CIRCULAR ECONOMY: A DECADE OF SUCCESS AND GOING STRONG…

Prof. Dr. Peter Heck Managing Director – IfaS
Prof. Dr. Peter Heck
Managing Director – IfaS

It is with great pride and joy I note this welcome message on this key milestone of the International Circular Economy Week & Conference [ICEW&C]. As we are crossing the threshold of a decade, it is humbling to note that we have been –and we still are– among the pioneering few leading this specialised domain of sciences, globally.

For nearly a third of a human generation and a seventh of a human lifetime, we have been at the forefront engaged in the implementation and the dissemination of practical knowledge of Circular Economy [CE] around the world. Given the incunabulum of the subject itself and the age of our institution; the Institute for Applied Material Flow management [IfaS], a decade sizably is a large time span.

At the turn of the century, when the ideology of Circular Economy was still embryonic and hazy, my team and I 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 the 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 in practical knowledge and also 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 badly hit by the economic downturn the industrial and the service sectors were desperately looking for sustainable economic solutions to come out of the rut. Therefore, efficiency and sufficiency oriented ZE and CE solutions provided a new line 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 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 state of the current 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 in its political agenda1. 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 includes; 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-2018, 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 the contributions we have made at the CE frontier in Germany and around the world. It is particularly humbling to note that we have shared this wealth of knowledge through the ICEW&C with professionals –amounting to more than 5000– representing both public and private sectors of over 60 countries on five continents since 2009.

‘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.

A decade on and going strong, being true to our values on this milestone year of the ICEW&C as well, we intend to share with you the ‘secret of our success’ and show you how we have prepared ourselves to take on the resource challenge of our time in the Anthropocene and create the sustainable future we want…

I warmly invite you to join the 10th ICEW&C for an unparalleled experience.

I am looking forward to your visit!

Professor Dr. Peter Heck
Managing Director
IfaS


[1] Closing the loop – An EU action plan for the circular economy:  http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:52015DC0614

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