(Yicai Global) Oct. 27 -- Elisa Tonda is the Head of the Consumption and Production Unit at UN Environment. In this interview, she tells us more about what UN Environment is doing to promote circular economy and what challenges remain.
What is UN Environment doing to promote the transition to a circular economy?
Elisa Tonda: First, we have initiatives to develop scientific knowledge and information around circular economy like the International Resource Panel and the Life Cycle Initiative. They help us understand the global opportunities, trends and figures to guide our intervention towards the most successful and relevant issues. Sustainable consumption and production is one of the Sustainable Development Goals and the work we have undertaken on this agenda will provide a solid basis to support the transition towards resource efficiency and circularity. We will continue to work with interested governments to embed circularity in their policy frameworks. We also have more hands-on approaches with companies, focusing on SMEs in emerging economies and developing countries that want to join the global transition towards circular economy but need advice, assistance and guidance. We will also continue to work with the financial sector via UN Environment Finance Initiative that gathers actors of the finance community such as banks, asset managers and insurers, to incorporate circularity into financial instruments. Finally, we promote sustainable lifestyles at the consumer level. Closing materials' loops entails that everybody is aligned and contributing to the same objective, including ourselves as individuals and other large consumers such as governments.
Does circular economy effectiveness depend on the context or is there a standardized circular economy strategy?
ET: Solutions towards a circular economy are context-based so it is difficult to envisage standardized solutions that would adapt to all situations. Approaches like shifting from product-centered to service-centered solutions and thinking about extending the lifetime of products can inspire anybody. But more specific solutions will need to be designed taking into account the "hotspots" of the specific value chain, including the materials that enter the product, the processes through which it is produced and the existing infrastructure, including recycling options.
Could you give examples of national regulations that have proved remarkably successful?
ET: More work needs to be done in the area of regulation. Today it is still difficult to identify the right mix of policies instruments that need to be in place to fully transition to a circular economy. While working with a number of countries, we however came across policy measures which helped strengthen the enabling environment for the inclusion of circularity in the policy framework. These included the integration of circularity in the waste management regulation or in the innovation policies. Another element that proved successful is to work with governments as buyers through their procurement policies. Just to give you an idea of the market impact of this approach: in South Africa, the size of the market covered by government procurement goes up to 29% of the GDP.
Would you say that policymakers are going in the right direction and moving fast enough?
ET: Not yet. There are lots of good initiatives but there is indeed a need to accelerate. Our system and our infrastructures are built for a linear system. Where I do see things going at a much higher pace is at the level of cities and local governments. Interesting examples and experiences have been shared at the World Circular Economy Forum in Helsinki in June 2017. It showcased many examples of cities advancing towards more circular approaches in mobility, building, and waste infrastructure.
What advice would you like to give business executives?
ET: The very first advice would be to be open to collaborate and join hands with other businesses, customers and policymakers. It is very difficult to achieve circularity in the economy if the different actors are not all aligned and working together towards the same objective. I also encourage them to look at the whole life and at the whole system behind their products. Sometimes the whole problem might not be addressed in their immediate boundaries but entails to look a little bit further, working jointly with their suppliers and/or their customers to design new solutions. Finally, they should explore opportunities in the cities where we already witness a very dynamic environment ready for circular solutions.
How to make everybody concerned?
ET: The individual is very important. Individuals' engagement is often associated with a shift in mindset from a "quick buy and quick dispose" approach to a more efficient way of using the resources around us. Research in the fashion and textile sector shows how quickly we throw away what we wear and how much underutilized are the resources that go in what we wear. It is about changing our mindset to really buy only what we need, and when we can no longer repair our products, be sure that others can take advantage of the resources.