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More than two birds with one stone

My first TEDXAmsterdam talk, in 2009, was called ‘Towards a circular economy: let’s be positive’. Yes indeed, an ecologist leading the way in the economy. But that is really not at all strange, because circularity is an ecological principle. That is how nature works. Tested in 3.8 billion years of Research & Development.

I am always positive, but definitely since 2006 when the excellent VPRO Tegenlicht documentary ‘Afval is Voedsel’ (‘Waste is Food’) was broadcast. In 2009 I was in the middle of the new building project for the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW, see nioo. knaw.nl/gebouw), my head and diary full of sustainable innovations. It had to be possible to build differently, and we ecologists decided that we were simply going to do that. Embracing circularity, power from the sun and biodiversity instead of destruction: the three principles of sustainability. Ellen MacArthur came to film during the construction process, and established the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to promote the circular economy. Following this, Circleeconomy.com was set up in the Netherlands to stimulate businesses here as well to step out of that incorrect linear economy.

The enthusiasm for this positive approach was catching. It is now also on political and scientific agendas. During the Dutch EU presidency, Mark Rutte launched the Netherlands Circular Hotspot campaign. And in Paris, 195 countries chose for sweeping climate and sustainability goals, including the transition to a circular economy. Everyone knows the concept now.

The advantage is not only potential cost reduction through decreased raw material use (between USD 340 and 630 billion per year for the EU, as estimated in 2012 already by McKinsey). The benefits are mainly in creating different, new values such as exciting sustainable innovations, new business models, greater inclusiveness, increased employment, more appreciation by society and most importantly, a great deal of cooperation between unexpected parties: local, national and international. It is a real system change! It requires leadership and courage to accomplish this, and you will also have losers. Just as we are experiencing now with the energy transition, these losers will be mainly the stragglers without any long-term vision or those lacking the courage to make the attempt.

The Netherlands can be a leader in the new economy if we join forces. Come on, new government and Dutch businesses. Go forth and multiply (your knowledge) – a nice slogan for this new government, for that matter… Good for the Netherlands Ltd., your grandchildren and the entire planet. Economic, ecological and social to boot!

Professor Louise Vet

Director Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW)