Insider Perspective: The World Circular Economy Forum in Helsinki, Finland

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08 June, 2017


WBCSD insights




This week at the first-ever World Circular Economy Forum (WCEF), over 1500 forward-thinkers from 105 countries gathered to kickstart the transition towards a circular economy.

In the first of what is to become an annual conference, organizers aimed to create a truly global forum for driving implementation of circular solutions. Attendees included high level representatives from across business, government and civil society.

WBCSD’s circular economy team participated in full force, representing the voice of business for circular solutions over the course of this landmark event.

On the first day of the Forum, we released our CEO Guide to the Circular Economy, a new tool CEOs and sustainability leaders can use to start implementing circular principles across their operations.

“It’s laid out perfectly! You feel like a CEO when you’re reading it,” one participant said.

In launching the Guide, Maria Mendiluce, Managing Director of WBCSD’s Natural Capital Area, told the plenary audience that “strong and visionary CEO leadership is essential for implementing the circular economy and for reaching new levels of sustainable economic growth.”

The private sector is stepping up to push solutions forward – and most participants agreed that the business case for doing so is creating disruptive technologies and innovative business models.

“All too often, we’re confronted with social and environmental solutions that don’t make economic sense. With the circular economy, social, environmental and business solutions go together from the beginning,” said Ms. Mendiluce.  

Key themes emerging from the event also included creativity and innovation, “Creativity and vision are key for shaping the future of circular economy,” said Hans Bruyninckx, Executive Director at the European Environment Agency. Both are needed to mobilize and scale circular solutions.

Closing material loops, removing the concept of waste and retaining resource value were also highlighted as key circular principles that will determine our ability to achieve the SDGs and address climate change.

During his intervention, Achim Steiner of the United Nations Development Program, argued that the circular economy will allow businesses and policymakers to address sustainability issues in ways that will resonate with business leaders.

“With circular economy, we can address climate change without ever even having to say the word ‘climate change,’” Mr. Steiner said. As sustainability issues become increasingly politicized, businesses and government leaders can draw on circular economy innovation to use terms that everyone can rally behind: access to energy, value retention, job creation and more.

Many at the Forum underscored that as more businesses implement the circular economy, their success stories will give way to better policies and widespread implementation.

“At the heart of the transformation, it isn’t going to be government,” said Peter Wood, event moderator and director of Quest Associates. “It’s going to be business.”

Despite the strong momentum, excitement and enthusiasm brought forward at the Forum, it’s clear that we still have a long way to go.

The circular revolution is only just beginning and new solutions are still being explored – many on small scales, or in isolated silos. The need for systems transformation is clearer than ever, and participants, speakers and attendees from across sectors called for collaboration.

In efforts to facilitate next steps for companies who want to move forward, WBCSD announced our new circular economy program, Factor10, designed to accelerate circular business solutions for the global economy.

Following the conference, over 30 individuals from 15 companies came together the very first Factor10 workshop to refine the program’s action plan and approach for 2018 and beyond.

The side event brought together the big players in circular economy including Circle Economy, The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, UNEP, The World Economic Forum, the Toilet Board Coalition and other leading companies to ensure that we all move forward on the circular economy together.

“We’re moving beyond ‘blah, blah’ discussions, and we’re really taking action,” one participant said.

Building on the optimistic momentum of the Forum, WBCSD looks forward to expanding our circular economy work and to the Forum next year.

In the meantime, we continue to represent the voice of business and will work with our member companies to collaborate on circular solutions through Factor10.

See WBCSD’s key news items from the event.

See Sitra’s top takeaways from the Forum, and check out the Forum’s session recordings