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Is Europe still firmly wedded to the linear economy?

13th July 2015 Posted by

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s recent report Delivering the Circular Economy: A Toolkit for Policymakers is a welcome addition to the growing literature on the circular economy.

And about time!  SUEZ environnement Recycling & Recovery UK has long argued that if the business case for the circular economy was as strong and self-evident as is often claimed, then businesses would have spontaneously adopted this as their preferred business model.  Save for small pockets of excellence Europe is still firmly wedded to the linear economy.  This points to structural failures that only governments can resolve, by re-aligning the market and price signals through appropriate policy tools.

A recent UN Global Compact survey of 1000 leading CEOs said as much – their greatest problem was the lack of a link between sustainability and business value.  Eighty four per cent of CEOs interviewed called for active intervention by governments and policymakers to align public policy with sustainability, preferring hard interventions like regulations, standards and tax measures.

The three-step process takes the policy-maker systematically through an evaluation process, starting with the identification of key sectors, followed by a sector-by-sector analysis and quantification of the economic and social benefits of various policy options.  The inclusion of a case study (Denmark) adds immeasurably to the value of the report.

Two aspects of the process are seen as crucial: the early engagement of a wide range of stakeholders (particularly from the business community) and perhaps most fundamentally, the availability of good-quality sectoral data on material flows and resource productivity.  Many countries lack this basic information.

When considering the revision of its circular economy package, SUEZ environnement Recycling & Recovery UK has called on the European Commission to develop and maintain comprehensive material flow accounts for the European Union at both national and  sectoral level. Without this information the process of transitioning to a circular economy cannot even begin.

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