Circular economies are a new global trend in sustainability, yet their potential remains largely explored. Thanks to a recent report by Material Economics and other leading organisations in the field, we might get one step closer to realizing this potential as new climate benefits of implementing a circular economy in Europe come to light.
According to the authors, “[a] more circular economy can cut emissions from heavy industry by 56% by 2050,” by taking them down from 530Mt to 234Mt per year just from the demand side.
The report focuses on industrial emissions, one of the key leverage points for change that comprises a quarter of projected CO2 emissions in Europe by 2050. Major sectors covered include steel, plastics, aluminum and cement industries, with almost half of the emissions coming only from the plastics flows through the economy.
The document focuses in part on the demand side opportunities. While providing half of the potential emission cuts, demand has been usually underestimated in the previous research. Thus, authors pay close attention to the role of consumers in strategies like material re-circulation, material efficiency and innovation, as well as circular business models. Purchasing and transport choice decisions, prolonging product life, sharing economies and lifestyle choices – all of these directly depend on people and play critical roles in the way industry develops in the future.
Take material recirculation. We can meet the need in 75% of steel, 50% of aluminium and 56% of plastics by simply improving material flows. The same goes for circular business models. Just by making car sharing a norm we can create “a self-reinforcing loop of incentives for higher utilisation, lower-carbon energy, and less materials use,” leading to a 75% decrease in materials input into transport.
According to one of the authors, Mari Pantsar from SITRA, we need to explore new pathways towards prosperity: “We are now building a circular economy – a new economic model in which for example consumption is based on using services – sharing, renting and recycling – instead of owning things”.
The current report is the first systematic research paper of this kind, offering a blend of focal points with focus on industry, consumers and climate in Europe. It is also the first study on the topic to involve a variety of top-expert organisations in the field, including Climate-KIC, ClimateWorks, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Energy Transitions Commission, European Climate Foundation and SITRA.
When it comes to the economy in general, the promises are even greater. An earlier report by Circle Economy suggests that the implementation of a circular economy across all sectors may halve the overall gap between climate targets and current scenarios globally. Considering that our planet is only 9% circular, the potential for improvement is vast for decision-makers, for industry players and for the general public.