The first point that I want to point out when discussing the circular economy is that it is about much more than just recycling. There is potential for almost everything to be reused, re-made or up-cycled, but as a society we have barely taken the lid off the tin when its comes to unlocking the full potential.
It is a topic that has been on the minds of business and cities for over 5 years now, but there are not so many cities that are doing much about it. They see that there is potential to make a big difference to the sustainability of the local economy, but they are not so sure how it can be delivered.
The the third of our exclusive interviews in the build up to Nordic Smart Cities in Stockholm next month I caught up with Pikko Melville from Jyväsklylä Municipality in Finland. Pirkko is Research & Development Manager at Jyväskylä and has been working on their resource wisdom and circular economy initiatives for the past 5 years.
Hi Pirkko, great to speak to you today, can you give us some background to circular economy in Jyväskylä, how long have you been working with it? Is it part of your overall city strategy?
We have been actively working with the phenomena called Resource Wisdom, including circular economy and carbon neutrality, for almost five years now. The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra raised our interest in the area, together with Sitra and our local experts we co-created an operating model for our region to create sustainable well-being based on carbon neutrality and utilising the circular economy. Since then our city and in fact the whole region has worked systematically towards our big, partly almost idealistic goals of zero waste, zero emissions and no over-consumption. We have a joint road-map which has set out some very clear aims – it is this that we are using to lead our journey towards the future.
Nowadays Resource Wisdom is integrated in many ways into the daily life of our residents and also into the city management. It is one of the three main themes of our city strategy which makes sure that economic resources are allocated yearly to different projects that increase carbon neutrality or circular economy.
Do you have any Circular Economy projects that have been completed?
This year we are very proud to introduce you our new biogas plant which produces biogas from household waste. The biogas is mainly used in transportation, we are therefore focusing on promoting this within the city, the aim is to educate residents and businesses and to increase the use of biofuels in vehicles. This type of initiative has a win on both sides because we are re-using the household waste and then reducing CO2 emission from vehicles.
How are you working with local business to try to encourage the Circular Economy?
The city corporation owns at least a percentage of many different local companies, for example: Jyväskylä Energy Ltd, a regional waste management company (Mustankorkea Ltd), a property maintenance company (Total Ltd) and a food service company (Kylän Kattaus Ltd). With these companies cooperation is quite easy. The city gives directions and has a say in the way that they operate their businesses. In practice, we meet regularly with the CEO’s and try to find the most resource wise ways for them to operate their business in a sustainable and of course, profitable way.
Our great challenge is how to have the same effect on the other companies in the region. To be honest, most of them still operate like they have done for decades. However, several of them have started to try to operate in more sustainable and more efficient way. Energy efficiency, waste separation and recycling are already a part of their daily business – they can clearly see the advantages of these initiatives, not only from ecological, but also from social and economic point of view. The city cannot force or attempt to control external businesses, but it only can act as a forerunner, for example: by using biogas in transportation we hope to be an inspiration for them to follow.
In practice, of course, we arrange many kind of public events for companies, information and training for those interested in these issues. Little by little, step by step, more and more companies will join us and start to cooperate.
Do citizens really understand Circular Economy? If not, what are you doing to try to improve understanding of how they can help?
I suppose most of our citizens understand somehow what the circular economy means. I am sure that most of them see it as synonym to circulation or recycling, which is, as we all know, only partly true. Waste separation and for instance bottle recycling has been very familiar to us Finns for years. Also issues like flea markets are certainly known by everyone. However, in a larger scale circular economy is not so well understood and especially its potential to create new businesses and new business models.
We try our best to increase the understanding by showing concrete examples that are easy for everybody to understand. Biogas is maybe the clearest of them, we try to educate the citizens about the project, how it can be used in vehicles and also how the left overs can be used in as a natural fertiliser in gardens or allotments. By engaging them in this project we hope to educate them about what else can be done within the circular economy. Simultaneously we have a great opportunity to give extra publicity to companies that are offering quality services within this area.
Naturally, all the time we try to point clearly out that circular economy has great advantages for our regional economy, employment and our self-sufficiency. That is the key, for sure.
This gives us some great food for thought around what can be done with the circular economy and resource wisdom. Thank you for your time Pirkko and I am really looking forward to hearing more about this at Nordic Smart Cities. If you would like more information about the event then do check out the website: www.nordicsmartcities.com