Main take-aways from discussing Innovation and Circular Economy at GIS 2022

In late June, the Global Innovation Summit (GIS 2022) brought together political leaders, researchers, companies, and other innovators from all over to discuss a sustainable future. In total, the summit had companies visiting from 90 countries, around 150 speakers sharing insights, and over 1700 registering for sessions. Besides networking, Luisa Marques, Innovation Consultant at Innovayt, participated in a session about Ending the Waste Age, discussing innovation and its contribution for the transition to a Circular Economy with Lindsey Wuisan, Founder and Policy Officer at Circular Economy Portugal. Below, Luisa lists some main take-aways and discussion points.

What is and how do we achieve Circular Economy?

Circular Economy is an important key to achieve a sustainable development. In more detail and quoting Lindsay Wuisan: “A circular economy is a regenerative system in which resource extraction is minimised, waste and pollution are prevented through circular design of products, business models and systems, maintaining and recovering value”. A circular economy represents a paradigm shift. 

According to Wuisan, to effectively transition to a more circular economy, we need to combine several important aspects and elements, namely, design innovation, business innovation, social innovation, technological innovation, systems innovation, and an adequate policy framework regulating and promoting change.

Do investors and funding programmes put too much focus on deep tech, rather than social or systems innovation?

Circular Economy solutions are disruptive versus linear solutions, whether they are deep tech or not. The solutions are disrupting the status quo of take-make-waste. Because of this, they are often too risky or do not hold enough scale-up potential for investors, as solutions tend to be more local to deliver the environmental benefits, while at the same time not ‘innovative’ enough for funding instruments.

Nonetheless, funding opportunities exist from certain top-down challenges under Horizon Europe, for projects still in Research phases, or project implementation under Life programme with dedicated calls.

Additionally, circularity principles should be taken into consideration in any project’s compliance under the do no significant harm principle in relation to production, use, and end of life of products and services. However, projects are considered to do harm if they generate more waste or use more natural resources than typical standards in similar economic activities sectors. Not do less, just not do more.

Well, this is not driving a transition, this is maintaining the status quo.

The European Commission is not particularly keen on funding clean energy technology that does not consider the recovery and recycling of critical raw materials, but some of those technologies are still in development. At the same time, it is feasible to apply eco-design principles to, for example, medical devices or to offer them as a service.

Digital technologies, for instance, are an enabler that can speed up transition, however this, in itself, is not enough to drive systematic change – and we do see projects, such as waste exchange platforms, struggling to succeed.

What is the role of SMEs versus incumbents in the transition?

At Innovayt, we often work with SMEs and start-ups, which are the ones most committed to exploring disruptive circular solutions. Whilst there is an attractive business opportunity in the green transition, the reality is that uptake by established businesses has been slow. One reason for this is that circular innovations are disruptive to the profitable linear businesses they have running. But, at the same time, there is a risk in staying put. Obviously, considering the amount of waste that these big companies are responsible for, there is an important environmental impact that needs to be unlocked.

In the last couple of years, however, we have seen also larger brands make more efforts applying eco-design principles as well as other circular strategies, such as repairing and reusing products and product-as-a-service. Known examples are Decathlon, the French sport retailer; IKEA, the Swedish furniture manufacturer; and Philips, the Dutch health technology company, who have been offering their ‘lighting-as-a-service’ model. Although the mentioned companies have not yet transitioned a large proportion of their business, these are positive signs. Notably, there are specific funding opportunities for companies of all sizes to implement strategies such as these under Life, Circular Economy & Quality of Life sub-programme.

GIS 2022 was held in Estoril (Portugal) and organised by the Eureka Network and the Portuguese Eureka Chairmanship. Read more take-aways from the event here.

Do not think twice to contact us if you have any questions, or if you have an innovative idea related to Circular Economy but unsure about how to fund and realise it.

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