Transition to a circular economy is a must if we are to protect our planet, but also if we are to increase the competitiveness of European industry. This is a long-term process that will require numerous initiatives at European, national and regional level. Companies see the circular economy as an opportunity. "Going green" is beneficial not only for the environment, but also for businesses, providing real savings in terms of raw materials, water and energy. Apart from its environmental and economic benefits, the circular economy also has social advantages, providing new jobs and new business models. These are some of the conclusions emerging from the conference entitled "Sustainable industry in the Context of Circular Economy", which took place on 13 September in Kosice, Slovakia.
Europe imports most of its raw materials for production, and a number of specific raw materials are in the possession of narrow group of countries. This means that massive reliance on such imports not only increases Europe's dependence on foreign resources, but also jeopardises our security – a point that was underlined by Vojtech Ferencz, State Secretary at the Ministry of Economy of the Slovak Republic in his opening speech at the conference.
Kosice was chosen as the venue of the event due to the fact that local industry is an example of an efficient transition to a circular economy. The steel industry, of major importance for the region, has already notched up numerous achievements in waste reduction, increasing usage of recycled raw materials and using raw materials, energy and water in more efficient manner. The members of the Employers' Group had an opportunity to see concrete examples of this during their study visit to the US Steel Kosice plant.
Supporting the environment and generating wealth is no longer a contradiction - a point emphatically made by Norber Kurilla, State Secretary at the Ministry of Environment of the Slovak Republic. He listed a number of initiatives that Slovak government had undertaken in order to turn the circular economy into reality. An analytical institute had been established to conduct the research necessary in order to implement the planned policy changes, and Slovakia now cooperated closely with the World Bank on decarbonising its industry.
The circular economy has a business case and estimates of the potential benefits are becoming more encouraging every year – these were the words of Kestutis Sadauskas, Director in charge of Circular Economy and Green Growth in DG Environment of the European Commission. Raw materials often represented from 30% to over 50% of production costs. If resource efficiency were to be improved by 30%, possible savings could exceed EUR 600 billion annually.
It was underlined that Member States, regions, municipalities and businesses all had an important role to play. In order to succeed, the whole of society had to be involved in the circular economy.
Initially, the circular economy was mainly about large companies, but there was increasing interest on the part of SMEs in this concept – an observation made by Markus Beyrer, Director General of BusinessEurope. Businesses were willing to play an active role in promoting circular economy, i.e. by creating a platform to showcase existing best practices and share them across various sectors.
Mr Beyrer also drew attention to the global dimension of the circular economy. In order to secure the planet’s future, the EU could not act alone: other global players had to get on board too.
Antonello Pezzini, member of the Employers’ Group and EESC rapporteur on the Circular Economy, brought the example of his own business, a company producing hi-tech textiles which already applied circular economy principles. Being green and innovative was, in his view, a vital precondition for remaining competitive and attracting new customers. “We need to offer a good life-cycle analysis for each of our products to win product awards and contracts”, he said. Life cycle analyses were expensive to carry out, but they were cost-effective in long term.
Businesses understood that the only way forward was through the circular economy, said Janusz Pietkiewicz, member of the Employers’ Group, representing the Employers of Poland. He underlined that the social and environmental pillar was becoming more and more important for business. Digitalisation was revolutionising the way business was conducted.
The conference was jointly organised by the Employers' Group and the National Union of Employers of Slovakia.