Estimated reading time 3 min

Revolution and the WCEF

How revolutionary are the circular economy advocates?


Vesa-Matti Lahti

Senior Lead, Foresight and Strategy


In 1917, Lenin decided to leave Switzerland for St Petersburg to make a revolution. He and his entourage made the journey by train, of course. The special route started in Zurich and went via Frankfurt, Berlin, Sassnitz, Malmö, Stockholm, Tornio, Tampere and Riihimäki (an interesting series of articles about Lenin’s journey was published in Helsingin Sanomat). When Lenin arrived at Finland Station in St Petersburg, fanfares were played (although they annoyed him), and Lenin made an impassioned speech to a large crowd from the top of an armoured car. The rest is history.

The good or bad of Lenin’s revolution is not the subject of this story. Instead, I will take up the ideas of revolution and train travel.

For in the context of the circular economy, societies need to change so much that it could be called a revolution. At present, only about nine per cent of all the raw materials we use are recycled. The rest, the absolute majority, ends up as waste and emissions. To prevent this from happening, we need a revolution that will change almost everything – not just the way we produce, but the way we live, including the way we travel.

It is a pity that the WCEF conference, which focuses on sustainability and the circular economy, indirectly generates huge emissions. If even half of the conference’s delegates arrive by air, the amount of emissions they produce is staggering. And while the organisers conscience-soothingly offset the emissions of the speakers’ flights and encourage participants to do the same, it does not make the event as sustainable as it should be in this world.

At least a few years ago, the start-up event Slush brought its participants to Finland on charter flights, but now that the climate crisis is getting worse, this kind of flying is hopelessly obsolete. The WCEF folks could be a more progressive revolutionary vanguard – if not this time, then at least the next time the event is in Finland – and arrange a special train service from Central Europe. If Lenin and his entourage could travel for eight days to make a revolution, surely with today’s equipment even the circular economy revolutionaries would only need a few days’ travel.

Having recently travelled both ways between Zurich and Helsinki by train (ok, Stockholm to Turku by ferry), I can say from experience that the journey is easy and the trains are comfortable and fast. Trains also give you time to read and think more thoroughly than usual, which can’t be bad for those who believe in a circular economy.

A special WCEF train could stop in big cities where circular economy events could be organised, a kind of mini-WCEF. The train could also organise travel debates and other WCEF side events. This would free up travel time.

In fact, already this year the WCEF is attracting participants from abroad who will take the scenic route. A few Britons have at least tentatively indicated that they will come by train, stopping in a couple of cities along the way to organise a WCEF side event to discuss circular economy issues. They are the revolutionary vanguard that will lead the way for future mainstream policies!

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