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.
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.