Needed changes in mindset

With the post-COP21 and the circular economy understandably high on the priority list of the Netherlands EU Presidency, what can make the whole processes mentioned above succeed will be a change in mindset and approach

In the past days I have met a wide spectrum of people and personalities. Ranging from EU Commissioners, to Commission officials, local stakeholders as well as people long engaged in the change management process of the Environment and Resources Authority that we plan to set up as early as possible, given that the President has now given her seal of approval to the legislation in question regarding the Environment Protection Act.

Meanwhile occasion has been had to focus even more strongly on the priorities of the just started Dutch Presidency of the EU which cannot be taken in isolation, but as part of a triangular chain – the trio of which Malta together with Slovakia is an important component.

With the post-COP21 and the circular economy understandably high on the priority list of the Netherlands EU Presidency, it does not take much to realise that rather than new legislation per se, what can make the whole processes mentioned above succeed will be a change in mindset and approach – both at an EU as well as at a purely local level.

If we had to single out the circular economy as an example it is such an all embracing subject that what it expects of us all is not a single bit of legislation, as if this could do the trick all on its own. It would be rather as a framework that while enhancing competitiveness and innovation, required businesses, communities, governments and even families and individuals to engage themselves directly in new ways of living, working, communicating and even consuming the resources we talk of so much when we speak of a resource efficient society.

Unless we change our mentality and mindset to realise that as the world’s population and economy grows, the current economic model becomes unsustainable as resources like fossil fuels, raw materials, fresh water and food become increasingly scarce, not only must we reach the obvious conclusion that switching to a circular economic model is inevitable, but we must also pause to think and ask ourselves what does that all mean for today’s and even more so tomorrow’s companies, customers and yes, also legislators.

When making the transition to a circular business model in various sectors that could range from urban development to fashion and design, it will clearly emerge that new business cases are a must and also that this change will not happen unless we really show a strong sense of commitment to move ever closer to a circular economy, where smart innovative products are used to minimise waste of energy and materials.

While governments all over the globe will remain there to lead by example, we need to listen more how the private sector is re-imaging the future of business. We need to discuss and analyse how many people really know what the circular economy is all about.

Once this hurdle is overcome we also need to ask ourselves how the international and local business community takes or plans to take the principles of the circular economy into account. We need to take stock of the barriers and opportunities that lie ahead.

It would be a mistake to adopt an inward looking approach and dismiss such necessary changes as time wasting or time consuming that might not make sense locally.

On the contrary, possibly inspired by the small is beautiful maxim, our small size as an island could leave us better placed than others to realise that rather than posing a threat, should we adopt to go for the necessary mindset change, the shift to a circular economy can also happen locally – only if we accept the fact that it requires innovative business models that either replace existing ones or seize new opportunities. 

If we had to look at international companies with significant market share and capabilities along the linear value change we are likely to find that they are playing a major role in innovation and driving circularity into the mainstream by leveraging their scale and vertical integration. 

We also need to appraise the circular economy in the built environment and the cities and towns of the future. As a process it does not stop at recycling. It also entails re-using and recovery. 

Both are important parts of the so called circular economy. With this in mind we need to find out what are the new and innovative applications in this field and why it is that important. Our ministry is committed throughout the current new year to see how the circular economy can make sense and yield results within a purely local context.

The Circular Economy Package as published last month contains a series of policy proposals and other initiatives that are meant to deliver on the political objectives set out in the resource efficiency flagship initiative and roadmap as well as in the 7EAP. All this by creating a sound regulatory and economic framework able to boost investments and job creation linked to resource conservation business models and activities. 

We need to start thinking of practical ways how to orient investments and the development of eventual policies at both national and sectoral levels. So far it remains less certain whether all this will deliver environmental benefits through an absolute decoupling between material consumption and growth.

In a periodic meeting with local waste stakeholders that I have just held at my office, it emerged very clearly that unless there is an ongoing waste education campaign that can effectively reach out to various strata of society, compounded with a carrot and stick approach as well as the much tighter enforcement in the waste regulatory sector, things will unfortunately not only change but we risk becoming worse laggards than we already are.

At the end of the day it is good to listen and consult. But ultimately we must ensure that the whole process will get underway and happen. The same happens for the post COP21 agenda. Admittedly we have a vision and an agenda. As well as a framework. But now we must implement and move ahead together.

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