“Why the American Continent is Crucial to Making the Global Economy Circular”

The world has begun the transition towards a Circular Economy (CE). This cutting-edge paradigm is increasingly being acknowledged as the most logical strategy for decoupling economic growth from environmental damage. Leading economies in Europe and Asia are adopting Circular Economy as a strategic development framework. The Circular Economy’s principles are mainly inspired by the Cradle to Cradle® philosophy (C2C), which strengthens its ability to drive actions towards Sustainable Development. C2C relies on materials health requirement and eco-intelligent design. Thus, a CE based on these principles challenges us to rethink how we design, produce, sell, and consume products. It distinguishes between biological and technical cycles, in order to safely and infinitely recirculate all the nutrients and materials found on the planet. Furthermore, CE aims to eliminate all negative externalities, such as the emission of toxic substances that lead to climate change and the pollution of water, air, and soil. Since 2010, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has been accelerating this transition, bringing together governments, companies, NGOs, academic institutions and entrepreneurs. Although we have made many strides, there is still a long way to go for a transition towards a CE globally.

Why accelerate the transition towards a Circular Economy on the American Continent?

 

There are two main reasons why the American continent should boost the transition towards a Circular Economy. Firstly, there is a real need for effective solutions to the regional sustainability challenges, and secondly, it will lead to joining forces to contribute to a global Circular Economy transition.

 

To start with, the American continent in all its extension - 1.002 billion people living in 53 countries – has been subject to worldwide sustainability problems such as global warming, climate change vulnerability, uncontrolled urbanization and waste generation, among others. As a result of their inherent heterogeneity, the different regions of the continent have adopted different approaches to face these challenges. Thus, the most developed nations in the Americas like Canada and the United States have used their strong institutions, access to financial resources, and extensive technology and innovation capacity to build a more sustainable economy. Nevertheless, their production and consumption patterns are still considered unsustainable. In contrast, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) are struggling to find a clear strategy to progress economically without harming the environment, due to their economic dependence on extractive industries and significant gaps in infrastructure and technology.

 

In this context, the role of the American continent in achieving a global Circular Economy is important because (1) of its growing population and urbanization rate; (2) most of the American nations are still building their development pathways and to some extent are not as locked-into a linear economy as other more developed nations are; (3) environmental issues are not well addressed and there are opportunities to improve regulations and consumption and production patterns, and (4) there are large hectares of natural assets and ecosystems to protect, since some of the most biodiverse countries in the world are in the continent (e.g. Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, United States and Venezuela). 

 

Conscious and collaborative efforts towards a CE will lead to effective solutions to cope with the current trends in population growth and urbanization. The 53 American nations represent 14% of the world population with an estimated growth of 23% by the year 2050 (1.2 billion people), with 80% of the population living in urban areas and 70% being economically active population (United Nations 2015). Within a CE framework, this population trend represents great opportunities to generate high-quality and inclusive jobs, and to develop more sustainable cities and communities.

 

Moreover, a CE transition will benefit the regional economy by significantly reducing its dependence on the extractive sector and fostering more added-value economic activities such as biotechnological industries. A CE in the Americas will boost innovation and regional competitiveness, diversifying the economy and reducing reliance on non-renewable resources. Furthermore, the region will have greater opportunities to gain access to global value chains by fulfilling the circularity requirements that have started to emerge in the international markets.

 

With regard to the environment, a Circular Economy eliminates the concept of waste by promoting the recovery of materials at the end-of-use and reincorporating them into the value chains in a cost-effective way. In addition, the emission of toxic chemicals and greenhouse gasses will be eliminated, avoiding contamination of water, soil, and air. The restorative nature of a Circular Economy will allow better resource stewardship and will stop the constant loss of biodiversity in the Americas.

 

Due to these sustainability challenges and the relevance of a CE for the continent, some American nations such as the United States and Brazil have already taken concrete actions towards a CE by analyzing the opportunities under this new paradigm and engaging corporates interested in embracing a CE. Moreover, the Organization of the American States developed the Closed Loop Cycle Production in the Americas Program to showcase the viability of a CE in the industrial sector with a focus on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, and Trinidad & Tobago. Together, these efforts mark the beginning of a new journey towards sustainability based on CE principles, which will significantly contribute to making the global economy circular.

