The Dutch Circular Economy

In the new Dutch, government-agreement it is stated that the circular economy will be supported. No indications, yet, on the way how this will be done. Nevertheless an important step in the development of the Dutch Circular Economy.

OPAi took the initiative, together with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to realize a Dutch edition of the report ‘Towards a Circular Economy’. We cooperate with MVO-Nederland (CSR-NL) and a group of funding partners: Liander, Sita, VNCI, Rabo, WWF-NL, TurnToo and the ministry of Economic Affairs. This will not be a mere translation of the original report but a strong focus on the consequences for the Dutch economy including a strong vision on the transition it will take to make the big change in the oncoming years.

Last week I participated in a discussion at the ministry of Finance on enhancing sustainability in their policies, purchasing and performance. This discussion brought a lot of attention for the Circular Economy. Once again we saw how professionals from governmental agencies, companies and institutions (science) are touched by the fundaments of the circular economy. It is a perspective that brings a new way of perceiving the future and its possibilities.

Let me share some of the thoughts that I heard and came in to my mind while listening to some of the discussions. I’ll bring them point by point:

It is not about morality, it is about economic change is a strong quality of the discussions on the circular economy. It needs thinking about systemic changes in the economic system. When we are able to create a circular system, then ‘feedback-mechanisms’ will occur. Producers are not just responsible for making something reasonable good, they are responsible for the performance and the re-use of the product and its resources: social, physical and economical. So it is not about doing good or even better, it is about economic change.

Decoupling is normal, coupling is the way to go However I am not quite sure about the words and ‘slang’ quality of it, it is the way to change our way of looking. Decoupling economy and ecology has been the way we encountered the environmental problems up till now: laws, regulations and control was the basic for environmental protection. Economy and ecology were more or less enemies. At least the the economic stakeholders (producers) were responsible for all the damage that was done and the ecologists/environmentalists tried to work from the perspective of protectionism. Now this is changing and we need to rethink these perspectives. Our economic system has brought quite some quality in our lives. Now it’s the time to realize the value that the economic stakeholders can have in creating new values and quality. Producing in ways that enhance the quality of ecosystems (and their biodiversity), gain clean water, purify the air, making our lives more healthy: that is the way to go!

Problem-oriented or future-driven that is a key-issue. Most sustainability initiatives are problem oriented and bring a kind of problem-solving solutions. That strategy makes that we focus on efficiency: making things better (mostly just a bit better) instead of redesign for the future. The circular economy is a new way of working and needs redesign of our systems and products. That is future driven!

Autonomous from nature to an inclusive system In the last centuries mankind has been working on becoming autonomous from nature. Where ever we live, we create the same living conditions for ourselves. The circular economy uses much more the basics of the natural system. So we will see a development in which we need to learn (again) to live ‘inclusive’ with nature.

Small is beautiful shifts to systems change. Small steps is what we tend to like in our steps to sustainability. The governmental agency that realizes biological catering in its organization is now seen a a major step forward. But what is really needed is sustaining the core business of every organization. The circular economy offers a way to do so. It is on the systems change, the real transition and needs new paradigms in the products or policies of institutions, whether it is a governmental agency or a company or an educational institution.

Educate, educate, educate! We need to prepare ourselves and the oncoming generations to be able to work in the circular economy. That means a thorough understanding of natural systems, the ability to redesign, rethink and recreate the circular economy.

Intentions becomes conditions is a last point I would like to describe. Sustainability works with a lot of good intentions. These intentions are mostly based on ideas about the quality of live for humans and nature. Steering on intentions has been effective in the last decades. We have in the Netherlands, Europe and most of the world reasonable adequate laws and regulations to protect the environment. Though the decay is still going on. Now more and more we see that new ways are needed. We need to redesign our approach to policy-making. My perspective is that we should create the conditions that give incentives to the change: how can a government enhanced the circular economy? By asking the right question! When governments use their purchasing-power the change could be there very soon. So stop buying, start asking for performance and look for performance based contracting.

A year ago no one in Dutch politics was aware of the concept of the circular economy. Now it is one of the options for the nearby future and recognized as such. Change happens!