The Circular Economy: Living More, Using Less

Gerard Walker, Future Jobs-Skills-Work Insights                                           

The Government has recently published Ireland’s first Circular Economy Strategy 2022-2023 entitled “Living More, Using Less”. In economic terms it is estimated that a 5% improvement in Ireland’s circularity rate (that is, the rate at which materials are recovered and fed back into the economy) would result in savings of €2.3 billion annually as well as creating the opportunity for significant job creation and quality work at all skills levels. 

The main principles of the Circular Economy and its implication for new jobs and skills detailed below will be of interest to IITD Learning and Development professionals.


The Circular Economy is a key policy priority of the European Commission and other EU countries particularly Germany, France, and the Netherlands. The EU Circular Economy Action Plan estimates that around 700,000 new jobs can be created up to 2030 by applying Circular Economy principles. 


There is a growing consumer and business awareness of the negative impact of current production and consumption patterns on the environment. A Circular Economy approach seeks to keep products in use for as long as possible and minimises waste generation.

 

As highlighted by the OECD this approach represents a shift away from the linear approach of “take, make and dispose” towards more sustainable production and consumption patterns and improved management of non-renewable resources.

 

Principals of the Circular Economy

 


 

Key actions within the Circular Economy production and consumption cycle and related skill demand are:

1. Rethink the Design of Products and Services. Some 80% of the environmental impacts of a product are determined at the product and services design stage. Rethinking design to change the way products are made and used can help minimise such impacts. Products can be built from recycled or biological materials. The lifecycle of products can be optimised by ensuring they are durable and reparable. Products can be designed to enable part recovery after end of product use. Wasteful plastic packaging can be eliminated. Skills in demand will include for Eco-design technicians and engineers and service user design innovation skills.

 

2. Reduce Energy, Food and Resource Waste and Pollution. There is a clear business case for manufacturing firms that spend up to 40% of production costs on materials to reduce waste and increase profitability. The average citizen in the EU produces half a ton of waste per year. An estimated 20% of all food produced is wasted. Skills in demand include for food labelling, preparation and storage, energy and water resource management, lean manufacturing, renewable energy, energy efficiency and auditing, building information management and the use of eco construction techniques and materials. 

 

3. Minimise CO2 Supply Chain Emissions. Lengthy supply chain and distribution networks result in increased levels of CO2 emissions and transport costs. Skills in demand include utilising digital platforms and technologies for efficient supply chain logistic management, eco-procurement, just-in-time delivery, freight traffic flow optimisation, fleet vehicle telematics and eco-driving proficiency.

 

4. Repair and Recycle Products and Materials. In today’s throwaway society, half of fast fashion garments are discarded within one year. Less than 40% of electronic and electrical waste in the EU is currently being recycled. In a Circular Economy, products and materials are kept in use through reuse, repair, and recycling. Skills in demand include repair, maintenance and refurbishment, bio waste management and process control.

 

5. Use Nature-Based Solutions. Natural materials can be returned to the environment after their use to feed the next generation of biological materials used in food products, animal feedstock, construction, biofuels, pharmaceuticals, and to regenerate natural ecosystems. Skills in demand are for the production and marketing of locally grown organic food products, and agronomic and ecological professionals with knowledge of soil management, organic materials, water management and crop remnants for health soil fertilisers. 

 

6. Design of innovative Circular Economy Business Models. Across business sectors there will be growing entrepreneurial skills demand for the development of innovative business models and processes for the development and adaption of products and services to the principles of the Circular Economy.

 

Key Takeaways 
The transition towards a more sustainable economy incorporating Circular Economy principles will be a major driver of change on business models and consumption behaviour. The scaling up of the Circular Economy in Ireland will create the opportunity for job creation at all skills levels and increased demand for the design and delivery of relevant workplace education and training. 

 

Information on Irelands Whole of Government Circular Economy Strategy 2022-2023 “Living More, Using Less” can be accessed HERE.

 

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