The circular economy enters the world stage, with Finland leading the way

A revolutionary concept for the way economies work is moving into the mainstream, with 1,500 key players discussing it in Helsinki in this week.

It took the Earth a couple of hundred million years to turn animal remains into oil. It takes us just a couple of minutes to finish an espresso macchiato – and dump the plastic cup in the bin.

Something is not quite right here. Our economy is inherently linear. We make products out of materials provided by nature, we use the stuff and, all too often, throw it away not long after. Produce, use, throw, repeat.

If your business is to make disposable coffee cups, this may sound pretty sweet. For the rest of us, however, it is a rotten deal.

The current linear model is undermining the very foundation of our future. The climate crisis? Fuelled by wasting resources and energy. The sixth extinction event? Largely caused by devastating ecosystems to make stuff.

Plastics in our oceans, chemicals in our bodies, pollution in our air? Produce, use, throw contributes to all. This is a bit of a downer. Unless you happen to see opportunities where others see problems.

Which brings us to Finland. This northern nation is at the forefront of rethinking our system. We want to make our economy circular.

There are various definitions of what circular economy exactly means. Semantics aside, the core is this: we need to create much more value and much less waste out of the resources we use.

Saving the planet might sound like reason enough to change our ways. But circular economy is as much about creating value, profits and jobs. For instance, a circular economy could bring estimated net savings of €600bn (£523bn) to European companies. In Finland alone circular solutions could provide €2bn-3bn (£1.7bn-2.6bn) added value annually.

To seize these benefits and more, two years ago the Finnish government set a strategic target to become a forerunner in circular economy. Last year Finland adopted a national circular economy roadmap. The outcome is a solid plan with an ambitious vision, concrete projects and clear responsibilities. It is time to ditch the belief that economies obey rigid mechanical rules, which has widened inequality and polluted our planet.

But the process matters, too. Drafting the document involved 1,000 people from an extensive cross-section of Finnish society – from ministries to trade unions and industry to environmental groups.

While we are modestly proud of the roadmap – widely recognised as the most comprehensive and advanced in the world – the work is only beginning. The next step? Leaders and experts from 90 countries meeting at the World Circular Economy Forum in Helsinki on 5-7 June 2017.  

We invited CEOs, researchers and policymakers because no one can reshape our economy alone. We are inspired by thought leaders from near and far.

The UK-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation has done more than anyone to understand the why and the how of building a circular economy. The Swedish government is introducing groundbreaking new tools, such as lower tax rates for repairs. Startups like RePack and MaaS Global are already exploring the next level of circular solutions. Big and established companies like Unilever and Google are bringing much needed scale to this space.

We rarely appreciate historic change when are in the thick of it. But when we look back at our time, we hope we can say: that is when the paradigm shift started to take form.

We invite you to join the effort to build circular economies. We can discuss the plans over espresso macchiato.

Kirsi Sormunen
Sitran hallituksen jäsen

Kimmo Tiilikainen

Kirjoitus on julkaistu The Guardianin verkkosivuilla