Shaping a path to circular economies in the EU and New Zealand Seminar was well timed with the University of Auckland’s Business School establishing a new research beacon, Circular Economy in Business. We heard many innovative insights on the Circular Economy (CE) progress in New Zealand and Europe that highlighted intense complexities for ongoing sustainable solutions and progression. The expert panelists and thought leaders shared current government initiatives/strategies, business innovations, robust conversation, and progress within their respective countries in response to many compelling questions, summarised below.

What does it take to shape a path to a circular economy?

Louise Nash
Founder CEO Circulatory (NZ and Ontario based)  
Help businesses unlock better solutions for people and the planet faster than ever.
For five years, I worked alongside the government and businesses.
We are working on strategies around cloud design circular solutions across everything from children’s shoes to power poles.  
Katrein Verleye
Associate Professor of Service Innovation Ghent University Belgium
We can all think about what we own and use at home irregularly – creating circularity means a change from owning to renting.
Government-led initiatives – rental/sharing platforms where businesses, organisations, and people can connect, share, and reuse.
A larger market, keeping products in use, not imported, lessens environmental impacts.
Identify what products can be exchanged.
Learn how business models must look to achieve circularity and lessen environmental impacts.  
Julia Feher
Associate Professor
University of Auckland
Business School
Reshape NZ’s plastic market, funded and supported by the NZ Government.
Plastic volumes are too low for recycling in NZ, so creating a product from plastics is the solution.
Circular systems call for new ecosystems working with all market players.
Broader social structure – involve communities to understand collections mix of materials.  
Ken Webster
Cranfield University
Fellow of Cambridge University Institute of Sustainability Leadership
” … The state of the game is the polluter does not pay…..”
The rules of the game are set, so it all comes down to pricing.
Reimagining the rules of the game.  

What advice would you give the NZ Government on changing policy to transition to a circular economy?

Louise Nash  Small-medium enterprises (SMEs) are discovering their views; being agile, they can move quickly but have knowledge gaps and are time- and resource-poor.
The policy should disincentivize linear extraction. Policies are instrumental in material extraction, and natural resources rely on NZ’s living systems, food chain, and tourism sectors.
Introducing a new regulatory procurement framework penalises linear extraction, thus encouraging circular solutions and growing the economy. Successful progress has been achieved by Australian SMEs working alongside the government.

What barriers do you see in your research related to integrating circular economy principles, and how can policy be implemented?

Katrein Verleye  The barriers and three key learnings:
Motivation – engagement from consumers/people and businesses. I.e., willingness to pay for pollution.
Ability – lack of knowledge on circular practices and financial resources to rethink business models, i.e., rental/share/takeback systems/processes.
Actors – include government policymakers, agencies, and maybe the media. Regulations, new standards, materials efficiencies, take back systems, crafting circular economy principles, and funding.

What would you make to balance an open and closed circular economy effectively, and where do we see such examples internationally?

Ken Webster  Funds are needed for infrastructure to create local sharing platforms for excess material, i.e., temporary storage and the development of markets/usage rather than landfills.
Add value to unwanted resources for better utilisation.
Pricing: people can’t afford to pay the real price.
Taxation will help shape how resources are utilised, shift from taxing people, move toward taxing wastes, economic rents, and taxing renewables.Economic rents, a closed circular economy, may emerge among big businesses, able to control significant parts of the value chain.
Monopolies appear in durables, i.e., two firms dominate microwave production. Policy has a crucial role in ensuring domination does not occur by a few firms.  

What can we learn from Europe and their work in circular economy and vice versa?

Julia Feher

From 2013 to 2016, the EU Commission’s driving initiatives for CE were dedicated to developing new business models. The narrative around CE gained momentum.
NZ can use these initiatives to form a living lab to measure, test, and refine.EU and Western world views drive CE. Think about the underlying assumptions that drive economic systems like capitalism.
Take a worldview of indigenous culture and nature; the Western culture’s industrialisation is distinct in separating people from the environment.  

Lastly, an invitation was extended to the audience both in the room and online to ask panelists questions, which generated several thought-provoking scenarios.

To learn more about our panelists’ published research, plus resources to help business both in New Zealand and Europe, here are several resources:

Shaping Circular Service Ecosystems – University of Auckland, Circular Economy  in Business

A systemic logic for circular business models – University of Auckland, Circular Economy  in Business

Circularity | Experts in Circular Economy Stategy for Business – New Zealand

The Wonderful Circles of Oz: The circular economy story – United Kingdom

Green Deal Renting and Sharing – Belgium

Words by Julie Harrison
Image from Canva

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