Eurada News nº404 – September 2020

How U-ECO is paving the way for more and better circular self-employment

In November 2019, the U-Eco project, an Erasmus+ KA2 Strategic Partnership with partners from Sweden, Romania, Spain, Poland and Belgium, kicked off its activities. The project focusses on the process of a transition towards a Circular Economy, by addressing the need for a specific CE training that boosts (self-)employability and meeting future labour market demands. 

U-Eco aims at bringing the Circular Economy closer to both the entrepreneurial and educational sphere. Many efforts are being carried out by the different administrations in order to promote a circular transition, especially in areas such as waste management, water reuse, food waste, building stakeholder networks, R&D+i and compliance on targets but all these efforts barely reach the entrepreneurship area. Which is crucial for this transition and for avoiding the problems we are currently facing. Furthermore, entrepreneurship programmes focused on the development of business strategies/plans are still too often being designed based on linear models. These linear models are no longer sustainable given the rapid depletion of our planet’s natural resources. There are many arguments to launch businesses in a circular context. One of the main goals of U-Eco is to make entrepreneurs aware that launching a business in a circular context is not just favourable for the environment and creates added societal value, it will also turn out to be more profitable than a linear business.

In the past year, the U-Eco consortium established a joint report with an overview of the CE landscape in the EU and the countries of the partnership. This report consists of a list of the main problems connected to a linear economy; an identification of the areas with the highest CE entrepreneurial potential (including market scope, growth rate, cost structure and profitability); a directory of barriers regarding rules and regulation; a SWOT analysis of the identified business solutions and a set of business strategies for entrepreneurship in a CE context.

While Belgium is among the top performers in terms of waste management, our research identified water and air quality as being under critical pressure. This reflects the country’s high population density, its high levels of urbanisation and the intensity of its land use, particularly in the central and northern parts of the country. The gap in CE “readiness” and implementation between Flanders and Wallonia, also illustrates the clear need for streamlining the legislation at different levels of governance.

Within the consortium, EURADA was responsible for compiling an electronic catalogue of 15 job profiles that will be demanded in the next decade to meet the circular labour demand, including a set of skills and competences connected to those profiles.

According to our research, future CE job profiles in Belgium are most likely to be situated in the fields of water treatment and reuse (e.g. manager of a water purification and reuse plant); biomass and biobased products (e.g. expert in bioengineering); innovation in plastics and secondary materials (e.g. eco-designer, product lifecycle expert); digitalization, sharing platforms and services (e.g. reverse logistics expert, circular investment expert); and construction and demolition (e.g. expert in urban mining, architect specialised in eco-construction).

These deliverables fed into the development of 12 training modules, including a toolkit for entrepreneurs. In order to reach the full scope of the Belgian target group, EURADA is developing the training material in the two main national languages, French and Dutch.

Context

According to the European Parliament, “The circular economy is a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible. In this way, the life cycle of products is extended” (European Parliament, 2018).

This is a disruptive concept and model opposed to the current one, the linear economy, where production and resources are considered to be unlimited, yet they are not and is unsustainable. Here, economic benefits are placed above all other criteria, and it follows the take-make-dispose method. Circular economy wants to find new uses and lives to products and resources/materials after they have been used, not to dispose them and keep generating waste that the planet cannot take anymore.

Entrepreneurs, big companies, regional actors and citizens need to embrace the circular economy model because of the simple reason that the earth cannot generate more resources nor take as much waste anymore. A CE model is of need for Europe and the world to preserve resources, biodiversity and the environment. This model is not only beneficial from an environmental perspective, but also very profitable with more cost-efficient opportunities and options to users.

More information

European Parliament. (2018). Circular economy: definition, importance and benefits. Available here.

Written by Roser Torres & Tessa Année, Project Officer & Manager at EURADA