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A Circular Society:
The Solutions Exist – We Just Need Courage

19. Apr 2022

Where are Denmark’s obvious opportunities and potential pitfalls in our transition to a circular economy? Program Director Julie Hjort checks in with C40, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and Metabolic to get an international perspective on our national challenge

Long reads

We at DDC are in the midst of taking the first step of realizing our mission to create an irresistible circular society by 2030. That’s happening with the launch of our initiative 30 for 2030 on April 28, 2022. Leading up to the launch of 30 for 2030, we’ve spent hours on research, dialogue, and reflection on how Denmark, as a tiny pawn in an extensive global system, can best pay its contribution to this all-pervading societal challenge. 

We knew from the start that we needed an external view from international thinkers who are not tangled up in how things are done here in Denmark and, therefore, might have a more precise and impartial take on where to put our weight. Also, with a design-driven approach to creating missions, it is key to our way of working that we constantly include the perspectives of essential people and organizations as we shape and define our mission.

Who we spoke to

This piece is a brief extract of three thought-provoking conversations with four inspiring women working in the sphere of sustainable transition and innovation:

First, we must acknowledge that Denmark is a tiny country with a small population and limited local production. Our actual impact on a global scale is debatable. And while we are internationally acknowledged for our ambitious climate policy, the average Dane consumes almost 70% more than the average world citizen, according to the Global Resource Footprint of Nations. We cannot pretend that we are already there.

It is utopian to imagine that we can solve all problems at once, so where should we focus, and how can Denmark be at the forefront of the global circular transition?

"Addressing the consumption-based emissions will be the biggest challenge in the work that you do"

Amelia Kuch

Policy Insights Manager, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

An infrastructure for innovation

In all of our conversations, there has been a consistent focus on how Denmark has a unique infrastructure for innovation: “Denmark has a very good setup to test, try and innovate. There is a culture and a long history of innovation. It is part of a mindset that we do not see in many other countries. This doesn’t exist in just any place and shouldn’t be taken for granted,” says Anna Queralt Fuentes, Engagement Manager, Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Julia Lipton, born and raised in Australia, but currently based in Copenhagen, highlights how “Denmark has the structure of a collective society.” The Danish co-operative movement, our high level of trust and transparency, highly educated citizens, and our welfare state economy are all elements that stimulate collaboration across sectors and disciplines, which make up the base for the development of new ideas and solutions.

Denmark is already an essential player in exporting waste, technology, and energy solutions. In our effort to accelerate the transition in Denmark, we must parallelly work to apply the same approaches outside our borders.

"Denmark is small, but it is very influential. It has huge corporate influences around the world"

Amelia Kuch

Policy Insights Manager, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

A mindset change

So, if Denmark was to act as an innovator of circular solutions – locally and globally – what should be our take on this task? What role should businesses, policymakers, and citizens play in this innovation climate?

To this question, Amelia Kuch had a notable reply: “Most of the solutions that we need are already in place, but they require a lot of risk-taking and courage to do things really differently. And that can be uncomfortable and scary.”

This resonates with me, and our work at DDC. Courage is a defining characteristic of many of the leaders we see taking the first steps into the transition. But it is a lot of weight to put on the individual shoulder. So, how do we create a climate that makes it easier for more people to be courageous? We need to think creatively about how we can mitigate risk for the individual business person, policymaker, or consumer. And we need to create an environment of collaboration and trust that can encourage more actors to take risks and try out new solutions. 

There are several ways to do this. Frenzi Ritter gave a very tangible example of how to mitigate economic risk. She has seen examples of impact-driven investors who are starting to bundle investments across partners in a value chain instead of investing solely in individual companies. That relieves the pressure on the respective company. It is similar to what we have experienced with the co-operative movement in Denmark, where collaborative models have minimized the expenses for individual farmers and workers.

Broadening the scope of the circular transition

In my recent article on our circular 30 by 2030 mission at DDC, I shared how the current national debate on the circular economy is largely dominated by a technocratic focus on technology and industry innovation. While these are crucial aspects of the circular economy, all of the conversations we’ve had here at DDC, stress that we need to think more broadly about circularity if we genuinely want to design an irresistible circular society that speaks to the majority of its citizens.

As Julia Lipton puts it: 

"There needs to be an awareness-raising exercise and a rebranding to understand why the circular economy has value to people, our lifestyles, and the economy"

Julia Lipton

Director of Climate Action Planning and Innovation, C40 Cities

And Lipton underlines how Denmark, with its design DNA and architectural approach, has “a culture of wanting to make things better.”

At Metabolic, Frenzi Ritter stresses that “we think about circularity in a broader context: including social values, how cities build, green spaces, nature by diversity. We never really see circularity only from what a circular business model or a circular industry looks like.”

In other words, the social aspects need to be deeply interwoven in our attempts to build a more circular society. Managing the transition to a circular economy in Denmark is about reframing our common purpose and designing circular solutions, not as something different and distant from the life we live now, but as “a new normal,” as Julia Lipton puts it.

Mission launch on April 28

I want to thank Julia, Amelia, Anna, and Frenzi for taking the time to open our eyes to the opportunities and challenges that we face in Denmark in our transition to a circular society. These insightful conversations have given us an excellent foundation as we involve 30 Danish partners in qualifying a mission for a circular economy in Denmark. We are going to launch the mission at the LOOP Waste to Resources conference on April 28 at Lokomotivværkstedet in Copenhagen. Hopefully, this will be the starting point for new dialogues, collaborations, and investments in a circular society that is clear, compelling, and even irresistible.

Julie Hjort

Director of Sustainable Transition

Phone +45 2575 8933
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