ETCP & Sitra’s 2018 EU Green Week Partner Event

22-23 May 2018, Helsinki

Ever since the European Commission adopted its ambitious Circular Economy Package in 2015 , the interest in this topic has been growing not only among European businesses, but also among EU and Member State officials in charge of environmental programmes. Using resources in a more sustainable way and accelerating the transition to a stronger, more circular economy is moving up on EU’s priority list.

For a second year in a row, ETCP organised a Circular Economy training and study visit, a partner event of the EU Green Week. Supported by our partner Sitra, this year we were in Helsinki from 22-23 May to learn about the Finnish road map to circular economy and meet new green solutions to urban challenges. Our group gathered delegates of EU Funds Managing Authorities and Intermediate Bodies from Slovenia, Latvia and Croatia.

Here’s what we’ve learned:

1. What is the Circular Economy and what are its origins

Circular Economy is a new way of thinking about our growth model, where the value of products, materials and resources is maintained for as long as possible, whilst emissions and waste are significantly reduced or even eliminated. As a part of the broader concept of green economy, it emerged from different schools of thought: Product life, Performance Economy, Cradle-to-Cradle concept, Biomimicry… (read our last year’s Circular Economy report for more background information about circular cconomy).


2. Why is Circular Economy relevant for EU Funds Management?

(C) European Environment Agency

EU Funds are the greatest single public funding source currently offering the opportunity of a coordinated EU-wide approach towards stimulating the transition to a Circular Economy: European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), Horizon2020 and LIFE Programme is where most funding opportunities lie.

Some 40% of the 2014-2020 Cohesion Policy budget is potentially available for Circular Economy, especially under the following Thematic Objectives (T.O.):

  • T.O. 4: Supporting the shift towards a low-carbon economy in all sectors. E.g. Green Building Cluster on energy refurbishment of old and construction of new buildings to meet the PassivHaus standard;
  • T.O. 6: Preserving and protecting the environment and promoting resource efficiency: E.g. Baltic Manure and Baltic Slurry Acidification projects transforming animal waste into a business resource;
  • T.O. 3: Enhancing the competitiveness of SMEs. E.g. projects of Industrial Symbiosis – a holistic approach to company ‘match-making’, reinforcing profitable exchange of resources between companies, including by-products and waste-streams, unwanted or underused resources;
  • T.O. 1: Research and innovation: for faster deployment of new technologies. E.g. Paques – a Dutch waste management company that develops bio-plastic products.

Horizon2020 unveils funding opportunities for eco-innovations, such as the project ZeroWIN, bringing innovative ways of reusing and unlocking the potential of by-products (urban organic waste).

Since 2014, the LIFE Programme has already invested €100m in 80 circular economy projects. One of them is the Circwaste Project we had the priviledge to learn about during our study visit to Helsinki.

This LIFE co-funded Integrated Project promotes efficient use of material flows, waste prevention, new waste and resource management concepts. As we learned from the project’s coordinator, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE, Circwaste brings together 20 concrete actions carried out by 20 partners in 4 Finnish key regions. Focusing on construction, biodegradable and industrial waste, all actions contribute to reaching the national waste management targets and directing Finland towards the circular economy.

3. Why does the Helsinki metropolitan Area claim to be the best test bed in the world for smart and clean solutions?

As ambitious as it may sound, they might indeed be the best. We visited Helsinki Metropolitan Smart & Clean Foundation, an inspiring initiative bringing together key players to foster sustainable solutions to urban challenges: cities, businesses, universities, research institutions and state actors. How do they plan to do it? By supporting pioneering eco-innovations through their PublicPrivate Partnership for People (PPPP). Here are some of them:

  • Helsinki Air Quality Testbed: the first city-wide air quality sensor network in the world is currently being put in place in Helsinki, which produces open data enabling targeted measures to reduce emissions and their negative effects.
  • Bio100: All the Helsinki Metropolitan Area’s busses and the City of Helsinki’s heavy equipment will switch to 100% waste and residue-based biofuels by 2020.
  • Stormwater Management: In the face of climate change and extreme weather phenomena, urban stormwater runoff solutions are being developed with export potential.

What’s remarkable about the Helsinki metropolitan Area is not just the overwhelming political will to join forces for environmental protection, but also its readiness to export their smart and clean solutions to the world.

However, the Finnish sustainable agenda goes beyond the Helsinki area: Finland is the first country in the world to put in place a road map to a circular economy and it aims to become a world leader in the field by 2025. And it seems to be in very good hands too: Sitra, the leading driver of the change is the winner of the Circulars award of the World Economic Forum for its efforts in steering the transition. The road map currently boasts 5 focus areas, 64 actions, 1000 participants and a steering group to make Finland a circular economy pioneer. One of the many focus areas is the Resource-Wise Citizen campaign, inspiring Finns to make sustainable choices in their everyday life:

One of the solutions to citizens’ recycling challenges in Finland and beyond is brought by Niimaar, a Finnish #zerowaste brand. Niimaar’s main contribution to the cause is Ecosmol, a sustainable design furniture for recycling. After learning about what’s being done on the metropolitan and state level in Helsinki and Finland, it was great learning about decluttering and recycling trends at citizen level in Finland, but also about Niimaar’s coastal clean-ups, awareness campaigns against disposable plastics, zero waste and design workshops across Europe.

4. What to expect for and from the Circular Economy in the coming years? Our training & study visit conclusions:

  • The remaining implementation period of 2014-2020 OPs represents a key opportunity to develop vital capacities;
  • We are hoping for a greater emphasis on circular economy for Cohesion Policy post-2020, exceeding the 40% of the current budget share that is potentially available for circular economy;
  • Member States and regions experienced in promoting the circular economy will likely be at a distinct advantage (with possible comparative advantages for more peripheral regions);

In any case: the transition towards a circular economy in Europe requires effort in all Member States to scale up the effect. Funding pilots to find the best solutions and learn from each other is the way to go.