Relocating to the circular economy paradise?

Maija Maanavilja
Senior Circular Economy Strategist
June 21, 2021
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“Oh wow! Lucky you! You are relocating to the circular economy paradise, Finland! The leading country of the circular economy agenda.”, This is how an acknowledged UK-based academia researcher in circular economy celebrated (with a hint of envy in her voice) when I told her I was moving to my native country during the pandemic. Was she right? Am I now in paradise 😊? Let’s not get too deep in life philosophy or self-help; let’s talk circular economy and its terminology.

Integrating into a new country is far easier when you don’t need to leave the house! We can debate about that too if you wish. Still, at least it was straight away clear that the recruitment market in Finland is full of interesting open positions for circular economy experts, and I truly enjoyed my recruitment discussions. I believed every word of integrated circular economy strategies in leading Finnish industrial corporations. Paradise indeed!

But what does paradise look like after six months of numerous discussions with leading Finnish circular economy and sustainability specialists from the private and public sector, academia, consultancies, corporate circular economy leads, vice presidents of sustainability, and private research organizations? I must say that paradise is a very complex place to live in. The level of confusion is stronger than I would have ever expected when following the advanced Nordic circular economy discussion from abroad. Trouble in paradise? Yes and no. Luckily the comedy from 1932 already exists 😉.

I’ve been excited to see that it is true how high circular economy is on the Government’s agenda in Finland, how green recovery is the leading concept in this extraordinary time, how much change has already happened, and how my colleagues in sustainability roles, in research and corporations, are relentlessly pushing for circular solutions. Still, the confusion - that trouble in paradise, is evidently there in change management, and it seems to come largely from terminology and jargon.

Here is a statement from the Vice President of Sustainability in a global industrial company: “Our sustainability team just managed to get the climate targets integrated to the corporate strategy. We cannot start pushing anew thing like circular economy straight after”. Such statements make it obvious that the executive level of corporations is not as knowledgeable about the terms and methods to reach the climate targets as perhaps they should be. Sustainability teams know what they are talking about, but how do we educate decision-makers?

Circular economy, bio economy, climate targets, carbon footprint, carbon handprint, carbon-neutrality, cascading use principle, green economy... The list of expert terminology goes on and creates confusion even in the Nordic circular economy paradise.

We need to enhance the knowledge level of executive board members, higher management, and public sector decision-makers to ensure they understand the terminology, change levers, business opportunities, and impact measuring in climate and sustainability topics. It is critical to avoid confusion and the potential use of cryptic coded language.

The key thing is: often, the terminology is just terminology - it doesn’t drive change. The crucial change should be that no matter the name of the action plan, it aims to address the most pressuring emergency of our time: the climate emergency - and the circular economy is well placed to help address our consumption-based emissions. However, so wisely (or confusingly 😊), we, sustainability professionals, use the expert terms and choose to frame language. We most importantly need to ensure that our audience knows what actions are required to drive change.

A systemic change requires us to take responsibility in our own domain: corporate responsibility, regulative policy change, and the steer from public opinion. The change, impact, and action can allow a circular economy paradise, not the terminology. In the meanwhile, are you ready to start shaping the definition for a “Circular Paradise Country”?

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