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The ESDN will feature blog entries from one ESDN Advisory Board member or member country on topics related to sustainable development, the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, and thereby offer a glimpse into the experiences, concerns, practical implementation activities, etc. of policymakers working in the field of sustainable development. We invite all readers to become more familiar with the ESDN, sustainable development, the 2030 Agenda, the SDGs, and those supporting the ESDN’s work in fostering a more sustainable future.
Recurrently mentioned as a key solution for implementing SDG 12 on sustainable consumption and production, circular economy is a forceful tool for also achieving several other SDGs, including SDG 6 on energy, SDG 8 on economic growth, SDG 11 on sustainable cities, SDG 13 on climate change, SDG 14 on oceans, and SDG 15 on life on land.
The implementation of a circular economy entails, however, a paradigm shift in value creation and fundamental modifications on multiple levels of the existing socio-economic system. It is therefore necessary to provide clear visions and guidance, as well as involve all public and private stakeholders in jointly building new product and value chains.
Developed in a co-working process with actors from the private and public sector, the Luxembourg Council for Sustainable Development has recently defined seven principles for circular economy, which have been integrated in Luxembourg’s national macroeconomic strategy promoting and developing circular economy:
- Value creation
- Systemic and holistic
- Two cycles
- Health, well-being and positive impacts
- Restorative and regenerative
- Focus on diversity
- Local and supportive
These seven principles are fundamental to a sustainable economy aiming to increase its resilience but also the resilience of a country as a whole. They are guidelines for both sectoral and industrial strategies, as well as for national macroeconomic strategies.
The disruptive circular economic model creates value (1) not only economically but also ecologically and socially by its very nature. Following the principle of participation, to which Agenda 2030 attaches great importance, the circular economy is based on an interdisciplinary, systemic, holistic and collaborative approach (2). It eliminates the notion of waste by relying on two distinct cycles (3), the biological cycle and the technological cycle.
A circular economy contributes to the strengthening of positive impacts on both humans and nature. Merely reducing negative impacts is indeed not considered sufficient for sustainable development. Therefore, elements such as health and well-being (4) are an integral part of the circular economy.
Circular economy is restorative and regenerative (5) by its nature. It preserves and strengthens ecosystem services and promotes biodiversity. Furthermore, processes of technological cycles must be designed to maintain or even increase the quality of the resources and products used.
It promotes the diversity (6) of solutions in all aspects, whether technical, economic, ecological or socio-cultural. Finally, this economic model encourages local and solidarity-based solutions (7), and promotes proximity cycles.
These seven principles may serve as guidelines for public policies, but not only! With regard to the crucial role of the private sector in establishing a circular economy, all economic sectors combined are encouraged to appropriate these principles, to adapt them to their products and business lines, and thus develop and improve related skills.
Turning the circular economy into a comfort zone for stakeholders needs a continuous development of projects that allow dedicated actors, businesses and sectors to learn and co-create a circular ecosystem. Here again, the seven principles may serve as a valuable orientation tool.
 Notably by the Expert Group Meeting and in-depth review of SDG 12 on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) during the 2018 High-Level Political Forum,
Midsummer Eve, the great celebration of summer, started the Finnish holiday season last weekend. I had a pleasure to participate in festivities in the Finnish archipelago, on an island called Pensar. Late in the evening, everybody gathered to the centre of the village to raise a toast to a sun that still shone high above the horizon, and to dance in the rhythm of evergreen summer classics.
Tango is the all-time classic of Midsummer Eve. For some reason it is especially popular in Finland and in Argentina. For tango, you need a pair, and what could be a better time for finding one than a Midsummer Eve in the Finnish archipelago?
Whereas two is needed for tango, the whole of society is needed for a successful sustainability transition. This applies at the local level as well as at country level, and a whole of society approach is needed at the level of the EU, too.
In Finland, the whole of society approach has been at the heart of national sustainability work since the early 1990's. The National Commission on Sustainable Development was established in 1993 and, led by the Prime Minister, has since then brought together different stakeholders of Finnish society.
The National Commission on Sustainable Development has prepared several national strategies over the years. It has also developed tools for the engagement of stakeholders (and individual citizens) in sustainability work. In Finland, anyone can participate in sustainability work by making a public sustainability commitment. These operational commitments for sustainable development increase the sustainability of organisations’ existing practises and thus contribute to national sustainability aspirations. By now, 2,600 commitments have been made. You can browse existing commitments at www.sitoumus2050.fi/en.
At the moment, the Commission is preparing a national roadmap for the 2030 Agenda. Following the whole of society approach, this roadmap is prepared in a participatory process that has several phases and lasts the whole year of 2021. The roadmap will focus on six key transformations: 1) a food system that promotes well-being, 2) a sustainable energy system, 3) the use of land and forests to strengthen biodiversity and carbon neutrality, 4) knowledge, learning and sustainable lifestyles, 5) health, well-being and social inclusion, and 6) economy that promotes well-being, work and sustainable consumption.
The roadmap will play a key role in promoting Finland's implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The six areas of change represent the themes in which our activities should change significantly, in order to secure people's wellbeing within the planetary borders. Six areas of change, thus, concretise the content of sustainable development in Finland. At their best, they also increase the long-term and consistency of national policies.
In the coming years, the work of the Finnish National Commission on Sustainable Development will be structured around these areas of change. This makes the work of the committee more focused and concrete. Through these areas of change, the members of the Commission will also deepen their understanding and competence on sustainable development and attach themselves to the Commission's common objectives.
The whole of society approach is also needed at the level of EU. It is a pity that the Multi-Stakeholder Platform, which was used for engaging the whole of society in sustainability work at the EU level during the past Commission, was not renewed by the current Commission. Whereas there exist other mechanisms for engaging the European public, for example within the Conference on the Future of Europe, discontinuation of the Multi-Stakeholder Platform has been seen by many as a weakening to European-level public engagement.
The need to strengthen the whole of society approach at the European level was also noted by the EU Council in its recent conclusions on the 2030 Agenda implementation. The Council recalled the important role played by the Multi-Stakeholder Platform in enriching the debate on how to make progress toward the SDGs, and urged the Commission to establish "a platform that engages a wide range of stakeholders in the EU's work with the SDGs, both at EU and global levels, with inclusive and representative membership, to facilitate the whole of society approach to enhance action and delivery on the SDGs and seek good cooperation with initiatives, such as the European Climate Pact and the Conference on the Future of Europe".
Tango is for two, sustainability transformation for all. Just like summer. Enjoy it!
ESDN Vice President
Secretary General of the Finnish National Commission on Sustainable Development
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