Insight from the WCEF2023 Accelerator Session: Circular Economy Roadmap International Best Practices
Unfolding the Future of the Circular Economy
The World Circular Economy Forum (WCEF) 2023 took place from May 30th to June 2nd 2023 in Helsinki, Finland, and provided a crucial platform for sharing insights, challenges, and strategies to catalyse the global transition towards a circular economy, underlining the necessity of international collaboration and knowledge exchange. As part of the WCEF2023, the Circular Innovation Lab, the Hanns Seidel Foundation of Vietnam, and the Institute of Strategy and Policy on Natural Resources and Environment of Vietnam (ISPONRE) co-hosted an Accelerator Session titled ‘International Best Practices on Circular Economy Roadmaps: The Case of Vietnam’ on June 1st with Chatham House as a Knowledge Partner.
The 90-minute session was moderated by Arpit Bhutani, COO of Circular Innovation Lab, and featured presentations by Kari Herlevi, Project Director of Global Collaboration and Sustainability Solutions at SITRA, Arpit Bhutani, and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Dinh Tho, Director General of ISPONRE. It also included a panel discussion with experts Apoorva Arya, CEO of Circular Innovation Lab, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Dinh Tho, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Hong Quan, Director of ICED and Vietnam National University, and Dr. Patrick Schröder, Senior Research Fellow at the Environment and Society Programme at Chatham House.
Kari Herlevi opened the session with a keynote speech outlining SITRA’s work in developing Finland’s National Circular Economy Roadmap between 2015 and 2019. A continually evolving plan, the roadmap aimed to transition the country towards a circular economy by 2035. The roadmap evaluated the economic potential of this transition and thus consisted not only of an ecological consideration but also an economic development opportunity. Throughout the process, SITRA was also aware of international trends and how the roadmap's implementation was dependent on political support. The project extended beyond national borders with a vision of international contributions and acceptance. Investments in education and workforce training were significant. The necessity of public-private collaboration, particularly considering international financial interest, was underscored. Consumer engagement was another key aspect, and despite challenges, the process was deemed feasible with support from strong, unbiased organisations such as SITRA.
Following the keynote speech, Arpit Bhutani gave a presentation on international best practices in developing Circular Economy Roadmaps offering nine international roadmap examples. Beginning with Japan's community-oriented initiative of 2000 and Finland's 2015 roadmap, Arpit Bhutani observed both countries' commitment to periodic reviews for progress. He highlighted SITRA's ambitious goal of making Finland a circular economy leader by 2025 and their successful €40 million funding from the government. He presented an infographic created by Chatham House showing around 50 roadmaps in progress globally, with China and Rwanda as recent examples.
Arpit Bhutani further underscored the challenges in transitioning from a linear to a circular economy, emphasising the need for protective measures for key industries and exports. He argued for reducing change barriers, modifying policies, and overcoming technological constraints. His presented analysis of nine roadmap examples showed diverse sectoral focus adopted by them—Japan focusing on waste management, European countries on textiles, plastics, waste management, food, and biomass, and other countries on varied sectors like construction, transport, agriculture, and forestry. Arpit Bhutani concluded by stressing the need to reassess metrics for measuring circularity, calling for an emphasis on upstream changes. The development of effective Circular Economy Roadmaps, he posited, requires international collaboration and national self-analysis.
The spotlight then shifted to Vietnam, as Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Dinh Tho detailed the country’s ongoing National Action Plan for a Circular Economy. Vietnam’s plan, he explained, has been driven by their commitment to environmental protection and climate change mitigation, integrated into their Environmental Protection Law since 2020. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Dinh Tho outlined four established criteria for Vietnam's circular economy development: efficient resource use, the prolonged lifespan of products, the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and waste, and the prevention of any negative environmental impact. Furthermore, the Vietnamese law has implemented regulations for extended producer responsibility, enforcing a "reduce, reuse, and recycle" approach and targeting areas where the nation has a competitive edge such as textiles, steel, and cement.
Vietnam, as Assoc. Prof Dr. Nguyen Dinh Tho revealed, is one of the few countries that have committed to achieving net zero by 2050, alongside targeting zero waste and halting biodiversity loss by the same year. He expressed optimism in reaching these targets through increased conservation efforts, the use of environmentally friendly techniques for economic development, and an inclusive approach involving all societal stakeholders.
The presentations were followed by an engaging panel discussion, in which panellists discussed the necessity of robust Circular Economy Roadmaps for the successful implementation of a circular economy. Apoorva Arya began by highlighting inclusivity and early stakeholder engagement as vital for the success of Circular Economy Roadmaps. She stressed the importance of setting specific targets, monitoring progress with metrics, and combining roadmaps with legislation for their successful implementation. Dr. Patrick Schröder followed up by talking about the need for evolution in metrics, incorporating employment aspects and just transitions in Circular Economy Roadmap developments.
On another front, Assoc. Prof Dr. Nguyen Dinh Tho discussed challenges in effectively developing Circular Economy Roadmaps such as accounting, auditing, financing, technology, and maintaining a balance between economic growth and sustainability. On adapting National Circular Economy Roadmaps to local contexts, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Hong Quan recommended a flexible, decentralised approach given the diverse regional contexts within countries. The panel discussion concluded with a reflection on the complexities of achieving economic prosperity, sustainability, and local adaptation and their centrality to the successful development of Circular Economy Roadmaps.
The Accelerator Session indicated how a strategic and collaborative approach is required to realise the transition from a linear to a circular economy. The concept of a circular economy, though rooted in ecological considerations, carries significant potential for economic development. Central to this process is the creation of comprehensive and adaptable Circular Economy Roadmaps, such as those pioneered by countries like Finland and Vietnam.
To be successfully developed and implemented, such roadmaps, as illuminated by the speakers and panellists of the session, must include key factors such as wider political support, consistent decision-making, a holistic view of the process, and cooperation between the public and private sectors. They also require robust metrics for monitoring progress, societal involvement, decentralisation, and regular reviews. Furthermore, each nation must tailor its Circular Economy Roadmap to its unique context, balancing the demands of economic development with sustainability.
International cooperation and collaboration were further stressed as crucial elements in shaping effective Circular Economy Roadmaps. This is evident in the approach adopted by Vietnam, where international partnerships have aided in securing funding for their green transition. Education also plays a key role in driving this transition, integrating circular economy principles at all levels of society.
Lastly, the complexity of the task should not be underestimated. Achieving a circular economy will necessitate substantial efforts from multiple sectors and layers of society, from government bodies and influential organisations like SITRA to individual citizens. As such, the transition to a circular economy is not just a technocratic project but also a broad societal transformation, requiring efficient communication, engagement, and motivation of individuals at all levels.