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Advice to the Government:
Let your Imagination Run Wild

09. Jan 2023

Science has told us what to change. Our imagination must tell us where to go. Therefore, the government should create a new national strategy for a circular economy with creativity and visions, not just reduction targets

Long reads

By Ditte Lysgaard Vind, Founder, The Circular Way
Sune Dowler Nygaard, Executive Vice President, Technological Institute
Julie Hjort, Director of Sustainable Transition, DDC – Dansk Design Center

When was the last time you used your imagination in your work? Or to achieve a goal for humanity? As a species, we are facing a fundamental civilizational crisis. Many companies, organizations, and individuals know that they must change their behavior if they want to leave a good climate, clean and drinkable water, and flourishing biodiversity to their children.

Many goals have been set, and many are constantly developing tools to achieve them. But the government can only be ambitious on behalf of the climate with a serious strategy for a circular economy. It is not enough to focus on recycling and waste sorting – subjects that have characterized the debate on the circular economy so far.

As a country, we will only reach our ambitious and binding climate law to reduce our CO2 footprint by 70 percent by 2030 and achieve CO2 neutrality by 2045 if we produce and use our resources circularly.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, we achieve only 55 percent of our climate goals with energy efficiency and conversion to renewable energy. The remaining 45 percent must be obtained by restructuring our production and consumption.

We have three decisive elements that the new government must include in Denmark’s upcoming national strategy for a circular economy in 2023.

Shared vision

A national circular strategy must set a common binding direction for circular transformation in Denmark. It is urgent to establish a tangible goal for the circular transition in 2030 and 2050, which we see, for example, in the Netherlands, and on a European level. And more than reduction targets is required.

A circular strategy must help the Danes to imagine what kind of society we should all be moving towards. We must dare to imagine a living, circular society where people and the planet thrive. A society rich in innovation, where green food tastes fantastic, where it is easy to reuse and recycle products, and where circular materials are the obvious choice. We must articulate all we get and give to each other, our planet, wildlife, and posterity as we create our irresistible society. If we don’t do it together and across sectors, systems, and layers of society, it will be challenging to make the change.

We need a visionary strategy for a circular economy. One that does not simply follow the upcoming European legal requirements and directives and focuses on reduction targets and increased recycling, as the existing strategy does. The government must show Danish companies, organizations, and citizens the many opportunities, competitive advantages, and potential for a better society that a circular strategy can entail if we seriously rethink how we design and create products.

Systemic change

The changeover to a circular economy requires that we take a circular look at our materials, resources, and products. We must carefully consider how waste can be eliminated entirely and how materials’ lifetime can be extended as much as possible.

Circularity intervenes in many parts of society and calls for fundamental systemic changes. It requires, for example, that we develop and use sustainable materials and that companies develop business models with financial incentives to extend the life cycle of materials.

But circular products also intervene in the lives of consumers and citizens – for example, they must be helped to maintain and recycle products much more. And circularity challenges the public infrastructure necessary for collecting and recycling materials. Therefore, a circular strategy requires close cooperation across many sectors and disciplines and must not be limited to one isolated industry or department.

Because it is impossible to be a circular company or organization in a linear industry. A vital prerequisite for succeeding with systemic changes is that companies and public organizations dare to experiment and collaborate in new ways across supply chains and ecosystems. They have to try their hand and test new processes and joint solutions.

A safe framework must be created and more funds set aside for experiments. The government must consider exemptions from relevant regulations that give companies and municipalities more freedom.

Look beyond the technology

In many ways, technology is one of man’s greatest hopes in the sustainable and circular transition. Through technological innovation, we can develop new products and tools that redefine the way we use the earth’s resources.

But technology is not the solution to the circular challenges – it is a means of achieving change. A wind turbine, for example, is only a partial solution to the climate crisis. It is a tool for changing the way we use energy. We are fooling ourselves if we think we only have to find a certain number of solutions and then can sit back. We don’t just have to find solutions but choose and teach ourselves fundamental and lasting changes with the help of the tools we develop.

The transition occurs in the meeting between people, design, and technology. We succeed in those situations where people embrace the technology – because it is either relevant, accessible, efficient, resource- and financial-saving, or even beautiful.

We have achieved a strong international brand in Denmark based on our unique design tradition. We are known for designing products and solutions with high quality, long durability, simplicity, and understanding of the user’s needs. A national strategy for a circular economy in Denmark must therefore invest both in technological competencies and in the humanistic, creative, cultural, and design competencies necessary for people and consumers to dare and want to do something they have not done before. Because it is through the interaction between design, technology, and the understanding of people’s needs that we create the future.

We look forward to seeing the government’s national strategy for the circular economy. And while we wait for the politicians, we continue experimenting and changing the behavior that has created our fundamental civilization crisis. The need for change is acute.

The op-ed was first published in the Danish newspaper Information on January 9, 2023. Read the piece in Danish here.

Julie Hjort

Director of Sustainable Transition

Phone +45 2575 8933
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