systems and material and energy flow streams therein in this complex nexus world. Time is of the essence. It’s time for us to act fast.
‘Creating Value’ as its central theme, the ICEW&C has served as a premier platform bringing together like-minded professionals, academia and businesses from all over the world to one unique place on earth —the Environmental Campus Birkenfeld— for weeklong activities to showcase, demonstrate and share knowledge on the latest advancements in the application of Circular Economy, the practical means of tackling global economic and technological challenges of energy transition policies towards 100% renewable energy systems, and sustainable resource management (including water, sanitation and waste management strategies) paying special attention to the sustainable business aspect of the initiatives. Most importantly, this year’s ICEW&C will focus on cutting-edge technologies and strategies we employ for GHG abatement spanning from greening the desert to industrial energy efficiency improvement.
A decade on and going strong, being true to our values, we intend to share with you the wealth of knowledge and expertise we have amassed in the ZE and CE domains to take on the existential challenges of our time in the Anthropocene and create the sustainable future we want…
I warmly invite you to join the 13th ICEW&C for an unparalleled experience.
I am looking forward to your visit!
Professor Dr. Peter Heck
 Closing the loop – An EU action plan for the circular economy: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:52015DC0614