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Research enhances understanding of sustainable production and consumption systems in circular economy

What does the recent research offer us in the fields of metal- and wood-based fiber systems for circular economy? How can we build sustainable business models and governance of circular systems? These issues were taken a closer look at Aalto Sustainability Hub’s seminar in November 2018.
Aalto Sustainability Hub / Mari Lundström

The essence of circular economy is keeping materials in the economic cycles longer, thus halting the overuse of natural resources and curbing accumulation of waste. Research is called for on how to get materials back from complex streams and how to retain value of materials instead of mere down cycling. Innovative business and governance models are needed as well.

Professor Minna Halme, the academic director of Aalto Sustainability Hub pointed out the large potential of circular economy markets. The market potential has been estimated to be worth of 4.5 billion dollars globally. Minna Halme presented several examples of existing successful businesses that follow, for example, models of sharing business or business models for longevity.

Newest methods and processes designed to more effectively recover and recycle metals from waste streams were at focus in Professor Mari Lundström’s talk that displayed the innovations discovered in Aalto University. Among these innovations are for example methods for the discovery of critical metals as well improved methods for metals recovery for electric vehicle batteries.

Professor Mark Hughes showcased the benefits and challenges of recirculating wood materials in the built environment. He highlighted the need for cascading wood use: rather than going directly from first wood use, solid wood or veneer products to energy, we should try to ensure and build systemic approaches for wood utilization in for example particle or fiber-based products or chemical raw materials prior to energy usage.

Dr. Samuli Patala looked on governance questions and solutions for complex circular economy systems involving businesses, public sector and civil society organizations. He presented examples from a recent study on three circular economy systems in Finland, Spain and USA. The findings enhance the need for mutual adjustments; developing mechanisms for collective agency and principles for sharing. All these are key elements to build circular economy systems. Dr. Patala also emphasized that building trust is vital.

The seminar audience also raised new questions about scaling, materials, consumption and governance, as well as building trust. In her reply, Professor Lundström summarized the future key themes of circular economics as follows: industrial integration processes and their economic sustainability, material identification of products and better exploitation of materials, collection and recycling of materials, processes for recyclable and non-recyclable materials, and thought patterns and processes throughout the product life cycle.

 

Text: Annukka Jyrämä
Photo: Cvijeta Miljak

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