Recently, the Circular Economy (CE) has gained traction all over the world, and we recognize the urgency of developing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted in September 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly, in order to achieve the sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For that reason, this article answers the question: to what extend can we contribute to achieve the 17 SDGs and their ambitious targets by implementing circular practices in the Americas?
To start with, it is important to have in mind what the Circular Economy is and the relationship between CE and sustainability. As the Ellen MacArthur Foundation states, the Circular economy is "... a new way to design, make and use things within planetary boundaries"[ii]. This definition establishes that our planet’s resources are finite, thus a CE creates goods that are restorative and regenerative by design.
The Circular Economy has its roots in different sustainability schools of thought such as Industrial Ecology (some practices includes eco-industrial parks, cleaner production and closed-loop production among others), Regenerative Design (from here emerges the regenerative nature proposed by the CE), Biomimicry (which is inspired by nature to create products for a CE), Natural Capitalism (which establishes that "sustainability is a good business"), Cradle to Cradle Design (one of the schools with the greatest influence on the current CE model), Blue Economy, and Performance Economy (where humans have an important role to play). To understand the influence of each of these schools of thought, we suggest reading our article: "What is the Circular economy?"
By recognizing the interrelation between CE and sustainability, we can now analyse how by taking actions aligned to Circular Economy principles we can contribute to achieve different SDGs.
Which Sustainable Development Goals relate to Circular Economy?
Schroeder et al. 2018 analyzed the importance of Circular Economy practices in achieving Sustainable Development Goals. This study states that Circular Economy practices and principles are transversal to different SDGs and are necessary to achieve many of their targets. CE practices contribute directly to achieving 21 SDGs’ targets and indirectly 28 SDGs’ targets.[iii]
The strongest relationship is with SDG6 (Clean water and sanitation), SDG7 (Affordable and clean energy), SDG8 (Decent work and economic growth), SDG12 (Responsible consumption and production) and SDG15 (Life on land). In addition, circular practices offer potential to create synergies between different SDGs, for example, those that promote economic growth and jobs generation: SDG8 (Decent Work and economic growth), SDG1 (No poverty), SDG2 (Zero hunger), and those promoting biodiversity protection on oceans and land (SDG14 and 15)
How can we achieve SDGs through Circular Economy practices in the Americas?
As we know, most countries in the Americas have specific conditions such as a large informal sector working on recycling, low investment in infrastructure and innovation, and socioeconomic conditions that in some cases represent sustainable development challenges. For this reason, it is important to analyze, how the Circular Economy can contribute to the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs achievement.
During my master's thesis, I developed a systemic approach that concluded which actions would make possible the transition towards a Circular Economy in different countries of the Americas. Based on this analysis, this article shows how these actions will contribute to achieving the SDGs in the region. For reference, please see Figure 1.
According to this diagram, the actions proposed to enable a Circular Economy in the Americas are directly linked to the SDG4 (Quality education), SDG8 (Decent work and economic growth), SDG9 (Industry, innovation and Infrastructure), SDG10 (Reduced inequalities), SDG12 ( Responsible consumption and production) and SDG17 (Partnerships for the goals). Moreover, there is an indirect impact on SDG3(Good health and well-being).
From this analysis, it is possible to observe that there is a large contribution to SDG 12 by acting through political coherence and a sustainable fiscal framework which encourages natural capital preservation supporting directly the achievement of target 12.11(Rationalize inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies). Besides, there are two specific targets that would be enabled by interventions in political coherence including 10.4 which highlights equality by adopting laissez-faire fiscal and wage policies and 17.14 which emphasises the importance of policy coherence for sustainable development
In addition, there are some actions related to waste management (recovery of materials) and innovation which can positively impact SDG12 by ensuring safe materials streams, creating value-adding and profitable business to recover materials at the end-of-use and, by fostering innovation capacity among the industrial sector to promote the adoption of design-led approaches to production. Thus, these interventions would support targets 12.3(reduce food waste), 12.4 (achieve waste and chemicals management through their lifecycle), 12.5 (Reduce waste generation) and 12.6 (encourage companies to adopt sustainable practices).
Moreover, SDG9 is also largely impacted by upgrading digital infrastructure and its appropriation among the SMEs sector, by creating value-adding and sustainable business models, and by fostering innovation and capacity building in small and medium-sized companies. The accomplished targets with these interventions would include 9.3(access to financial services for small scale enterprises), 9.5 (enhance technological capabilities of industrial sectors), 9.7(support technology development and R&D in developing countries) and 9.8 (increase access to ICTs).
Figure 1. Relations Diagram between CE practices and SDGs in the Americas
Finally, the alignment of the proposed actions with SDG8 and SDG4 is also relevant. In this way, the development of activities such as repair and remanufacturing at the level of materials recovery would support the achievement of target 8.2 (achieve economic productivity, diversification with a focus on high value added and labour-intensive sectors). As suggested, these activities must be safe and rewarding and must give better opportunities to the informal sector, being a lever to achieve target 8.3(promote policies that support decent job creation, and encourage the formalization and growth of SMEs) and target 8.8 (protect labour rights and promote safe working environments). Regarding SDG4, target 4.7 can be met by rising awareness and educating the new generations with a different mind-set framed within CE principles.
To conclude, Circular Economy is directly related to the Sustainable Development Goals in the Americas, and CE principles should be pillars to take action to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to not only meet the commitments that we have as a region, but to take care of our planet and being able to improve our people’s lifestyles.
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Claudia Lorena García is an independent consultant in innovation and circular economy and currently leads some projects under the Circular Economies Program of the Americas Sustainable Development Foundation (ASDF). She is a chemical engineer and holds a master's degree in innovation management from the University of Bath, UK. Her master's thesis analyzed the challenges and opportunities for a Circular Economy transition in low-and middle-income countries in the Americas
[iii] Schroeder et al. 2018, “The Relevance of Circular Economy Practices to the Sustainable Development Goals” Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jiec.12732 [Accessed: May 15, 2019]