Circular economy makes Sweden more competitive

A hundred or so ongoing initiatives in Sweden have in various ways put the spotlight on resource efficiency and the circular economy. A new IVA project will create a common platform and draw relevant conclusions about choices Sweden needs to make.

The new project called Resource Effectiveness and the Circular Economy is an intensified continuation of an earlier IVA project.

“I believe that this will make the difference,” said Åke Svensson, Chairman of the Steering Committee at the project kick-off.

The project will focus on five areas: mobility, facilities, food, textiles and plastics.

Jan Nordling is one of the Project Managers.

“The goal is to identify and document all of the initiatives already under way in the country. We’re going to hold open workshops within each of the sub-projects,” he said.

The financial sector’s role and opportunities in terms of resource effectiveness and circular efficiency is one of the topics to be explored.

Minister for Financial Markets and Consumer Affairs, Per Bolund (MP), was optimistic.

“These are my policy areas. We need to convert to a circular economy. We have no choice,” he said.

The current consumption model of always buying new things that break more and more easily is no longer sustainable, according to Per.

“Eventually consumers will no longer accept this. We need to make better use of our resources.”

Per Bolund pointed to the need for more cooperation. And he’s not just talking about parts of the private sector.

“Policy-makers need to show the way. Broad agreements are needed. We also need to identify measurement tools. How, for example, is our consumption affecting the situation in other countries?”

He also said that future investments will need to be made in new business models. According to the Minister, the financial market has antiquated business models but there is a desire to take a longer-term approach. And these days if businesses want to attract investment, a sustainability perspective is essential.

“Otherwise we will get struck in old structures. Joint investment with both public and private capital can allow us to achieve things that would otherwise not be possible,” he said.

The Swedish tradition of cooperation is an opportunity to create strategies for dialogue and implementation.

“IVA can play a role in the Government’s agenda for cooperation,” he said.

But there are challenges in making the resource-effective, circular economy a global reality. Rare earth metals used in, for example, cars and other advanced products are one such challenge.

Björn Ola Linnér of Mistra Geopolitics, pointed out that theoretically there is no shortage of these, but that there are political risks associated with the producer countries.

And although there are mineable minerals here in Sweden, Penilla Gunther (KD) thinks that mining them is hard to implement.

“Who wants a mine in their backyard?” she wondered.

Anders Wijkman, Chairman of the Swedish Recycling Industries' Association, said that material waste is not just a loss of materials but also a waste of substantial economic value.

“We want an initiative that will create a second-hand market for materials. Today is if often more expensive to use recycled materials than new ones. We need to fix that. We have an economic model that worked when there were two billion people on the planet. Now we need to do things differently,” he said.

Ola Alterå, Director of the Climate Policy Council, maintained that we need a broader approach that goes beyond the climate issues. Sustainability is an important concept.

But not everyone is a winner when we improve resource effectiveness.

Björn Stigson is a senior advisor.

“When Germany decided to convert its energy sector the energy companies lost a lot of money. No one in Germany predicted that this would happen,” he said.

He also said that development in the USA is now going backwards. Instead it is China that has realised the necessity of investing big in green solutions.

The role of materials in achieving the climate goals cannot be overstated. This was the opinion of Robert Westerdahl of Material Economics.

“If we’re going to reach the climate goals, we must focus on the role of materials,” he said, adding that increasing servicification in more industries is a way forward.

“Trains and airlines have always had a business logic based on service. This should be able to work in other areas as well,” he said.

Henrik Sundström of Electrolux also emphasised the importance of materials.

“In the past the main focus was on energy use.

But now materials in refrigerators etc. are also something that Electrolux is looking carefully at. The company is also exploring the possibility of using more recycled materials.

“Materials have clearly become the next big issue. Customers benefit from more energy-effective products, but are they willing to pay more for products manufactured from recycled materials?” he wondered.