The Circular Economy, or the Road to Conscious Consumption
Meet Soňa Jonášová, founder and director of the Circular Economy Institute (Institut Cirkulární Ekonomiky, INCIEN). Soňa graduated in agricultural engineering from Mendel University. Her own motto is ‘The changes we want to see around us have to begin with ourselves’. She is interested in sustainable development, food production, agriculture, ‘cradle to cradle’ systems, the circular economy, and networking in the form of placements for university students. She has been the director of INCIEN since 2015 and is actively involved in the transition from a linear to a circular economic system in the Czech Republic. Within INCIEN, she is responsible for development activities and co-operation with key interested parties in the Czech Republic and abroad. Thee main field she concentrates on within INCIEN is the closure of biological cycles and technical cycles within corporate sustainable development, an area encompassing agriculture, the development of new economies, waste management, eco-innovation, and support for local and community action with the objective of creating a healthy society and ecosystems.
According to the definition of the circular economy, it minimises waste and other losses of energy and materials. It is often contrasted with the linear economy, which is based on production using the approach ‘take, make, dispose’. Certain sceptics, however, might see it merely as a new corporate social responsibility (CSR) fad and another reason to print some more hard-to-dispose-of glossy brochures… How can you convince these sceptics?
The entire system behind this new concept takes us back to common sense, to conscious production and consumption and to a respect for the natural resources we have here on Planet Earth. We haven’t made up anything new here. Human society always used to work like this. Our population keeps increasing, while resources and our natural heritage remain the same. Furthermore, recent years have shown that we are running out of raw materials and here in Europe we are not self-sufficient in raw materials. We import phosphorus, for example, which is essential for agriculture, from Morocco and its reserves are diminishing. Phosphorus recycling is beginning to turn into a lucrative business of the future. There are no longer discussions as to whether climate change and raw material limits are real or not.
The circular economy system is not about publishing attention-grabbing reports, but about a real change in business models. There are examples of renowned companies, such as IKEA, which observes its principles. Ikea implemented the Second Life project for its furniture which secures the return of old furniture and its further resale. Thus products remain in the cycle for as long as possible and waste production is avoided. The success of this model is evidenced in the fact that following assessment of the pilot project at Zličín, Prague, the project is being extended to other stores.
You founded the Institute of Circular Economy Institute in the Czech Republic. What is your mission?
Our mission is to spread circular economy ideas across all sectors and interested parties. Besides spreading our idea, we also work in implementing its principles in practice. We co-operate with dozens of municipalities which, for example, are implementing new efficient waste management systems in order to sort as many materials as possible for further processing such that they do not become waste, but rather a value resource. We also co-operate with companies implementing circular economy principles at various levels. Some companies transfer to more sustainable resources, others process secondary raw materials, and other change their business models and implement systems of repair or collection in order to recycle as many materials as possible.
Our objective is also to take and implement examples of good practice abroad, whether in terms of know-how or technology. It is our conviction that if we can learn from the experience of others, we can save time and money.
We also co-operate with the public sector and endeavour to ensure the environment for investors and entrepreneurs is as ready as it can be. Sometimes laws and directives have to be changed to ensure materials can circulate in the environment in practice.
It’s been two years since INCIEN was founded; what specific outcomes are you most proud of?
We were very pleased by the response to our Odpad Zdrojem ( Waste as Resource) conference, which we launched in 2016 with the objective of spreading the CE concept, this time amongst local authority players. It is often a very complex topic and in particular we think the growing interest and positive response seen year-on-year shows our success. This year, we are expanding the conference to include an event of the same name but more narrowly focused in autumn which will focus on eco-innovation and the circular economy within water management. This year, our target group will also include companies. Another great success is the organisation of the PAYT Tour, which we undertook this year in collaboration with the Ministry of the Environment. The event was implemented with the objective of presenting the Action Plan for the CE objectives, as issued by the European Commission whose goals we are obliged to meet by 2030. Our target group was local authorities, and almost 700 municipality and city representatives visited our seminars. We appreciate the large number of orders and projects from companies and municipalities who seek us out themselves in order to set up co-operation.
Stories of people with a total of 33 items of clothing including shoes and accessories, and others whose annual waste fits into a jam jar are very popular. On the other hand, a lifestyle like that surely isn’t for everyone…
Ideas of minimalism, conscious consumption, zero waste and other concepts are undoubtedly commitments made individually. It is hard to implement them on a blanket basis, but it is good to discuss them as these principles arouse interest, and people then try to do ‘at least something’ and become aware of their responsibility. Little changes in everyday life have a large impact in a global context. Buying less clothes, for example, in the long term not just reduces our environmental footprint, but also helps us to slow consumption, something which may in future lead to better conditions for workers in textile factories.
How do you personally implement circular economy ideas in your life?
One interesting principle promoted by the circular economy is a transfer from ownership to leasing and the sharing economy. Owning things requires not just money, but also time. The more we have the more space and the more time we need to maintain them. I live in a rented apartment, for example, drive a lease car and since moving to Prague I’ve also hired most of my sports equipment, including skis and bikes. When I take account of the fact that I might own skis which I hardly use one week in a year with the rest of the time spent wondering where to store them, then lease works out much cheaper. And it’s the same with almost everything. And I always recycle or give away things that can’t be leased at the end of their lifecycle; this applies to IT technology and furniture. I have come to realise how much people actually need when they don’t keep up with the latest fashion trends, for example. I’ve reduced my wardrobe by a third and I’ve always got something to wear. I buy as little as possible and hire an outfit for important occasions. And when I do go shopping, I want to know what the product is, where and from what materials it has been produced and if it can be recycled. And I sort all my waste for recycling. At home and at work. I avoid single-use products and instead use multiple-use bottles, bags and food packaging. We should all implement these types of principles to such an extent that it does not restrict our daily lives. We never try to persuade people to do things; we just show people products’ complete story and discuss the global context and what they can change in their lives.
INCIEN – Institut Cirkulární Ekonomiky, z. ú. – is a non-governmental non-profit organisation promoting the circular economy within the Czech Republic. It was established in 2015 and has implemented a number of successful events and projects since then. More at www.incien.org.
By Linda Štucbartová