The circular economy (CE) has been gaining traction as an approach for achieving local, national, and global sustainability.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s definition, the circular economy, that provides multiple value-creation mechanisms, is based on three principles: preservation and enhancement of natural capital; optimization of resources by circulating products, components, and materials; fostering system effectiveness by revealing and designing out negative externalities.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation also identifies six business actions to support the aforementioned three principles: regenerate, share, optimize, loop, virtualize, exchange.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2016 recognized the role of the circular economy to achieve sustainable development. The circular economy represents “a tangible set of solutions for reaching sustainable patterns of production and consumption”.
Therefore, the Circular Economy has received increased attention from multinational organisations.
Maybe, because more and more conscious consumers are pushing organisations to adopt business models based on the Circular Economy, as we mention in our article: How your business model could become more conscious and innovative? Is circular economy the key?
the United Nations have introduced as Sustainable Development Goal 12 – Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
Nevertheless, the linkages between the Circular Economy and Sustainable Development 2030 Agenda are not immediately obvious.
The term Circular Economy does not even occur once in this Agenda.
So, is there a real connection between the Circular Economy and SDGs?
A recent study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, show us that: Yes!
This study concludes that “Circular Economy practices can be applied as a “toolbox” and specific implementation approaches for achieving a sizeable number of SDG targets” and thus highlights the importance of the CE transition for successfully achieving the SDGs.
CE practices that directly contribute to SDGs
According to the study, implementing CE practices can directly contribute to achieving 21 SDG targets. The strongest direct CE relationships and synergies exist related to the following SDGs:
CE practices can also contribute indirectly to several SDGs, such as:
SDG 1 – No Poverty: Adoption of CE practices, such as repair, remanufacturing, and recycling can lead to the generation of employment, which indirectly contributes to poverty reduction. CE practices, e.g. related to water management and agriculture, also build resilience. There are strong synergies with SDGs 8 and 9.
SDG 2 – Zero Hunger: Implementing CE principles in local agriculture, e.g. composting and diversified integrated farming practices, improves soil which increases farm productivity and system resilience. Combined with circular food system initiatives that reduce food-waste and/or cascading of food-waste into animal feed can free up farm-land for human-consumption.
SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities: With expected three-quarters of the world’s population living in cities in 2050, a transition to a circular economy is imperative for reducing cities’ resource and environmental impacts. Also, CE principles such as modular, adaptable, and flexible building design, can help enable access to housing for low-income groups.
SDG 14 – Life below Water: Preventing waste generation and leakages from land-based activities through CE practices will directly reduce waste entering the oceans. This also includes the recovery of nutrients from wastewater streams before entering oceans. Additionally, the CE contribution to tackling climate change will indirectly reduce ocean acidification.
SDGs facilitating the uptake of CE practices
The study also finds that several SDGs, including 52 targets, would “positively contribute to the uptake of CE globally”. In CE terminology these factors can be seen as some of the important enablers of the CE transition. They include:
SDG 4 – Quality Education: Efforts towards several of the targets related to e.g. equal access to technical, vocational and tertiary education – in particular when combined with a focus on CE, systems thinking, design for circularity, entrepreneurship, and innovation – are fundamental for enabling circular practices.
SDG 9 – Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure: While CE practices will contribute directly to retrofitting industries to make them more resilient and sustainable, achieving targets under this goal is also important for enabling a CE. This includes new infrastructure, such as for renewable energy, circular water, and waste/resource management, reverse logistics, support to research and innovation as well as ensuring access to suitable financing.
SDG 10 – Reduced Inequalities: Social and economic inclusion has strong synergies with promoting safe working environments – important not least for informal waste sector workers in developing countries. This goal also relates to equal representation of developing countries in international collaboration, equal access to technical support and financing for a CE, and ensuring that trade agreements facilitate rather than counteract equitable distribution and circular flow of resources.
SDG 13 – Climate Action: CE practices contribute directly and indirectly to mitigating climate change and increasing resilience. The 2019 Circular Gap Report finds that implementing CE practices could reduce GHG emissions by more than a third by 2100, in addition to existing low-carbon technologies. Additionally, achieving targets on climate-related policies at national, regional or local levels, incentives, financing mechanisms as well as increased climate awareness is likely to facilitate uptake of CE practices.
SDG 16 – Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions: Improved and more equitable access to basic resources as well as increased resilience of natural systems, aided by CE practices, contributes to environmental justice and can help indirectly avoid environmentally triggered social conflicts. Additionally, achieving targets under this goal; stronger institutions, reduced corruption, and more transparency will help enable CE practices – such as in creating healthy markets for waste resources for reuse and recycling.
SDG 17 – Partnership for the Goals: Achieving targets relating to debt relief for developing countries, more equitable free trading systems and agreements, enhanced macroeconomic stability, enhanced global policy on sustainability and developing countries’ access to technical support, can all facilitate CE practices according to the study.
As this study helps to conclude, Circular Economy practices will be imperative to achieve many targets outlined under several of the SDGs. Additionally, progress towards several SDG targets can help enable the CE shift.
SDG Agenda must be deliberately designed with principles of a CE in mind,
so that actions taken could facilitate the fundamental system shift needed for a truly circular and sustainable organisation.
Since it is a complex and challenging issue, AMARNA Consulting is here to help your organisation towards applying Circular Economy principles for your organisation to help 2030 Agenda achievement.
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