Our current prosperity relies on a fully unsustainable linear model in which we take mineral resources from the ground, transform them into products, use them and throw them away as waste at the end of an often short lifetime, often even after a single use. This model is unsustainable, as it (1) implicitly considers mineral resources to be infinite on a finite planet, and (2) generates masses of polluting and bulky waste.
Circular Economy constitutes a paradigm shift. In a Circular Economy, resources are kept in use as long as possible, potentially indefinitely, and waste is avoided, by acting on the design of products, their manufacturing, use and end of life. Thereby, (1) resource use is reduced in absolute figures, and is decoupled from economic growth, and (2) waste is transformed into a resource.
Trinomics’ Circular Economy experts enthusiastically support this paradigm shift. As economists, engineers, specialists of industry and of waste management, they work on a wide variety of subjects related to sustainable production and consumption, green growth or waste, in isolation or in relation to climate policy or the Just Transition agenda. The types of studies we undertake reflect this diversity, with service contracts involving, among others, impact assessments and evaluations, development of Circular Economy action plans, stakeholder engagement, merging quantitative and qualitative tools. Our work advises leading public clients and international organisations, at national, European and international level. Trinomics’ Circular Economy experts work at the forefront of European and international policy-making for a materially sustainable future.
Sustainable production & consumption
- The consumption level of EU citizens is currently, for most categories of environmental impact, not sustainable. The underlying consumption and production system is at the root of the main environmental and social challenges faced by our societies.
- The impact of consumption includes that of production performed in the EU for use within it, but also that of imports. It is way above the safe planetary boundaries that maintain the stability of the climate and ecosystems that support our livelihoods: more than 8 times above the limit of the “safe operating space” for climate change, more than 10 times for particulate matter, 3.5 times for the use of fossil fuels and 1.8 times for other mineral resources. Beyond environmental sustainability, there are large and growing concerns regarding the social and human rights conditions under which the products that we consume are being produced along long, global value chains. This statement is valid for the European Union, but also for most of the developed world – and for a growing fraction of the global middle class in emerging or emerged countries.
- Attempts to de-couple economic well-being from material consumption over the last 20 years have essentially failed. Whereas some impacts of production activities performed in the EU have decreased (e.g. GHG emissions), this has been more than compensated by an increase in the impacts of imported goods, so that no meaningful progress was registered.
- If the current situation were to continue, then the stability of the “system Earth” would be threatened, potentially leading to irreversible changes deeply affecting the stability and prosperity of our societies.
- This persistent environmental and social unsustainability is due to the nature and the volume of the demand for final products and services, to the structure and processes in these global value chains, and to the deep systemic interactions between the two. There is thus a clear need to change our current consumption and production patterns, towards more environmental and social sustainability, acting on both sides of the market: demand and supply.
- At Trinomics, we have been actively engaged in studies for public authorities aiming at making the current consumption and production system more sustainable, by considering both the consumer and the producer. We studied the behaviour of consumers, in the “collaborative” economy, as well as the conditions under which they could engage in more “circular” consumption patterns, based on additional information on product durability or repairability. On the producers’ side, we worked on Industrial Symbiosis, where by- and co-products of one company are used as raw materials by another. More importantly, we have worked at system level, developing integrated strategies that enhance jointly the sustainability of the production and consumption systems: in the EU in the Impact Assessment of the Sustainable Product Initiative and in several African States. We also modelled and investigated the impacts of more circular consumption and production systems on some key variables, such as the labour market or the climate.
- The prosperity of our contemporary societies in the developed world has relied over many decades on the continued growth in material consumption and in energy. This material substrate to prosperity remains highly relevant for many developing countries. However, the limits to this growth in the consumption of materials and energy are increasingly clear. Climate change, biodiversity loss and the decrease in the populations of common species, scarcity of concentrated, easily accessible mineral ores, deforestation and loss of arable land clearly signal that further rises in the prosperity of our populations must be de-coupled from material and energy consumption. This new paradigm for continued human prosperity is referred to as “green growth”.
- A continuation of growth in the consumption of materials and energy at its current rate will lead to a range of highly detrimental consequences: a climate unable to sustain the agriculture necessary to feed our population; the collapse of eco-systemic services such as pollinisation, water purification or decomposition of organic waste; rising prices and scarcity of key raw metals and materials; increased erosion; and loss of agricultural production.
- At Trinomics, we have developed a strong expertise in the fields of energy and material efficiency, which are the foundations of continued growth in prosperity, yet decoupled from material and energy consumption. We worked on policies supporting this efficiency for the European Union and for specific Member States, considering tools such as support to innovation, taxation, energy integration, co-generation, energy efficiency of buildings and by developing targeted indicators.
- The management of waste that can potentially damage the environment and human health is a long standing issue in environmental policy. There are numerous product and sector specific pieces of legislation designed to control the ways in which waste is created, defined, collected, transported, treated and disposed of. Waste policy has clear links to the circular economy, in that the top levels of the long-standing waste hierarchy are reduce, reuse, recycle and recover. These objectives can be seen in the vast majority of waste legislation and policy where there are a variety of incentives, obligations and targets to encourage the minimisation of waste and to maximise the recovery of the resources contained in waste. Despite the positive objectives of waste policy, the average European is responsible for the production of 5 tonnes of waste each year, only 38% of waste in the EU is recycled and over 60% of household waste still goes to landfill in some EU countries.
- Trinomics have a strong track record in the evaluation of policies and Directives for DG Environment designed to manage waste and maximise the extraction of resources from waste. This has included cross cutting legislation such as the waste shipment directive and sector specific legislation such as that related to end of life vehicles and batteries. Trinomics also has a strong track record in waste policy analysis. This has included the development of waste and recycling related indicators, for the European Environment Agency and the analysis of economic incentives for the European Commission and others, designed to promote and increase recycling and resource recovery.