Photo: Topias Dean/Sitra

Published March 12, 2019

Citizens’ choises make the foundation of a circular economy

Vision 2025: Growing demand accelerates the supply side of circular services and solutions. The way we consume plays a key role in this transformation.

Disposable products will become more expensive than their sustainable competitors. As the awareness of the environmental impacts of different products, services and actions increases, people’s needs and their will to own everything personally will decrease. Finns will adopt more sustainable consumption habits and behaviour patterns, all with a view to staying within the limits of the earth’s carrying capacity.

The role of individuals in the implementation of the circular economy should be enhanced and making sustainable choices should be made easy and appealing. Certain signs already indicate that sustainable consumption and behaviour are on the increase. Enterprises play a major role in responding to increased demand with the provision of sustainable services and solutions. When there is more supply for making the right choices, it will become easier to make such decisions. Being able to make the right choices also requires awareness, so it is essential to increase discussion about the environmental impacts of everyday life and to inspire people to make sustainable choices. Alongside such measures, economic steering is also needed to guide enterprises to apply circular economy business models. On the other hand, this will also make sustainable alternatives more affordable compared to more harmful ones, encourage the reuse of materials and the use of repair services, and promote a sharing economy.

The circular economy offers a multitude of opportunities for implementing a sustainable way of life and reducing one’s carbon footprint.

In the future, this will become visible in the increasing use of solutions offered by digitisation in everyday matters, such as intelligent heating of apartments. People will increasingly move from owning to shared use and the acquisition of user rights, which is already visible, for example, in the field of mobility services. Products will be manufactured from recyclable and sustainably produced materials, they will remain in efficient use throughout their life cycle, they can be serviced and repaired, and, when the products reach the end of their service life, they can be efficiently recycled into new products. The need for materials can be reduced by rationalising daily consumption habits and developing markets for reuse and the shared use of products. Our eating habits will become more sustainable: we eat what we need, and the generation of waste is kept to a minimum in the food system.

In addition to personal choices, actions and consumer behaviour, it is also good to note that, from an individual’s perspective, promotion of the circular economy takes place at many levels, including teaching and education, influencing decision-making at the local and national levels, organisational activities, and actions in line with the circular economy in workplaces, schools and recreational activities. In the future, every one of us needs to learn how to act in a smart way that considers the planet, at work and in our daily lives, so circular thinking must be introduced into every level of education. Professionals in various sectors know how to integrate circularity into their own professional competence. But how can we educate future experts instead of people who merely survive in the present-day world? It is essential that such paths be identified as means of promoting the circular economy.

Enjoying the fruits of ambition

Having made a transition to a circular economy by 2025, Finland will have redefined its conception of progress. Small steps and major leaps to a carbon-neutral circular economy will have started a whole new economic game, where the profits are shared on totally different grounds to those in the era of overconsumption. In the same manner as in the old linear economy, the game will be honed in an increasingly seamless and efficient direction – only the starting points will have totally changed.

When Finland is able to fully exploit the global market potential of a carbon-neutral circular economy, the ambitious home markets will serve as a foundation upon which companies generate and use new solutions. This will attract foreign investment to Finland. Consumption habits will have changed and will now rest on a sustainable basis – no waste is produced, and business profits are no longer generated by overconsumption.

The circular economy will have created new business operations and jobs in various regional economies. Towns and cities will become important enablers of the circular economy. The local built and data infrastructure (energy, mobility, built environment, waste treatment and water management) and services will function as development platforms for market access and the scaling up of new solutions. The circular economy will lie at the core of competitiveness and vitality.

Finland will use its natural resources in a sustainable manner.

The sustainable use of natural resources, with the help of material circularity, will also have provided a solution to the prevention of biodiversity loss. Habitat loss and degradation has been a key factor in the endangerment of species and habitat types. The transition to a circular economy will have reduced the effect of this factor, owing to the diminished need to exploit virgin natural resources. The pressure for new land development will have decreased because of the greater reuse of built areas or because of the offsetting of the degradation of the living environment in one area by improvements in other areas.

The circular economy is based on the use of low-carbon energy. Sustainably produced renewable energy (such as wind and solar power and geothermal energy) will be used as source of energy to the highest extent possible. The surplus energy and side streams from the energy industry and other industries will be used as efficiently as possible in industrial symbioses. And the elasticity of demand (through the steering of electricity consumption) and energy efficiency will have been increased in the final use of energy (link in Finnish).

A good life within the limits of the earth’s carrying capacity

In 2025, the everyday life of Finnish people living within the limits of the planet’s natural resources will mean the following. The energy efficiency of housing will be increased, an increasing share of mobility will take place by means of light traffic and public transport, and an increasingly significant share of all cars will be powered by alternative fuels. Finns will eat more vegetable-based food and the amount of food waste will decrease. The use of shared-use and consumer-to-consumer services and repair services will increase. A growing number of students will have learned circular economy principles at school or as part of their education.

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