Knowledge transfer and stakeholder engagement are essential for the adoption of circular economy models

In May 2018, the Slovenian government released its roadmap to becoming the world’s first fully circular economy. The plan is part of the long-term national strategy Vision for Slovenia in 2050. The country aims to become a frontrunner in both the EU and the Balkan region by accelerating the transition to models that could – according to a Material Economics report – cut emissions by 56% by 2050.

As part of its recovery and resilience plan, Ljubljana allocates 48 million euros to the circular economy mission. Such an amount may seem insufficient to fuel such ambitions, but the country has taken some measures before this extraordinary budget planned by the European Commission.

Slovenia adopted – in November 2019 – the European Institute of Technology’s Climate Knowledge and Innovation Community (EIT Climate-KIC) proposal for a circular economy in the country. The initiative has resulted in one of 8 Deep Demonstration pilots that the institute is conducting in the EU.

What is an in-depth demo?

“An in-depth demo is a methodology to guide the challenge owner – which can be a city, country, etc. – through a way of thinking and interpreting what needs to be done to solve a given problem,” explains Bart Stegeman, orchestrator. of the project for EIT Climate-KIC.

In other words, a problem is recognized first, in this case high levels of emissions. Then, a systemic approach to develop – and implement – ​​circular solutions to achieve decarbonisation is planned. Society’s stakeholders are involved and benefit from the expertise provided by the EIT Climate-KIC. Knowledge transfer is the first step towards a low-emission economy model.

Bart Stegeman

Bart Stegeman

Deep Demonstration Orchestrator

He coordinates the initiatives within Slovenia Deep Demonstration.

Key areas of circularity

More concretely, six value streams – assessed as necessary, impactful and relevant – have been identified. “As around 60% of Slovenia is covered by forest, we have identified the wood processing industry as one of these value chains. This is crucial for the applications that wood can have in housing, as well as for the potential of trees to sequester carbon,” Stegeman says.

Food is another value chain – the objective is to sustain it – as is mobility. In addition to emissions due to transport, the geographical position of Slovenia – gateway between the Balkans and the rest of Europe – makes this issue even more crucial. The construction sector is the fourth focus area, while manufacturing and industry are the fifth and sixth focus areas respectively.

Stand-alone initiatives almost never deliver

Improving the sustainability of industry, mobility or the food chain is nothing new. Project-based initiatives existed before, Stegeman points out. “These were usually stand-alone initiatives, there is no coordination between them. As part of the EIT Climate-KIC, we asked ourselves what their impact was and found that it did not amount to much. A concrete example comes from Ljubljana.

Stegeman continues: “There is a parking lot at the entrance to the town, with charging stations for EVs. From there, commuters can then cycle or hop on public transport to get downtown. However, despite the expensive investment, these chargers were not really used, since they guaranteed fast charging for only three hours. After that, the cars had to be removed so as not to incur a fine. Therefore, such an initiative turned out to be useless for the workers. This is why we want to look at mobility – and the other value chains – with a systemic approach.

What tangible results does the in-depth demonstration produce?

The heart of the Deep Demonstration lies in the portfolio of activities linking existing and new programs. The Slovenian Center for Smart and Circular Transition is the entry point for stakeholders to join the initiative, allowing them to create synergies and exchange know-how.

All projects aim to bring an innovative element, coordinated by the Deep Demonstration. Several courses of action can be cited. One of them concerns the packaging industry.

“To launch the transition to more circular alternatives, we organized training for those involved in this profession. Through this knowledge transfer, we give them the tools to promote innovative and sustainable options in their fields,” says Stegeman.

With a background in the plastics industry, Stegeman stresses the importance of such initiatives in this area. “Clearly, if the big players in the market do not change, a transition is more difficult. In my opinion, knowledge makes all the difference. People may be ready to change, but just don’t know how. ”

To ensure a smooth transition, the legislative framework also needs to be updated. As part of the demonstration, a policy lab provides a platform where bottlenecks in bureaucracy are identified and discussed. The results of these discussions lead to a recommendation which is shared with the authorities.

2030 targets

The in-depth demo implementation phase is coming to an end. Over the next three years, the project aims to help achieve several of the country’s 2030 goals.2 manufacturing emissions of 10,000 tonnes and realizing €1 billion of investments in circular economy models. We would like to do our part to achieve these and other goals,” Stegeman says in summary.

Donald E. Patel