Nowadays, the profusion of documents and initiatives that use Circular Economy as a theme has contributed to the dissemination of its importance, but, paradoxically, also to the trivialisation of the concept and to some blur and confusion of its effective meaning and scope.
An example of this counterproductive effect is the apparent tendency to equate the concepts of Circular Economy and Sustainability. Indeed, and without prejudice to other possibly valid conceptual models, it is understood that Circular Economy should not be confused with Sustainability, but is indeed a necessary but not sufficient condition for it.
Bridging the three pillars of sustainable development (economic, environmental and social), the concept of Circular Economy, as opposed to the Linear Economy, refers to a comprehensive view of optimising the life cycle of materials, products and services, within a framework that aims at preserving human, social and natural capital. Circular Economy thus focuses on the concept of “closing loops” throughout the value chain of a product, material or service, and its value chain phases (conception and design, production, distribution, use and disposal).
With regard to Centro’s Regional Agenda for the Circular Economy, and aligned with the participatory process that characterised its development, the identified priority axes / domains seek, as far as possible, to frame the potential of developing actions and projects that aim at promoting Circular Economy in the Centro region, and that result from the meetings and the collaborative dynamics of the platforms / working groups of Centro’s RIS3. Thus, the defined priority axes / domains correspond to a criterion of operability and capacity for commitment from the region with its main stakeholders and institutions. They cover policy areas that are within the reach and scope of CCDR Centro and the entities associated with the operationalisation of the Agenda.
The Regional Agenda’s priority axes
– Research and Technological Development
The operationalisation of the vast potential that the Centro region has in this domain, understood as a lever for smart specialisation processes in the region and also an anchor for the development of the circular economy, can be fulfilled in short term actions and through the maturation of longer term effects. Knowledge transfer should be understood as a priority not only to foster the circular economy, but also to ensure the sustainability of the system.
– Circular procurement
Considering the goal of enhancing circular economy activities within the RIS3 approach, the development of such activities in the economy should involve the establishment of increasingly intense and robust forms of interaction between knowledge production, technology and advanced users that promote more market presence and the uptake of circular economy practices.
While it might be said that there are already some ongoing embryonic initiatives, the large majority of the practices that we seek to develop and disseminate seem to lack initial markets that may enable their kick-off. The existance of guaranteed early-stage markets contributes to overcoming resistance and doubts, thus allowing the economy to recognise them as competitive solutions in comparison to already installed linear economy approaches.
It is in this perspective of pursuing sustained market trajectories that procurement and purchasing policies can prove to be crucial for hardening initial circular economy dynamics and sending signals to assure that there is already a demand for these types of initiatives.
– Education, awareness and capacity building
Throughout the engagement dynamics with different stakeholders that have been possible so far, there is an insight that is practically common to the whole process. This insight points to the relevance that is attributed to education and awareness raising as a means of ensuring greater engagement and involvement of citizens and organisations in the dissemination and promotion of Circular Economy practices. These practices are understood as a way of broadening and improving everyone’s contribution to address sustainability challenges.
In this priority axis, the differentiation between short-term actions and actions with longer maturity effects is essentially established based on the readiness with which education and awareness support devices can be designed and operationalised. Until proven otherwise, it is understood that where no specific relevant training and capacity-building needs are already identified and expressed, the latter will be considered in the context of actions with longer maturation of effects.
– Business strategies and industrial symbioses
While talking about Circular Economy, it is implied that the business and market dimensions are present and progressively spreading.
Only in this way, it is possible to understand the ambition of changing the economic paradigm of the linear economy by another production paradigm in which solutions of circularity and closing of production cycles assume another importance.
This priority axis therefore integrates the initiatives understood by the Regional Agenda as being fundamental to progressively involve more competitive business units and strategies guided by the principles of Circular Economy.
In the area of industrial symbioses, the Regional Agenda gives particular importance to the role of clusters with strong representation in the region as well as to its Research and Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialisation (RIS3) as elements of dissemination of new Circular Economy practices and the possibility of generating demonstration effects. The Regional Agenda also considers that already existing technology-based infrastructures in the region, both for their interface role between knowledge production and business needs as well as incubation spaces for new companies or new projects based on existing companies, can assume a relevant role for industrial symbioses.
– Circular economy as a driver for innovation and territorial cohesion
The Regional Agenda maintains the commitment assumed by Centro’s RIS3, of integrating the objectives of territorial cohesion and the valorisation of innovation in rural and low-density environments, in this case, with the regional strategic priorities in Circular Economy.
The engagement process so far has led to the conclusion that there is knowledge (and potential to develop it) in the region so that the Circular Economy can be considered as an instrument for territorial cohesion and enhancement of the competitive resilience of the lower density territories. The process also showed that there are entities, institutions and stakeholders with leadership and dynamisation capacity of such processes. It is in this context that a priority axis / domain dedicated to innovation and territorial cohesion is proposed .
In articulation with actions to be taken in the area of circular procurement, the opportunity to promote short economic circuits as a form of local development by including proximity criteria in public procurement procedures in schools, hospitals and health centers, among others, should be considered.
– Promotion, communication and demonstration
The Regional Agenda and its associated Action Plan will require the design and implementation of a broad and demanding dissemination, communication and demonstration strategy in view of the changes that are intended to be stimulated.
The strategy in question must be understood from a double perspective: on the one hand, as a frame of reference and orientation for many of the actions autonomously included in the Action Plan that encompass dissemination, communication and demonstration dimensions; On the other hand, as an autonomous plan of essentially dynamic nature that assumes contents, modalities and target audiences according to the actual development of the implementation of the Agenda and the achievement of the results anticipated by each action and initiative.
– Funding instruments
The Regional Agenda and its associated Action Plan will not have a dedicated funding framework available. This means that the proposed actions should be funded through policy instruments, either within the variety of opportunities at national level or in terms of direct access to European programmes.
In this context, the proposed actions could be funded through at least five alternatives:
– The Regional Operational Programme for 2014-2020 (Centro 2020);
– In the context of preparation of the next programming period 2021-2027;
– The extent of European funding from programmes and initiatives managed directly and competitively by the European Commission;
– The EEA Grants;
– The Portuguese Environmental Fund.
– Legislation and regulatory framework
Understandably, issues of legislation and regulation transcend the scope of a Regional Agenda for Circular Economy. This does not mean, however, that the dynamics raised by the Regional Agenda and the concrete initiative of its key stakeholders ignore this issue. In fact, in the participatory work that accompanied the elaboration of the Regional Agenda, the concern of some stakeholders with the need for intervention in the legislative and regulatory framework was evident.
The Regional Agenda and its associated Action Plan thus address the priority for regional stakeholders and CCDRC itself to be proactively involved in working groups that may be constituted by governmental initiative to enable legislative and regulatory changes that correspond to concrete needs that were identified by the regional stakeholders.