Rounding the circle: taking steps towards a circular economy
Global overconsumption is not sustainable and it is becoming increasingly evident that serious changes must be made. EU-funded research is helping to support the transition to a circular economy by identifying successful business models and how to implement them.
© Elnur #237963197, source:stock.adobe.com 2020
It has been estimated that if we continue to live as we are, global consumption of raw materials, such as fossil fuels, metal and minerals, will far exceed the resources actually available. Waste generation is also increasing at an exponential rate and is rapidly poisoning the planet. Although business as usual is no longer an option, making the change to a more sustainable model is not always easy or obvious.
The EU-funded R2PI project set out to identify circular business models that are already being put into practice and to examine how they operate through detailed case studies. Carried out across Europe, these studies covered six priority sectors: water, construction, electronics, food, plastics and textiles.
Not only did the results of this research point to successful business model patterns but they also highlighted the main barriers and enablers to their widespread adoption, thereby tracing a path for other businesses wishing to follow this route. Our traditional linear economy is extremely wasteful and carries a huge environmental footprint. Transitioning to a circular economy, in which resources are kept within the system as long as possible, through repair, reuse, recycling or similar approaches, is a major step towards preserving the planet and promoting local jobs and well-being, says project coordinator Alexis Figeac of the Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP) in Germany.
Modelling the future
The projects key results included drawing up business guidelines step-by-step methods and tools taking companies on an innovation journey towards the circular economy business models.
It also created a coherent typology of business models for the circular economy and identified the various elements that either facilitate or potentially hamper successfully transitioning to a circular economy business model (CEBM). R2PI identified seven CEBM patterns and highlighted how each one works. The patterns included resource recovery; circular sourcing; co-product recovery; remake or recondition; and access or performance-based transactions.
The project website now provides a wealth of open-source material on methods and tools for implementing successful CEBMs in each of these areas. It also points the way to policies which could help speed up the widespread implementation of a circular economy.
Scaling up the circular economy from front-runners to the mainstream economic players will make a decisive contribution to achieving climate neutrality by 2050 and decoupling economic growth from resource use, Figeac points out. Our case studies show that not only is it possible to save on resources and make economic gains, but the circular model often results in stronger customer bonds and a cooperative rather than a transactional approach to client relationships.
R2PI also included an academic component with the participation of several universities. The projects content was structured into an academic course by the Ecole Supérieure de Commerce de Paris (ESCP Business School) while several other courses resulting from or informed by R2PI results are now coming online.
The R2PI website is an important resource for anyone interested in the circular economy and provides concrete tools and guidance for the implementation of successful CEBMs. As such, it has made a key contribution to the goals set out in the European Commissions new Circular Economy Action Plan adopted in March 2020 and the European Green Deal for a sustainable EU economy.