Putting words into action: Join forces to drive circular economy

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.com PLC.

Over 100m mobile phones are discarded in the EU every year. [Sittirak Jadlit / Shutterstock]

Is the European Commission doing enough on the circular economy? Björn-Erik Lönn and Sören Enholm explain that buyers play an important role in creating it, so we have to make sure consumers and purchasers are empowered to make sustainable choices.

Björn-Erik Lönn is chair of Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN), the organisation for independent non-profit lifecycle-based environmental certifications. Sören Enholm is CEO of TCO Development, the organisation behind the leading global sustainability certification for IT products, TCO Certified, and a member of GEN.

Each actor can influence the market and buyers specifically have the power to make a difference. It is part of everyday life and could be anything from the laptop you need for your daily work, to the coffee you drink with friends. Every choice you make in your professional and private life affects your impact on circular economy.

Given that the available natural resources are limited, the daily decisions we make impacts the footprint left behind. In this light, it is estimated that each year 50 million tons of e-waste is generated globally and over 100 million mobile phones are discarded in the EU.

We have the power to change direction with how we use our resources. The circular economy can contribute to the reduction of the natural resources needed by requiring possibilities for service and upgrading as well as using safer and recycled materials in production.

Initiatives such as phasing out dangerous chemicals in products, or prolong the lifespan of existing products by increasing quality and making it possible to exchange spare parts of a product are good examples of this. Real sustainable impact, such as this, is a choice. By putting words into action we can join forces and work towards a more sustainable future.

To address some of the environmental challenges, the European Commission has launched a Stakeholder Platform and an Action Plan on the circular economy. The benefit of the circular economy and the aim of the European Commission initiatives is amongst other things to reinvent the economy, making it more sustainable and competitive.

The Stakeholder Platform brings together influencers under three pillars. In the third pillar, the European Commission suggests national strategies and good practices as ways forward. The Action plan includes concrete policy and legislative changes, such as the revised legislative proposal on waste, contributing to a circular economy.

Bringing knowledge, best practices, information and joining stakeholders together in the Stakeholder Platform, as well as the policy and legislative initiatives provided by the Action Plan are steps in the right direction toward a circular economy.

However, an information gap between buyers and the policy makers remain. We therefore encourage the European Commission to also reach out to buyers and consumers as primary stakeholders to drive change on the market.

In a market where the buyers have the power to change, what can we do in addition to the European Commission dossier on circular economy? Information on how sustainable a product is can be confusing for buyers, and therefore to choose sustainable options is not always as easy as it seems.

There is a lot of information for buyers and consumers to consider when selecting a product. Therefore, policy and legislation should be developed to guide buyers to make more sustainable choices.

One way to help consumers and purchasers decision-making and to distinguish more sustainable products from those that leave a larger footprint is by looking at ecolabels. Ecolabels of type 1 according to ISO 14024 standard must be voluntary programmes, address multiple environmental criteria over the life cycle of a product or service, have transparent and published standards, and use independent verification.

Unlike ecolabels that are self-declared, ecolabels of type 1 provides buyers with proof that the products they buy are independently verified based on the information of the certification. Therefore, type 1 ecolabels are effective in differentiating products that are sustainable and contributes to circular economy from those that leave a larger environmental footprint.

By putting words into action and choosing more sustainable products, buyers are empowered to contribute to the wheel of circular economy and therefore are a forceful direct influence on the market.

Whether you are a purchasing organisation or a private consumer, you have the power to make real changes for a more sustainable future. By stimulating and encouraging buyers to choose more sustainable options, such as IT products or coffee, direct contributions will be made towards a circular economy.

By putting words into action, together we can drive change. By acting together we can make a real difference in creating a sustainable circular economy.