Background of the U-Eco Project
The Erasmus+ funded U-Eco (“Upskilling for Creative Circular ECOnomy”) project focuses on the transitional process from a linear to a circular economy, addressing the need for a specific circular economy training that can boost employability and self-employment, and meet the new demands of the labor market. Preparing entrepreneurs and professionals for a circularity-dominated scenario means endowing them with the right knowledge, skills, and competencies to operate accordingly. The latest achievements of the U-Eco project are summarized below.
Circularity in the Work Context
As one of U-Eco's primary outcomes, a job profile catalog has been created, namely of the job profiles most likely to be demanded in the next decade and a related set of professional skills. These job profiles are designed to meet the new labor demands in the fields previously identified with the highest growth potential, such as biomass and bio-based products (agriculture, food, and energy); water treatment and reuse; plastics, secondary materials, and innovation; digitalization, sharing platforms, and services (product as a service); construction and demolition.
The demand for agriculture, food production, and bioenergy generation is projected to increase in the future, despite their significant adverse environmental impacts. Therefore, securing sustainable food production systems and implementing resilient agricultural practices bound to increase productivity and production are vital to transitioning towards a circular economy (SB Insight, 2019). The U-Eco conducted research indicates that shifts will emphasize local production and optimization of resources and focus on bioenergy production within this sector.
Water is a natural resource that is widely available to most people. Still, 2.1 billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water (WHO/UNICEF, 2017). Therefore, securing access to water for both individual consumption, as well as industries, businesses, and energy production is crucial to enable sustainable development and guarantee the future of our societies. Given its renewable characteristic, water treatment and reuse are integral to fostering a circularity in water use and consumption. The U-Eco Project research shows that the water sector demands will monitor the quality of water resources, water treatment for reuse, and purification.
Plastic is a critical material used in our daily lives, which has several adverse environmental impacts despite its high functional features. Its economic value is often lost within the current economic system. To foster a sustainable future with minimal environmental repercussions and guarantee economic profit, it is imperative to enable the broad reuse and recycling of plastic and secondary materials and design new ways to benefit from their value in a circular context. The U-Eco research highlights that the plastic and secondary materials sector needs to improve and promote the recycling and sustainability of packaging, reuse, and appropriation of value.
Within a circular economy framework, implementing digitalization and sharing platforms and products as services are fundamental. They are all tools closely linked to technological innovation and advances in “asset tracking, distributed databases, microtransactions, and smart contracts” (SB Insight, 2019) that drive change. Digitalization provides a golden opportunity for material optimization, local production, production process and life cycle transparency, and resource efficiency. Likewise, sharing platforms can boost the economy and optimize consumption. Passing services as products maximizes the value of these products and reduces waste and overconsumption. The U-Eco research concludes that the goal is to maximize the value of products, monitor the production processes, and secure sustainable investments.
In the construction and demolition sector, the high volume of waste produced without adequate management resulting in severe environmental impacts represents the primary concern (López Ruiz et al., 2019). Therefore, implementing circularity by promoting recycling and reuse of construction and demolition materials has become vital to minimize the adverse impacts of waste on the natural environment. Accordingly, the U-Eco research reasserts that developments in this domain will emphasize waste management, construction sector sustainable design, and sustainable resource extraction.
The job profile catalog is retrievable at this page: https://swideas.se/ueco-en
Theoretical and Practical Circular Knowledge
Education represents the most valuable tool to promote and trigger positive change; endowing people with the right knowledge and tools to operate is vital in all sectors. Since the circular economy is a relatively new concept that many people are unfamiliar with, education becomes particularly essential to transfer knowledge, which is key to implementing a circular economy in the business sector. Recognizing the project's prime goals, the U-Eco partners conducted extensive research culminating in the creation of twelve training modules aiming to transfer valuable circular knowledge. The modules were conceived to target those unfamiliar with circular economy topics, including the basics of a linear and circular economy, the explanation of ten circular practices, and the circular economy's political framework. They also elaborated on the practical implementation of a circular economy linked to entrepreneurship and workshops' creation.
Learning from Real Life
Despite the relatively new nature of the concept, various entities and individuals worldwide have already implemented circular business models. Therefore, it is vital to identify inspiring and successful good practices and case studies, especially considering the project's scope. These practices and studies are selected based on the primary target audience, namely entrepreneurs and professionals, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) interested in learning about circular business models. The U-Eco consortium has selected twelve case studies and good practices to address the previously identified fields with the highest growth potential, both in the European and international scene. The selected case studies offer innovative examples of material and items reuse and recycling, regenerative farming methods, unique water treatment and reuse methods, and green construction.
The consortium has started developing the U-Eco project's final intellectual output, which consists of creating a manual for trainers in a circular economy context. Furthermore, the U-Eco partners will soon start preparing the project's activities for 2021.
U-Eco is a KA2 Strategic Partnership co-funded by the Erasmus+ of the European Union (project reference: 2019-1-SE01-KA204-060530). It is a two-year project led by SwIdeas in Sweden, European Association of Development Agencies - EURADA in Belgium, Engineering and Technical Consultancy - Bioazul and Training Development and Integration – DEFOIN in Spain, Center for Promoting Lifelong Learning - CPIP in Romania, and Association for the Regional Initiatives Development - ARID in Poland. The project partners work together to raise awareness, enable the exchange of experiences promoting mutual learning and benefit, highlight the need for a circular training that can boost employability and self-employment, and meet the new labor market's demands.
López Ruiz, L.A., Roca Ramón, X., Gassó Domingo, S., 2020. The circular economy in the construction and demolition waste sector – A review and an integrative model approach. Journal of Cleaner Production 248, 119238. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2019.119238 [Accessed 17 November 2020].
SB Insight, 2019. The Nordic Market For Circular Economy 2019. [online] Available at: <https://www.sb-insight.com/sb-reports> [Accessed 16 November 2020].
World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 2017. Progress on Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: Update and SDG Baselines. Geneva, 2017. License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.
About the authors
Alessia Signorelli is an assistant analyst/project support officer at SwIdeas AB (Sweden), partner organization in the EU Project U-Eco - “Upskilling for Creative Circular ECOnomy”.
Sarah Marsafy is an analyst/project coordinator at SwIdeas AB (Sweden), partner organization in the EU Project U-Eco - “Upskilling for Creative Circular ECOnomy”.
Julia B.C. Moreira is an analyst/project coordinator at SwIdeas AB (Sweden), partner organization in the EU Project U-Eco - “Upskilling for Creative Circular ECOnomy”.
The European Commission’s support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. This project is co-funded by the European Commission through the Erasmus+ Programme (Strategic Partnerships for adult education -2019-1-SE01-KA204-060530).