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Original language: German
As promissed in our first blog contribution we want to inform our readers about various aspects of a cross-border circular economy. We as partners from Sweden, Italy, Greece and Germany started in October 2018 a strategic partnership for adult education and an exchange of good practices (Project-No.: 2018-1-DE02-KA204-005230). Now nearly two years later we developed several approaches how someone could learn how to set into force more and more a circular economical lifestyle.
Participation and Circular Economy by Anette Ludwig and Florian Sendobry (CC-BY 4.0)
Producers and consumers have to learn to deal with each other
A successful achievement of the SDG 12 „Responsible consumption and production“ make demands on consumers and producers which can only be solved jointly. This means that these two groups have to work somehow together. This is not easy because we talk about millions of economical actors who might be even on different sides of country borders due to globalization and the single european market. So obviously a direct cooperation between all economical actors is impossible. One method to overcome this problem is a certain type of „participation“ within the framework of various settings in which the individual consumers and producers are in.
Participation in the context of circular economy must be understood as a means or as a bundle of means and meassures applied by individuums or institutions in order to influence the value added chain of any kind of economical activity.
A first idea: self-sufficiency projects
Self-sufficiency projects or such economical activities give the easiest opportunities for people to participate in a change towards a circular economy because of two facts:
1.) people know the value added chain behind the products and therefore they are able to appraise which exact means need to be introduced for the wanted more circular aim,
2.) self-sufficiency is based on the wishes of the people what they really need instead of economical approaches that are based nowadays mainly on the creation of customer needs by commercials.
Self-sufficiency involves a natural interest in sustainability because to ignore sustainability contains the risk of failure. Sustainability for self-sufficiency implies circular economy in order to avoid any input from the outside world.
Reality vs. Circular Economy
In nowadays complex economies of production in far away places and supply by trade sustainability does not have a high priority by consumers as they can easily replace suppliers by others in case of failure of these suppliers. This choice undemines participation or the wish to participate because the consumers do not fear any kind of personal failure or under-supply. To make things worse the consumers can not estimate in a global world whether an under-supply threatens them due to the lack of transparency concerning the way of production or the way how channels of trade do work. Surely many people were surprised by the shortage of face masks or toilet paper in the corona crisis.
Due to the lack of transparency participation to reach a circular economy is not easy or in most cases even not really possible. Nevertheless there are some approches to deal with it:
- Ecolabels might help. The consumer needs to know the details of these ecolabels in order to decide to buy or not to buy. Participation in circular economy needs a close look on the ecolabel if the ecolabel promisses also circular economical parts or not.
- Comparing the carbondioxid footprint of products in order to decide for the product with the lowest level of CO2, e.g. buying electricity from renewable energy sources instead of electricity e.g. from coal-fired power stations (ecopower).
Trust has to be built
In both cases mostly trust is needed to believe the promisses of the sellers and the issuers of the labels. More participation needs to demand information from the sellers and the producers and ask questions and to get the possibility to check the answers. The sellers and producers need to prove what they promise and the questions of the consumers need to insist that the sellers and producers do really deal with circular economy as a necessity for sustainablity within the part of the value added chain they do have in their hands.
Companies themselves should optimize their value added chains by asking themselves the right questions or demanding services from experts or companies giving them the know-how on circular economy and sustainability in a constant way of optimization. In the medium-term companies should practice capacity building in order to be able to participate in a circular economy and if necessary even in a cross-border circular economy.
Consumers could also continue their own education by choosing consultancy concerning a circular economical way of economical and purchasing decisions in their everyday life like consumers nowadays already choose e.g. marriage counselling. Due to a lack of such offers consumers need to learn by themselves using e.g. ressources on the internet.
A first hint
One first hint out of our project is that consumers might choose to buy regional or local products to replace products of the same type coming from global markets, like apples or textiles. These products do not need necessarily already be produced in a circular economical way but the probability that they will be produced in that way in the future is much higher than for products coming from unclear sources. This is so because it is much easier to gain insights about production processes or trade structures that are nearby then from those in far away places. But notice: not everything can be produced locally or just for a local market. Therefore different products need different approaches. Anyway local transparency everywhere should lead to global transparency – but step by step has to be gone, from single persons to the community. Therefore adult education is vital.
Amendment: we gained know-how for the content above from various best-practice examples dealing with circular economy, especially from Sweden and Greece.
Follow the project blog "Participation and Cross-Border Circular Economy (SCRCE)" on EPALE:
Read its first post here!
About the author: Dr. Volker Ludwig studied Industrial Engineering and Management at the Technical University of Darmstadt and has been managing a technical consulting company in Bonn since 2002. He is also responsible for the international section of the German Association for Waste Management e.V., Berlin, and coordinates the SCRCE project on cross-border recycling management as CEO of his company from Bonn / Germany with the partners Changemaker from Sweden, Godesk from Italy, EKOGREECE from Greece and NGO NEST Berlin from Berlin / Germany.