NEWSLETTER by Alessia Falsarone. The author acknowledges the team at The University of Chicago Circular Economy and Sustainable Business Management Program and all participants of the innovation knowledge hub for their insights and collaboration.
We often hear how a sustainable world is characterized by its circular, digital, and diverse nature. However, it is important to recognize that a sustainable world is also complex. As humans, it is crucial for us to hold ourselves accountable with factual information and real data, rather than relying solely on individual opinions and perspectives. Additionally, we must maintain a sense of hope, as we have not yet achieved equal environmental, social, and economic value in our lifetime. Circular economists and practitioners understand this well, as they face the numerous trade-offs that come with transitioning to a circular economy, which challenges the established norms of production and consumption in modern societies.
In order to navigate through these complexities, foresight research can assist practitioners in analyzing alternative scenarios and preparing for future developments in the transition towards circularity. This allows us to create a more tangible and actionable environment for addressing the challenges we face today.
| The science of impact
The transition to a circular economy is complex. The more private and public organizations advance a pillar of circularity, the more it emerges as intertwined with socio-economy variables that need to be addressed and incorporates in circularity roadmaps from the ground floor.
That’s where foresight research and futures studies – the active use of scenario methods to better define the range of long-term developments and inform strategies to influence public policy and private sector engagement – is foundational. It involves critical thinking and active participation through debate.
The EU offers multiple examples of the development and deployment of futures studies, specifically in the areas of research and innovation. Often stemming from recent developments and informing long-ranged policies, debating through future alternative scenarios enables the establishment of a common ground for visioning among a wide range of stakeholders, where success scenarios in the alternative paths of development become a driving force for positive experimentation.
| Circularity roadmaps explained
Occupational hazards and working conditions provide a tangible example of the growing need to employ foresight when evaluating the complexity of a circular economy transition and its impact on workplaces and human health. A strategic study led by Michel Héry and Marc Malenfer from the French National Research and Safety Institute for the Prevention of Occupational Accidents and Diseases (INRS France) brings work methods and working conditions in the spotlight.
Researchers at INRS employ foresight as a tool to improve and facilitate thinking and decision-making, including in the redesign of supply chains – a core pillar of the circular economy. A foresight approach is in fact necessary since occupational health and safety matters have been focused on toxicological risks and exposure to pollutants in activities such as recycling, in particular e-waste. Incidents that are amplified in a context of informal work or when the heterogeneity of materials involved in a process become too hard to properly control. What’s important to keep in mind is that occupational hazards cannot be dealt with in a linear fashion in the development of circularity roadmaps.
The scenarios related to poor working conditions or unmanageable health and safety incidents have to be incorporated upfront. In addition, the sharing economy has also been introducing additional OSH issues, where environmental concerns need to be taken into account along with renewed measures of protection of workers’ health.
Under these scenarios for the development of the circular economy in the EU by 2040, there emerge a handful of corresponding exposure areas when it comes to organizational health and labor conditions as consequences of the transition to circularity:
1) The state of the entire production chain and the role of ICT technologies* (*as major tools for the implementation of a circular economy and for the prevention of occupational risks when considering the future of production in circular terms).
2) The introduction of maintenance and repair services. Easy repair and maintenance for circular products opens the door for new organizational agreements with novel workplace safety rules.
3) Recycling—reshoring of (industrial) activities. Sorting activities will likely grow magnifying the impact of robotization on labor and requiring situational intelligence skills.
4) Transport and logistics (developments in the flow of goods, not necessarily corresponding with increase in distances travelled). As the CE is likely to increase transport flows as opposed to reduce them, physical risks to workers is likely to increase if traceability of goods fails to be mapped in a way that incorporates points of incident prevention at all nodes of transport.
As the complexity of a circularity transition is magnified by informal economies and the likelihood that either scenario (or a combination of scenarios) would ultimately materialize, incorporating foresight evaluations to address the impact on labor conditions will be necessary to maintain healthy, just and decent working environments.
| Investing in the Circular Economy
Financing the circular economy and sustaining value across the myriad of opportunities (from product to process and business model innovations) is likely to require continued due diligence efforts from investors, with clear and consistent focus one project at the time. The newly launched Circular Investment Readiness Network (CIRN) is looking to close the knowledge gap and enable project teams in delivering investment-ready opportunities for the circular economy. The initiative is a joint effort by CircularInvest, a Project Development Assistance project funded by the European Union, and the Circular Cities and Regions Initiative (CCRI).
Why is the launch of this network a stepping stone for investors?
By joining the CIRN, investors will be able to:
Exchange knowledge with other circular stakeholders to find potential solutions to common challenges on circular project development and financing in the EU
Develop the know-how to implement financeable high-impact, low-risk circular projects. The Network will lay the foundation to present, evaluate and asses circular business models, the financial requirements and due diligence process milestones.
Be part of a collaborative space where public and private sector organizations can network, build partnerships, and explore potential synergies within and outside the EU.
CIRN’s members will gather at the end of November for a kick-off event that will set the scene for an active learning ecosystem intended to span over the next three years until October 2026. Among other topics, CIRN will explore the dos and don’ts when seeking and positioning investments, the importance of assessing environmental and social impacts beforehand, and how to create the right conditions for circular businesses to succeed.
| You don’t want to miss this week
From Rimini (Italy) to Murcia (Spain), this week offers new opportunities to connect with fellow circularity practitioners both in person and in hybrid mode.
Discover, grow and leave your mark!
〉November 7th – 10th: Ecomondo (Rimini, Italy). Ecomondo is a major international event in Europe for green and circular economy industries. It brings together leading companies in environmental services and technologies, covering areas such as water management, waste disposal, bioenergy, and sustainable cities. In addition, it facilitates discussions on flagship projects part of Italy’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR) and circular economy adoption in industrial supply chains, as well as the restoration of soils and the hydrosphere.
〉November 8th: UEFA Circular Economy Guidelines (Livestream Event). Following its launch in September 2022 and in line with its Football Sustainability Strategy 2030, UEFA‘s Circular Economy Guidelines are aimed to deliver circularity value across football operations and events to minimize the impact of football on the environment, driving resource efficiency, and cost savings. The event will be moderated by David Garrido from SkySports. Notable participants include Philipp Heßberger, advisor to the board of Eintracht Frankfurt Fußball, and Viviane Gut from adidas.
〉November 9th: Murcia National Replication Workshop* (Los Molinos del Río Segura Hydraulic Museum, Murcia (Spain). The Lighthouse City of Murcia will share the progress and lessons learned in the implementation of the urban circular bioeconomy at national level, as well as a workshop on Public Procurement of Innovation and Pre-Commercial Procurement, by experts from the sector. This workshop is is part of the Green and Circular Entrepreneurship Meeting, co-organised by AEMA-RM Asociacion de Empresas de Medio Ambiente Region de Murcia.
Note (*): The event will be held in Spanish.
Off to another impactful week!
| All opinions expressed are those of the author and/or quoted sources. investESG.eu is an independent and neutral platform dedicated to generating debate around ESG investing topics.