 

How to enable a large-scale transition towards Circular Economy in the Americas

 

We believe that a full transition towards a Circular Economy in the Americas will only be possible through an objective evaluation of the opportunities and challenges of this transition and through strong alliances of cooperation and collaboration. This context is the core reason the Americas Sustainable Development Foundation (ASDF) decided to launch the Circular Economy Platform of the Americas (CEP-Americas). CEP-Americas is a convening platform to enable, expand, and scale-up Circular Economy in the Western Hemisphere and to facilitate the creation of a regional strategy towards sustainable development based on CE principles.

 

CEP-Americas’ role in the transition towards a CE goes beyond serving as capacity building agents. This platform is committed to carefully understanding the local needs and circumstances to identify and deploy the most suitable circular opportunities. In addition, acknowledging the fact that most of the American continent is not as locked into the linear economy as other developed regions in the world are, this initiative looks at engaging existing circular businesses to support a CE transition. The desired Circular Economy appropriation is generated by creating awareness and demonstrating feasibility among different sectors in the Americas. Accordingly, in order to facilitate a transition toward CE in the Americas it is necessary to link people, businesses, governments, academia, ideas, strategies, and actions across the continent on this topic.

 

CEP-Americas works closely with different international partners, including McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry – MBDC, Cradle to Cradle® Products Innovation Institute (C2C-PII) and Cradle to Cradle® Expo Lab. In pursuit of its goal of expanding a CE across the continent, the Circular Economy Platform has undertaken programs such as the Circular Islands Economies program; connecting different key organizations in order to foster a circular economic transition in the Caribbean.

 

The overwhelmingly positive signs in the continent towards a Circular Economy inspire ASDF to continue expanding the impact of CEP-Americas. At this crucial moment, there is an urgency to make Circular Economic thinking mainstream by educating a larger number of people and spurring new initiatives, projects, and actions to achieve sustainable development. Key regional political, financial and technical assistance institutions have a central role to play in bringing nations together and facilitating dialogue within and among countries. To successfully make Circular Economic thinking mainstream, the involvement of these institutions, to stimulate concerted efforts in addressing existing barriers to circular economic development, is important. 

 

To conclude, ASDF, as a member of the United Nations Sustainable Development Network, through the Circular Economy Platform of the Americas (CEP-Americas) is committed to linking individuals and organizations with similar ideas in order to move towards a Circular Economy in the American continent, achieve Sustainable Development Goals and to contribute in making the global economy circular. ASDF will keenly continue its efforts to engage more and more people to become change agents to help translate the CE intro practical results across the Americas.

 

If you want to join this effort and become a change agent by contributing with research, fund raising, or other ways of assistance, please contact info@cep-americas.com.

 

 

[1] Kevin de Cuba is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Americas Sustainable Development Foundation (ASDF). Over the past 9 years, he has specialized in the topics of Cradle-to-Cradle® and Circular Economy and has been a pioneer in creating awareness, capacity building and triggering action in Latin America and the Caribbean regarding these topics. Mr. de Cuba has a bachelor degree in Environmental Technology Engineering, with specialization in Waste Management, obtained from the Technical University of VanHall-Larenstein (VHL) and has an MSc. Degree in Sustainable Development, with specialization in Energy and Materials, from the Copernicus Institute at the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands.

 

[1] Lorena García is a Project Manager at the Americas Sustainable Development Foundation. She holds a bachelor degree in Chemical Engineering and a Master's degree in Innovation and Technology Management from the University of Bath (UK). During her Master's, she performed research on the Circular Economy (CE) tailored to emerging countries, analyzing the opportunities and challenges to transition towards a CE in low and middle income countries in the American continent.

 

[1] The Americas Sustainable Development Foundation (ASDF) is an independent advisory foundation focused on linking people, ideas, and action to achieve sustainable development across the American continent. See for more information: www.sustainableamericas.com

 

 

© Copyright 2017 Americas Sustainable Development Foundation (ASDF). All Rights Reserved

 

 

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The Circular Economy Platform was founded in 2016 by the Americas Sustainable Development Foundation (ASDF) as part of its broader ambition to facilitating the transition toward Circular Economy in the Americas.

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