Circular Economy in the Americas: Insights from the first Circular Economy Forum of the Americas
In Europe, it is common to find forums focused on Circular Economy in countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, England, Finland or Denmark. However, in our continent the first international Circular Economy Forum just took place last year in November 29 and 30 in Medellin, Colombia and I had the opportunity to participate as speaker.
This event was the Circular Economy Forum of the Americas (CEFA2017) and its focus was to start the discussion around the Circular Economy and the benefits for our region. CEFA2017 counted with the presence of the main representatives of the continent as well as some of the most renowned experts in the field worldwide.
During this two-days conference, I could notice the contrasts between Colombia and Mexico, while in the former local governments start to claim publicly that a Circular Economy serves as a solution to current cities challenges such as mobility, pollution, waste management and job generation. In the latter, it could be said that the Circular Economy is still in a very early stage and more awareness raising is needed to start embracing its principles. This contrast and CEFA2017 was of great motivation for me.
The Forum was focused on discussing around the needs, challenges and opportunities to promote and make the transition from a linear to a circular economy. There were dialogues about the differences between our countries in terms of implementation, but above all, there was a need to establish a single and clear definition of what is circular economy, to ensure that it is implemented as it should be and not as everyone understands it. I would like to deepen this point.
At academia and companies work is being done in isolation and this should change.
On the one hand, universities are creating knowledge and answering research questions about the barriers to successfully implementing a circular economy, and proposing systemic solutions as a response to transitioning from the current linear economic model towards a circular economy. On the other hand, it seems that companies do not have the same interest, they only want to use superficially the term and find ways to achieve savings in their supply chain or using more efficiently their resources, but they continue to work with the same economic system, making minor changes and not a systemic change that lasts and above all, meets the objectives and ideals of the circular economy: "to accomplish sustainable development, which implies creating environmental quality, economic prosperity and social equity, to the benefit of current and future generations.”(Kirchherr et al 2017).
Therefore, there is a big responsibility for us who dedicate to raise awareness, designing, proposing and implementing the concept of circular economy, of keeping in mind the importance of joining academia, businesses, consumers and governments for making a systemic change. The danger of not doing so is that the concept loses its strength and with it an invaluable opportunity to face the main economic, social and environmental problems of our time.
My participation in CEFA2017 was particularly focused on answering how to raise circular economy among students. My presentation gave direct recommendations to future professionals, such as the importance of being inspired, bringing knowledge to practice, learning to do circular business cases, generating the right tools and developing an implementation plan.
Moreover, for the Latin American universities the main recommendation is to include in current curricula the teaching of the circular economy system and circular design across multiple disciplines (for example, economics, finance, architecture, design, administration), until today, with some exceptions, this offer does not exist.
Finally, CEFA2017 was also highly relevant for networking. Most of the professionals involved in the circular economy transition in our countries met in person and exchanged learnings, ideas and discuss potential collaboration opportunities.
CEFA will take place yearly, the next version, CEFA2018, will be in Santiago, Chile hosted by one of the main advocates of circular economy in Latin America: Petar Ostojic. He is the CEO of Neptuno Pumps, a company specialized in the manufacture of circular equipment for pumping water.
We hope that for CEFA2018, each region reflects progress in governments, companies and universities, with concrete and successful examples. Having as a challenge our level of innovation to overcome obstacles in the current system and tolerance to continue the path of circular economy without giving up at the first or the first 100 attempts.
Starting this year, each of us should reflect on our responsibility on the three areas that concern us, the economic, social and environmental. It has already started with CEFA2017, now let’s continue advancing year after year.
For more information about CEFA2017 please visit www.cefa2017.com
[i] Ricardo Weigend is a Circular Economy pioneer in México, introducing and implementing the concept of Circular Economy in his country. He works as the Circular Economy Business Developer of ECOR in México, providing commercially viable, turnkey, closed-loop enterprise solutions for private and public entities with ECOR alloys, which convert waste fiber into high value building, merchandising and packaging materials.
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