Q&A with Elin BergmanCircular Impact Officer & Vice Chair Cradlenet and Co-founder & Managing Partner Nordic Circular Hotspot

| Elin, you haven’t always worked in fields promoting sustainability. What have been the turning points in your journey that led the public to crown you the Circular Economy Queen of Sweden?

No I started my career in the games and movie industry. One job I had was working as a Promotion Manager for 20th Century Fox creating campaigns for the likes of McDonald’s and Samsung. But then, when Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth came out, I said to myself;  My God! What am I doing? Instead of promoting unhealthy consumer goods, why don’t I try and save the planet instead? So I quit my job, started working at a organisation saving homeless people at first, studying environmental sustainability at night and after that I got my first job as a communication manager at a climate consultancy. And from there I eventually got in contact with Cradlenet where I work now. I went to a lecture they arranged with Ellen MacArthur and that was the first time I ever heard about circular economy and after that I was hooked. I contacted the chairman of the board asking to get involved and the year after I became the chair of the board. The nickname “Circular Economy Queen of Sweden” came from a podcast interview, when they presented me they said; here she is – the Circular Economy Queen of Sweden! And it just kind of stuck after that. I like it! 


| Circular economy is often mistaken for recycling. How would you explain it to those new to the concept?

Today we live in a linear economy where we produce things of bad materials and of bad quality so that they break as soon as the warranty ends so that we throw them away and buy new things. It is the base of the economy and it is depleting all of our resources and destroying the environment at the same time. In a circular economy, we move from owning and consuming products (use and throw away) to instead becoming users of products and using them for their functions (by, for example, renting, sharing, leasing or borrowing). Products are designed to be of high quality to last and be easily repaired, upgraded, refurbished, remanufactured and ultimately recycled. New circular business models are developed to enable products and materials to circulate and at the same time future-proof the business. In a circular economy, there is virtually no waste, but all products and materials that a company or a private person does not need or cannot make use of, become a resource for someone else. Recycling is an important part, but it is the absolute last thing you should do since it breaks down the material and the process uses a lot of energy.


This is the beautiful thing about circular economy, even if you don’t care about the environment it still makes business sense.


| Investors and businesses are often overwhelmed by addressing climate change and sometimes biodiversity-related risks. Why should they also care about the circular economy? Is it another ‘to-do’ goal for a sustainable future, or should it be seen as an implementation tool to achieve their climate- and biodiversity-related targets—or is it both?

This is the beautiful thing about circular economy, even if you don’t care about the environment it still makes business sense. Companies understands efficiency, and becoming circular is the most resource efficient thing you can do. Many of the resources needed  to produce things, like all electronics are full with precious metals and minerals that we are either fast running out of or it is becoming more and more expensive to mine or produce them. So if companies could make sure their products either last for as long as possible and instead of selling them once make people pay a monthly fee to use them or make sure that the products come back after a user phase then they can use the materials over and over again and don’t have to rely on other value chains or prices going up. It is just a smarter way of doing business, generating new income or saving money and as a nice bi-effect it also creates new jobs and saves the environment.



| How would you assess the current state of affairs in Sweden regarding the circular economy? What are the key challenges and opportunities?

We were one of the first countries to have a circular economy strategy and roadmap, it was made by the previous government. The current one however seems to have forgotten that it exists and there is currently very low circular ambitions and action from them. We also know that Sweden is below the global average when it comes to circularity rates. The global average is 7,2% of the resources are cycled back in to economy every year, shockingly low, but the Swedish rate is only 3,4% so it is even worse! So Swedens political ambitions needs to change and fast or we risk lagging behind. The good thing is that the EU now have put fantastic legislation in place like mandatory CSRD reporting where you have to report on how circular your company is by law. So event if the Swedish government has low ambitions they are forced to act by the EU.


In the circular economy there is no such thing as waste, it is just valuable resources in the wrong place, so nothing or as little as possible should be burned.


| If you had to identify an elephant in the room concerning the circular economy, what would it be?

In Sweden I have to say it is that we have become vary famous because we don’t have any waste landfills, we instead have 82 “waste to energy” incinerators where we don’t just burn our own waste but also import waste from all of Europe. This have been marketed as a great thing, but in the circular economy there is no such thing as waste, it is just valuable resources in the wrong place, so nothing or as little as possible should be burned. Now Sweden is realizing this but they are making enormous amount of money on this practice that should be banned…


| What do you consider to be the missing pieces for the circular economy to scale up?

Leadership! We now know what needs to be done, but we need brave leaders to do what needs to be done. It doesn’t matter if it is in policy or business, we all have to work together if we want to get out of this mess we created.   


| What do you perceive as the key myths about the circular economy?

That we can recycle our way out of the environmental crisis or just buy electric cars and then we are done. We can not recycle or consume our way to a sustainable future.


| What initial steps would you suggest for investors to learn more about circular economy-related opportunities?

They should read the book “Waste to Wealth: The Circular Economy Advantage” by Peter Lacy and Jakob Rutqvist.


| brief bio

Elin Bergman is known for being the Circular Economy Queen of Sweden. She the COO and spokesperson of the Swedish circular economy network Cradlenet, and is also one of the co-founders of the Nordic Circular Hotspot a collaboration platform for accelerating circular economy in the region. She has also recently become a Founding Member of the Circular Economy Coalition – an international coalition of value-aligned individuals and organisations collectively advancing the circular economy through shared tools and resources, bridging the Global North and Global South. For many years she worked as WWF Sweden’s circular economy expert, where she developed the international circular economy network Baltic Stewardship Initiative, to enable the recirculation of nutrients in the Baltic Sea region in the agri-food sector.


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