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The Ellen MacArthur Foundation report – Growth Within: A circular economy vision for a competitive Europe

10th July 2015 Posted by

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation continues its sterling efforts to mainstream the circular economy concept in Europe with a report titled Growth Within: A circular economy vision for a competitive Europe. Analysing three European sectors — food, mobility, and the built environment — the report identifies their current inefficiencies in terms of material use and wastage. It also examines strategies to make these sectors more sustainable and efficient, and the potential for jobs and economic growth these strategies could deliver.

The benefits of going circular are impressive. For example, in the food sector the report identifies potential resource savings and other benefits of approximately €320 billion by 2030 relative to the current development path, if all the change levers are implemented. Similar large savings are claimed for the other sectors studied. Overall, disposable income of European households would rise by 11 per cent and GDP by seven per cent by 2030.

Of course, these figures are based on assumptions concerning, for example, the speed with which Europe adopts new, more efficient technologies and business models. But even under more conservative assumptions, the case for moving to a circular economy is compelling.

These arguments are not new, nor does the report over-claim its uniqueness: it is primarily a compilation and synthesis of previous studies. Most of the observations relating to the food and mobility sectors, for example, have been made by organisations such as WRAP and Green Alliance in relation to the UK.

And here lies the problem.  While it is possible to present costs and benefits at a pan-European level, a “European” economy only functions as an assemblage of 28 highly individual economies.  Perhaps it is time to draw a line under these studies, which now tend to add only incrementally to our sum of knowledge on the merits of the circular economy.  Instead, what is lacking are individual national studies offering bespoke transition programmes focusing on the specifics of each country’s economy.  Malta’s economy, for instance, is entirely different in scale and make-up to, say, the UK or Germany, and its trajectory (and associated costs) towards a circular economy will therefore be quite different.

Studies such as these would add real value to the debate, particularly since many of the change levels identified in Growth Within can only be implemented by national governments rather than by the European Commission. The Club of Rome has made a start by announcing three country-specific circular economy case studies – Sweden, Spain and the Netherlands. We await their publication later this year with interest.

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