Using nature’s solutions in a circular economy

A circular economy is the logical solution for a resource-constrained world, inspired by nature as a perfectly circular system. In this system, nothing is wasted, the re-use of products becomes standard practice, and sustainability is built into the fabric of society. Circular Economy, Resource Efficiency & Waste is the theme of the 2014 edition of Green Week, the biggest annual conference on European environment policy, taking place from 3-5 June in Brussels.

Green Week 2014 poster

Green infrastructure and nature based solutions play a key role in making the circular economy a reality, and these crucial linkages were the focus of a side-event organised by IUCN and Deltares at the Green Week. The aim of the session was to identify opportunities for implementing the circular economy, particularly focussing on the benefits of nature.

Luc Bas, Director of IUCN Brussels, introduced the session by highlighting the importance of using nature-based solutions to address societal and environmental challenges.

“Investing in natural solutions contributes to Europe’s resource efficiency roadmap and has a positive impact on biodiversity, society and the economy,” said Luc, highlighting the example of the world’s protected areas which store carbon and supply ecosystem services for disaster reduction, water supply, food and public health. The benefits of the Natura 2000 network of protected areas have been estimated at between €200 and €300 billion per year.

  • Key messages emanating from the session and the subsequent discussion were:• Nature, as a perfect circular system, is an important inspiration for the circular economy;
  • Green Infrastructure and nature-based solutions show how investing in nature offers multiple economic, social and environmental benefits;
  • Restoring the natural cycle and ecological functions of soil, water and nutrients are key; • New metrics need to be devised beyond GDP to measure development, capturing the value of nature; only then can we bring about genuine systemic change.
  • Society needs to slow down the rate of consumption and incentivise behaviour that eliminates waste.

Victor Beumer, Landscape Ecologist from Deltares gave an introduction to the linkages between green infrastructure and the circular economy and presented Deltares’ work on eco-dynamic design, which integrates ecological functions, such as soil and water flows in spatial design and planning.

Louise Vet, Director of the Netherlands Institute of Ecology complemented this by focusing on the entrepreneurial opportunities linked to the bio-based economy. She emphasized that ‘crises ask for innovation’ and presented the example of the NIOO building in the Netherlands which is designed according to ecological processes. “We can learn from nature and make use of 3.8 billion years of successful natural design to turn our linear economy into a circular one,” said Louise Vet.

Guido Braam, Executive Director of Circle Economy, emphasized the need for systemic change that combines ecology and economy, and gave some examples of innovative business models that are making the transition to social entrepreneurship, creating value based on the potential of the circular economy.

Finally, Jocelyn Bleriot, Head of Editorial and European Affairs of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation highlighted the role nature plays in fostering circular processes and the benefits this offers to business. He presented several examples from the business world i.e. the ford River Rouge Complex (USA) which has green roofs that cleanse 20 billion gallons of water per year, in that way contributing to storm water regulation and water filtration, and leading to substantial cost savings. Another example he presented was the Adnams Brewery Distribution Centre in the UK, whose walls are built from blocks made of lime, quarry waste and hemp, providing excellent mechanical, insulating and environmental qualities.

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