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Circular Economy: Start Small, Start Local, Start Today

If Hungary is to build a sustainable circular economy, the concept needs champions and communities and business support and political involvement, but it all starts at the individual level, according to one of Europe’s leading experts.

Professor Jacqueline Cramer

Professor Jacqueline Cramer, circular economy ambassador of the district of Amsterdam and former Dutch Environment Minister, spoke at the Business Council for Sustainable Development in Hungary’s (BCSDH) Business Breakfast and Action 2020 Forum recently, and this was the message she drove home, allied with the fact that Hungary must find its own path; there is no one-size-fits all approach that can or should be imposed.  

“The circular economy is the business model of the future,” Cramer insisted in her presentation. “The full implementation of the circular economy requires the appropriate scale. In this, regional or corporate communities are crucial. The inevitable first step is sharing knowledge and experiences and undertaking joint action which can accelerate the emergence of sustainable supply chains and thereby drive the expansion of the circular economy. By becoming part of such a community, we can take shared steps that we would never be able to manage on our own,” she explained.  

She cited the example of the Netherlands-based FrieslandCampina, the world’s largest dairy cooperative, which is promoting the use of solar power among its member farms. The company website says the aim is to generate sufficient green electricity at the farm yards to fully cover the use of electricity within the chain and thus contribute to achieving climate neutral growth in 2020. FrieslandCampina is offering dairy farmers a EUR 10 bonus for each ton reduction of CO2 emission.

Cramer spoke of her work in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Region, where there are 25 core members on the Amsterdam Economic Board, including some CEOs, and some 200 affiliate members who are also involved in projects. Since 2015, the state has also been very active, she said. “Together we have created a kind of momentum of positive examples.”

Competitive Advantage

Speaking afterwards exclusively to the Budapest Business Journal, Cramer said Hungary should not be judged against the Netherlands, because the countries had been on very different paths.

“In the Netherlands we have an advantage; we have been dealing with it [the circular economy] longer! We faced the problem of a very dense population in a small area. Our landfills were filling up already in the ʼ80s and were causing sever soil pollution; that really pushed us to move ahead, and that is why we have a competitive advantage now.”

She explained: “My message is that everybody can start at a very local level, the school level, the industrial park level, but there also needs to be a willingness to join together. But do something now; don’t wait for all the challenges to be overcome first.”

As she points out, there is an obvious advantage in groups and communities coming together: economies of scale. But first there has to be the individual desire to make a change.  

The BCSDH is trying to foster both in Hungary. The primary purpose of the Action2020 Forum, launched on April 25, is to support effective teamwork and joined-up thinking in the business sector while creating a real impact, promoting both sustainable lifestyles and circular economies. Its 81 member companies produce 30% of Hungary’s GDP; 57 have already joined the Action2020 program, the council says.

Bio Box:

Jacqueline Cramer is a professor in sustainable innovation and strategic advisor to the Utrecht Sustainability Institute at Utrecht University. She is a member of the Amsterdam Economic Board and functions as the ambassador of the circular economy of the Metropole region Amsterdam. From February 2007-February 2010 she was Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment. She has been actively involved in sustainability issues since the mid-1970s. She started her career as an associate professor at the University of Amsterdam (1976-1989), then worked as senior researcher at the independent Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research, including stints as an internal consultant at Philips and Akzo Nobel. Since 1999 she has been a director of the consultancy firm Sustainable Entrepreneurship; Strategy and Innovation Consulting. She has worked closely together with more than 200 companies on the integration of sustainability in business strategy.

What is a circular economy?

“Looking beyond the current ‘take, make and dispose’ extractive industrial model, the circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design. Relying on system-wide innovation, it aims to redefine products and services to design waste out, while minimizing negative impacts. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds economic, natural and social capital.”

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, launched in 2010 by the round-the-world British yachtswoman who became the fastest solo sailor to circumnavigate the globe in 2005.