Great discussions at 2018 China-Sweden Forum towards Circular Economy

This is an invited article by Laura Blanco Puebla, whose Linkedin profile can be found aquí.

On the 14th and 15th of May 2018 I joined the China-Sweden Forum towards Circular Economy in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province in China. The event was hosted by China Association of Circular Economy and the Embassy of Sweden in Beijing.

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Laura Blanco Puebla at the event

I was glad to participate as it meant an opportunity to understand first-hand from the original source and get a high quality introduction to a field that, although well connected to environment, I have not explored in detail. Amongst the keynote speakers were Chief Policy experts, Professors, Deputy Directors from the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation in Sweden and the Embassy of Sweden, Directors of Environmental Companies, representatives from China Association of Circular Economy (CACE) etc. The program concluded with the visit to Nanjing Kaiyan Electronics and China’s Everbright International, examples of modern facilities operating in the fields of recycling and green power.

The Circular Economy (CE) is a mode of economic development that follows the principles of ‘Reducing resource use, Reusing and Recycling’. Although proposed many years ago it was formally accepted by the Chinese central government in 2002. As the world’s largest manufacturer China sees the worst effects of waste production and resource extraction, not to mention the consequences of pollution on human health. However China’s government has become really serious about enforcing its environmental laws and, in that line, is pushing harder towards a more sustainable economic model.

It’s not business as usual

Last year inspection crews from the environmental bureau shut down tens of thousands of polluting businesses and factories all over the country. Also, from the start of this year China banned 24 kinds of solid waste imported to the country. These are just two examples that illustrate China is already prioritizing protection over GDP.

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Chinese CE strategy is deployed at three levels:

  • Clean production enterprise-wise
  • Implementing industrial ecology in industrial zones (which also serve as demonstrators)
  • Develop eco-cities

The examples presented at the Forum in development zones and industrial parks are living examples of China’s determination and adoption of CE principles.

Opportunities to boost cooperation. Chinese and Swedish clean tech solutions

Swedish companies are known to be frontrunners in making use of sustainable solutions in their respective industries both in their operations and in their value chains.

During the company presentations and the business match-making session it was clear that there are already great ongoing projects such as the WWF & H&M’s joint effort on promoting sustainable water management (Water Stewardship). Their plan takes the whole value chain into account including specific objectives of raising awareness, increasing knowledge on water impacts, engaging internal and external stakeholders and influencing government policies.

Swedish technological breakthroughs and experience are definitely key factors in contributing to a faster adoption of CE in China.

Learning from China and with China

The two things that came to my mind after listening to the presentations were the massive scale and capacity to implement. About the former, in challenge lies opportunity and about the latter I am very confident that China will grab the bull by the horns. Their achievements with initiatives like the eco-industrial parks will be a valuable road-map, and, as has been stated by experts and also during the Forum countries along the Belt and Road where recycling is in its infancy will need senior experience and technical support. This is in line with the ambition of Chinese companies to operate at a wider global scale.

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There are also of course enormous obstacles that currently hinder a transformation to a CE such as institutional, market, organizational, behavioural and technological. CE in China also requires specific management (legislation, consumer’s behaviour, technology, cooperation with other countries, intellectual property protection, indicators for assessment, impact on prices and taxes… etc).

 

Afterthoughts

I personally enjoyed participating in the Forum and I think it was a great success. I believe we were left with more questions than answers which means they truly triggered the audience’s interest.

These past days after the Forum I have been mulling over these ideas:

  • As a strong believer in education, Universities outside China could fully benefit from the learning opportunity here. I found some initiatives already such as the one from ISIGE (http://www.isige.mines-paristech.fr/institut-superieur-ingenierie-gestion-environnement/news/envim/circular-economy-workshop). There are surely others. Those great teachers and professors out there may like to add some further ideas on this (?)… The point is I am certain CE will generate exciting careers and business opportunities and we want our younger generations to be on the loop as soon as they possibly can.
  • CE is an inevitable way to innovate and be more inclusive with the whole business ecosystem. It is potentially a great way to create value and to move from a generation of revenue created by mainly selling products to revenue created by selling improved services. At the same time the dynamics of supply chains could potentially be heavily disrupted…
  • Partnerships will be key because CE involves so many disciplines and fields and a smarter way to get there is to find and nurture the right alliances.

This post expresses my own opinions and I am not receiving compensation for it. I work full time at Höganäs AB.

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You can download Höganäs Sustainability Report here: https://lnkd.in/dU3CvqE

Acknowledgements to Ms. Ma Jinjin from China Association of Circular Economy (www.chinacace.org ), Höganäs AB (www.hoganas.com ) Communications Department for advice and diffusion, Business Sweden and Embassy of Sweden in Beijing.