Economy and entrepreneurship

Fighting climate change through a circular economy

September 8, 2021

From Siberia to British Columbia, the summer of 2021 will go down in history as having seen the most headlines about wildfires and record temperatures on Earth so far. The effects of climate change are being felt more and more around the globe, with human activity being one of the leading causes. Can we reverse this downward spiral by changing how we do things?

Daniel Normandin, Executive Director of the Centre for Intersectoral Studies and Research on the Circular Economy (CERIEC) at ÉTS says "It is possible, but we do not have a lot of time to make the shift. We respond to overconsumption by overusing our resources. And this has impacts on climate change and our ecosystems". "We need to quickly limit the need to exploit untouched resources and focus on getting the most potential out of existing resources used in the economy," adds Normandin, while mentioning that this is exactly what the circular economy sets out to do.

More people, fewer resources

"QUOTECurrently, 93% of global resources entering the economy annually are not reused in a circular economy," states Normandin. We need to find ways to get the most out of these resources with significant economic growth potential.END QUOTE"

- Daniel Normandin, Executive Director of the Centre for Intersectoral Studies and Research on the Circular Economy

Since the dawn of the industrial age, the global economy has been based on a so-called linear concept. In short, material is extracted, processed, used and thrown away.

This approach puts enormous pressure on the availability of resources as the global human population grows. For example, in 1950, there were 2.5 billion people in the world. Today, there are close to 8 billion.

The pace at which we're consuming has surpassed the planet's capacities by a wide margin. To illustrate the speed at which we're using up resources, the Global Footprint Network External link. This link will open in a new window. has come up with a calculation to determine Overshoot Day, that is, the day of the year on which we've consumed more than our planet can produce in terms of renewable resources. In 1975, it was December 1; in 2021, it was July 29. This means that humanity has been living on credit since that date from a renewable resources standpoint.

The linear model relies on constant economic growth that doesn't take into account the fact that resources are finite. By 2050, consumption is expected to have increased 100%, even though the availability of some resources has already reached a critical threshold.

The circular economy is one solution to move beyond this non-viable economic model. It involves improving resource use and maximizing the lifecycles of the products and the resources they're made up of.

One real-life example of a strategy related to the circular economy is the good, old beer bottle that's existed for over 200 years. Once we've drunk the beer, we return the bottle to the retailer, who returns it to the bottler, who then cleans and sterilizes it before refilling it. The same bottle is reused up to 15 times.

Another good example of a successful application of a circular economy is Threading Change, a Vancouver-based, youth-led, ethical fashion company founded by Sophia Yang, who also serves as the organization's executive director. Threading Change wants to radically transform the way resources are used in fashion, an industry which currently produces 20% of global wastewater and generates 1.26 billion tons of greenhouse emissions every year, according to the United Nations. The organization provides consulting services on anti-racism and decolonization work, as well as integrating UN sustainable development goals. It also hosts "textile talks" with industry experts and members and is launching an ambassador program. Threading Change wants to end the exploitation of resources and labour across the fashion industry.

Description

A circular economy with Sophia Yang

2 min 51 s

Sophia Yang, founder and executive director of Threading Change, shares how her company is making a difference in the fight against climate change and how everyday people can get involved in creating a more circular economy.

Transcript

A circular economy with Sophia Yang

[On-screen text: Tell us about your organization, Threading Change]

Sophia Yang: My name is Sophia Yang. I use she or he pronouns. I am the founder and executive director of Threading Change. Threading change is a play on words about “spreading change,” where each individual fibre and thread within our clothing tells a story. And our mantra is really that our clothing should not really be seen as commodities but rather as stories. We’re a youth-led ethical fashion organization that is working on the intersections of imbedding intersectionality, circularity and equity into the fashion industry. The circular economy is a solution that can be used to solve fast fashion’s problem, and it’s something that Threading Change is actively doing to really imbed consumer education in tandem with industry transformation to help not only consumers but also brands realize how we can all come together and do better. We’re actively contributing to the circular economy in recognizing that we cannot always be pointing out the problems but also showcase the solutions. As a result, we are very proud of one of our premier projects, which is a global innovation story map. The global innovation story map is a visualization platform and mapping toolkit showcasing some of the most exemplary brands in the world that are leading the way in terms of fashion, innovation and also circular economy.

[On-screen text: How would you explain the circular economy?]

The circular economy is a new way that we must look and reimagine our society and our living as a whole. Our current model of make, take, distribute, going to waste in a linear model is one that is not working out for us. We must move to a circular model where materials that are produced are made from previously recycled materials. And that those who are responsible for producing the actual materials are also the ones who know how to take care of them. Circular economy is also one that places emphasis on people before profits: a regenerative economy where communities come together, reimagine what is possible, look at what is possible with all the different types of agriculture and one that young people and also older generations are actively involved in the process.

[On-screen text: How can everyday people play a part in the circular economy?]

Sophia Yang: How we can be a part of the circular economy I think is through three steps. Number one is education. And this could be educating yourself, educating those around you but especially taking the time to learn about what circular economy actually is through different resources. And also to see what other materials have already been put out there. The second step I think we could do is also discussion and tell everyone you know about it. That’s how I became a climate activist discussing about climate change and “global warming” back […] with my friends and neighbours and teachers. And the last part on top of education and discussion is really on the policy side and also on the activism side. I strongly believe that governments and institutions have the ability to mandate better ways that we can have the circular economy not work against us but work with us. It’s time that we put the planet and the people before profits to really make our economy truly a circular one.

END OF TRANSCRIPT

There are many other strategies related to the circular economy. For example, companies like Communauto have tapped into the sharing economy. Communauto rents cars short term, thereby enabling users to reduce the number of cars on the road and greenhouse gas emissions. There is also the performance economy, which involves selling a service or use rather than a product. For example, Xerox owns the machines, but charges its clients for the number of photocopies made.

The takeaway is that improving the way we use already-extracted resources to reduce the use of untouched resources is at the heart of the circular economy. To do this, the circular economy relies on 12 strategies. The implementation of these strategies by communities, organizations and businesses helps with the transition to this new form of sustainable economy.

Where Canada stands on the circular economy

In North America, Quebec is becoming a leader and setting an example. The province often comes up in articles and discussions about the circular economy. Internationally, many European countries and China stand out for their research and projects. The Netherlands has set an ambitious goal of achieving a 100% circular economy by 2050 and Europe has created an €11 billion fund to support circular economy initiatives.

For Normandin, there's no doubt that as more international stakeholders share the results of their research and experiments, the greater the chances we have to achieve a circular economy. He cites a group of various stakeholders that's currently being set up in Canada to promote that type of sharing.

While the research and experiments are ongoing, educating and raising awareness among the business community and the general public needs to continue. The choices of individual citizens and the procurement practices of governments and private companies will have the biggest impact, by choosing to do business with companies that care about the social and environmental impacts of their operations.

As a socio-economic leader, Desjardins has always had a ringside seat when it comes to helping entrepreneurs adapt to new realities. Businesses won't be able to avoid shifting to the circular economy if they want to keep growing while helping ensure prosperity for future generations.

Desjardins is committed to doing more to guide entrepreneurs as they make this critical transition. The tour organized in partnership with the Quebec federation of chambers of commerce (Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec) will help ensure that they stay in business, now and in the future.